This past weekend, Nintendo were nice enough to give AusGamers an exclusive hands-on session with a preview build of the hotly anticipated last instalment in the 3D Metroid Prime series, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. It's no secret Nintendo are banking on a lot with this game. The last Prime didn’t do nearly as well as they’d hoped, and until now, the promise of the Wii Remote/Nunchuk combo being perfect for the first-person genre has yet to be proven with failed attempts such as Red Steel, Call of Duty 3 and so on (though, for what it's worth the developers of those games did put in a valiant first effort). And with NOA President, Reggie Fils-Aim, telling us recently at E3 that the game would finally prove the Wii is perfect for shooters, well, let's just say Retro Studios has a lot to live up to.
Thankfully Retro are one of the most talented development studios in the world, and the game engine they built for the Prime series (at least on GameCube) should be proof enough of this. Simply because Metroid Prime 2: Echoes didn't sell as well as Nintendo had hoped doesn't mean it wasn't one of the better console outings to appear in 2004/05, it's just that it faced such stiff competition as Halo 2, GTA III: San Andreas and of course, that PC smash, Half-Life 2. Amidst these stellar outings though, the game ranked as one of most critically acclaimed
across the industry reviewing landscape, and to this day remains one of my all-time favourite playing experiences.
With all that said, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption still has a lot to live up to. The preview build I was given had two fully playable levels – one ripped from what looks as though it will be the beginning of the game called G.F.S. Olympus (the name of a Galactic Federation ship you land on), and the other an alien world called Skytown, Elysia.
The G.F.S. Olympus level opens with Samus dreaming of her Phazon-created evil twin, Dark Samus (the last boss in MP2: Echoes) before she awakens in the cockpit of her ship. This is where the differences between the GameCube games and this Wii iteration immediately begin to shine. Once Samus is suited up, we’re given a small amount of control over her in the cockpit. With the Wii Remote we can look about, see her legs stretched before us and take in the awesome galactic scenery. We're asked to play with some of the controls in the ship, including a radio transmitter (which seemed to me like it could be a housing for secrets in a similar way the phone booths were in The Darkness), a bio scanner (which I assume will properly come into play later in the game), thrusters and more. At varying points we're asked to input an alien combination into the radio transmitter to let the G.F. know we're the friendlies, and after that it's time to engage the thrusters, which sees the Wii Remote turned into Samus' hand and after grabbing the handle, a push forward will send your ship in a new direction. Cool stuff.
Once docked on the G.F.S. Olympus things become a little familiar, like the first time you played Halo. Here's a grid Samus, we just need to calibrate your aiming, can you shoot the targets? Oh, and by the way, the captain is waiting for you on the bridge. Very familiar territory.
For the next 10 minutes or so, you're scanning stuff and talking to soldiers and workers alike, it's a bit reminiscent of the opening of Echoes, but even more fleshed out. It's also still fairly new territory for the Metroid series which has always been known for the solitary nature of play. But that doesn't mean this isn’t refreshing, it's just different.
What are equally different are the controls. As usual it comes down to in-house Nintendo to lay the foundations for getting the absolute most out of their hardware, and with MP3: Corruption, I can honestly say - without a shadow of a doubt - this is the utter pinnacle
of first-person control on any
console. It takes a few minutes to work out how the bounding box works, and there are three different types of control – all of which shrink the invisible box to appropriate sizes based on how much
control you can handle. Obviously I went immediately for Advanced, and while it's still not as quick or perfectly precise as a mouse and keyboard combo, it's the closest a console game has ever come and will be the benchmark for all that follow – this is the reason you bought a Wii, and after a few hours with MP3 you'll never look back.
With that being said, this isn't a HD-fused title. In fact it doesn't look much better than some of the later-gen stuff we saw on original Xbox. It's definitely a step ahead of what GameCube was capable of and runs in 480p in true 16:9 widescreen, and after a while you'll notice all of the subtle graphical inclusions that are difficult not to appreciate (such as specular highlights, stunning transparencies and bloom lighting effects, among much more), but it's still annoying that a game like, say Fantastic Four on Xbox 360, initially looks better because everything is in HD (c'mon Nintendo, get it together). Looking beyond the exclusion of high-def though, it's hard not to fall in love with the artists at Retro Studios. The G.F.S. Olympus has a fairly obligatory sci-fi look and feel to it, but it's when you get to the planet Norion, and even more so, Elysia, the incredible art direction of the Metroid Prime series begins to manifest itself.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. On the G.F.S. Olympus, it's tutorial business as usual; learn of your plight from the NPCs, solve a few minor puzzles in subtle control lessons and scan the crap out of everything. Scanning is as simple as holding down the –
button for a second and you'll have three visor options which can be selected – very PC-like – with a mouse-pointer. The top area is your scan-visor, left your battle-visor, and to your right is your new command-visor that allows you to interact directly with your ship (which I’m hoping will prove more robust in the final game). Each one looks cool, but it’s the scan-visor that wins here with Samus’ face becoming almost completely visible as a full reflection (her eyes even move in the direction you point the Wii Remote).
When you're ready to see the captain, you also meet some other bounty hunters. Everyone in the game is also fully voiced now, sans Samus (ala Gordon Freeman of Half-Life) and for the most part it's all handled very well (though I wasn't sure about some of the other bounty hunters, they could do with more alien
sounding tones). I'm not going to spoil any of the intricate parts of the story though, but alas, just as your briefing ends the notorious Space-Pirates begin attacking the Olympus. Now you have to make your way to your ship to both get off the station and to head down to the G.F. Installation on the planet below.
Making your way back is obviously impeded with combat moments, though these are hardly a challenge (in fact, you end up playing 'keepings off' with three Pirates in a locked room, for some unknown reason), but it's all still very cool. In one instance a ship strikes the side of the Olympus and you watch as two G.F. soldiers are sucked out into the vacuum of space (if you run up to the window and you can watch them slowly drift - beyond sight - into the cold harshness of space). Eventually you'll get your first upgrade – missiles, and just as you're about to get to your ship, lo and behold, you'll face a huge boss.
This guy is a massive Phazon-fused beastie, but because he's one of the game's first bosses (allegedly), his patterns are pretty easy to work out. Once he's taken out, it's time to get in your ship and take off for Norion, the planet below the orbit of the Olympus, where you have to help a G.F. installation which is equally under Space Pirate attack.
Immediately it becomes apparent the game is not locked to a single planet or space – it seems Samus can actually use her gunship to traverse to different worlds and (hopefully) other G.F. locations, such as the Olympus. It would have been cool if the Wii Remote was used to have you fly directly to the planets in real-time, at your own control, but still, the idea of having different worlds to jump to is very enticing indeed.
On Norion, things aren't nearly as easy as they were on the Olympus and you'll actually come across two of Samus' most notorious nemeses here, which is awesome (though again, I’m not going to spoil it for you). And while the other bounty hunters have made their way here also, this is the first time in the game you'll begin to experience the solitary 'against-all-odds' style of play we've come to expect from the Metroid series.
Which brings me to the second part of the demo available to us: Skytown, Elysia.
This place was built by the Chozo (who are long since extinct), which means the aforementioned art-direction truly shines here. Everything looks alien yet eