Sunday, March 26, 2006
Metroid Prime: Hunters review
I can't remember how long I have been waiting for this game. Last Friday the post man dropped off a copy of the US import version into the mailbox but I didn't really get to play much until Saturday night. It has been a hell of a time and I have permanently glued the game card onto my DS. This thing ain't going anywhere for now.
Metroid Prime: Hunters is the third Metroid game to be released in a first person shooter style. While the previous two Metroid Prime games were called 'first person adventure', Nintendo and NST has insisted that Hunters is purely an action based FPS. Hunters is fourth Nintendo game to offer free online gaming via Nintendo WiFi.
Most single player campaigns are tailored to offer a very linear gameplay. In Hunters you again control Samus Aran, the series protagonist and uber bounty hunter, out collecting eight artefacts called the octoliths. Initially initially the adventure can get pretty linear, but by the time you collect the third octoliths things begin to unravel when other bounty hunters starts messing with her quest. If one of the other hunters steals an octoliths from you, you will have to travel through different planets searching for them and battling them again in order to regain the lost octoliths.
Gameplay is a classic Metroid 3D platform, with bits of exploring required. It isn't uncommon to find your character requiring to jump up and down platforms in order to activate switches and such - hei, that is the what platforming is all about. Then there are the obligatory puzzles that are required to be solved while in Morph Ball mode. And like most other adventure games (like Zelda and other Metroid games) there are plenty of backtracking to be done. When Samus receives an upgrade she has the ability to access a previously inaccessible location in order to capture the remaining artefacts.
Whilst the single player missions still revolves around exploration, less emphasis has been put into them. This makes sense especially on a portable device where quick and play action is preferable than large number of backtrackings and explorations. This is unlike the 'first person adventure' tag that were given to the two other Metroid Prime games by NST and Nintendo.
This being an American release meant that the majority of online players would be North Americans. It also meant that I had to play a bunch of 15 year old yanks. No matter, as I was sure that it would be equally as fun playing Americans as it would be Europeans. I was planning to kick some American arse anyway. Alas they had a 5 days head start - not to mention that Americans are generally well regarded to be extremely competent FPS players. So instead I got pawned.
Like Mario Kart DS, the options available from the beginning are limited - in this case, you can only play as Samus during multiplayer sessions. But as you play against other hunters through the single player campaign, you will be able to unlock their characters for multiplayer mode. And while Samus can morph into a ball, each hunters has their own unique alt mode.
The game features the usual Friend codes system that enables you to connect only to those on your friend rooster. In this mode you can voice chat before and after a match. Unfortunately VoIP is not available when you play against others not on your friend list.
Once Hunters receives its worldwide release, like Mario Kart DS, you can choose whether to play against regional players or anybody from around the world. A system to prevent cheaters from benefiting (by turning off the DS when losing) has been implemented. Whenever a player turns off his or her DS during an online session, Nintendo will record it and will be displayed in your statistics for all others to see.
The online team deathmatch is similar to Quake III: Arena right down to the style of maps. Arenas size vary from small to huge. Speed is a necessity here. The multiplayer mode mimics many PC's FPS multiplayer mode with the equivalent of capture the flag mode (capture) and king of the hill (defender) available for team battles with those on your friend list. Unfortunately online matches with random people are only limited to the battle mode. This isn't a bad thing as the battle mode contains 14 arenas.
As is the case for many DS games, you have the ability to compete via local LAN through two available modes - mutli-card (when your friends also own copies of the game) and single-card (when only one copy if available). Multi-card is similar to online WiFi mode. Single-card only has a single battle mode. Bots with pretty good A.I. can be activated in this mode.
Stats are provided at Nintendo's online site which keeps track on winning streaks and even heat shots.
Another simply connectivity mode that was introduced (but will never be used) is the 'rival radar' mode. This is when you put your DS to 'sleep' while the game continuously search the local area for any other DS/Hunters in 'rival radar' mode (this is similar to Nintendogs 'bark mode' and Animal Crossing: Wild World 'tag' mode. Any gamers detected will be added to your rival list where you can choose to play them during the next online session.
Here is a link to a video clip provided by Nintendo showing off each of the new bounty hunters in action (normal and alt mode).
Lots has been said about the DS being a toy. You only need to play Hunters to see that the DS, while looking like a toy, is capable of churning out serious eye candy. The graphics of Hunters rivals that of many games on the original Sony PlayStation and Nintendo 64 and is easily the most advance game on the DS platform.
The first time you play the game you would go 'wow', just as you did when you played Tomb Raider on your Pentium Pro. The game runs in full 3D with smooth framerate that only stutters (slightly) when there are loads of enemies on the screen. However like Mario 64 DS there are times when pixelation may become an issue, and the odd ugly texture may show up. This is due to the DS having no texture filtering capabilities. Far away enemies may blend with the environment just because the DS doesn't have enough pixels for them. However the majority of the time you would just go 'wow'.
The art direction of the game is similar to the two other Metroid Prime games. Nothing much to say here except that the level designs are amazingly detailed and each different planets that Samus goes to has a unique flavour to it.
The DS would be the king of FPS, if only more FPS games are out for the system. With a touch screen that mimics a PC's mouse, you have basically the ultimate FPS control system on the palm of your hand(s). The d-pad mimics the WASD control on your generic FPS games and using the touch screen you control the viewpoint of Samus (and her weapons). The left shoulder buttons (or right depending on your hand preference) fires the weapon. Double tapping the touch screen will make Samus jump.
Perhaps more importantly is the touch screen system finally releases Metroid from the 'lock-on' mode of previous 3D Metroid into a more PC like free-look system. The 'lock-on' mode was necessary for console gaming on cumbersome joypads but with a mouse like hardware presented, such help isn't necessary especially with the precision provided through a stylus.
The game is compatible with the Rumble Pak that was included with the US version of Metroid Prime: Pinball. The noise can get annoying and it is best not to activate the Rumble Pak when you are playing in public. Despite the vibration, my stylus precision wasn't affected as it doesn't rumble all the time - only when you get hit and during the FMV sequences.
This is without the doubt the FPS game of the year. Almost everything that NST went into preparing this game, including delaying it for half a year, has turned into a quality product. The production value is sky high. The graphics is simply stunning. The audio is magnificent in quality, and 'Metroid like'. The gameplay is a positive experience for even seasoned FPS players with the unique control system.
And finally this game has dislodged Mario Kart DS as the ultimate portable online experience. With free WiFi gaming on the thousands of BT OpenZone and The Cloud hotspots available in Britain, you just can't improve over Nintendo's proposition to create the perfect online experience.
The game offers incredible value for money. For twenty five quid you are essentially getting two games in one: an above average single player campaign and an extensive online game with no added monthly fees too. You have to remember that Hunters started out with no online support (single player campaign and local LAN multiplayer) and that the reason for the 6-8 months delay was due to Nintendo's insistence on implementing WiFi gaming into the game. Consider what you can get with £25 (which is practically nothing in Britain - about 3 1/2 visits to the cinema), the entertainment and replayability value of Hunters is simply outstanding.
Review update (2 April 2006):
One and a half week into the game, what has changed? Nothing much except that I am half way through the single player campaign. I only have time to put in like 30 minutes a day for the single player while practicing my shooting in the multi-card game against level 2 bots. They are bloody difficult. I haven't had much time to go online yet as my house WiFi connection is crap. My 100% level was reduced to 97% when I got disconnected! And the nearby The Cloud hotspot is pretty slow when connecting to GameSpy's server. I apologise to anyone who wanted to pwn me, a noob when it comes to online shooters.
While NST has clearly tried to distance Hunters from previous Prime games by calling it a FPS rather than a FPA (First Person Adventure), there are loads of exploration to do when you compare this to other generic FPS games. Morph Ball puzzles feature a plenty and the most difficult I found so far is the Judicator weaponry upgrade. Backtracking is reqired throughout the game, within stations and within the galaxy. Rather disappointingly I have only met two variants of the main bosses. But I am glad that I have finally beaten all six bounty hunters without having one artefact stolen. (mini update: It looks as if all six bounty hunters will still try to steal from you when you are busy getting the next four artifacts. I got ambushed by Trace when I backtrack to Celestial archive. It appears to be random. You can find out which of the hunters are out to get you before landing your ship.)
Having unlocked all six bounty hunters, I can now choose from a list of seven characters (including Samus) for multiplayer gaming. My favourite hunter so far? Stylux. His alt form (Lock Jaw) isn't that great, but his affinity weapon (Shock Coil) packs a deadly punch whenever I can get near an enemy. Trace is the biggest loser so far of all the bounty hunters I face, in single player, bot mode or online. Because his affinity weapon is the Imperialist, most players would try to hide in the highest possible location and take pop shots at us with the sniper weapon. Not cool.
So far, not a really good online experience. With the double release of Tetris DS and Metroid Prime: Hunters I am guessing that the servers are taking outrageous amount of hits by rabid DS owners. I hope Nintendo/GameSpy will improve their servers as it takes ages to connect and then to find other players.
Buy this now from Play-Asia or Amazon UK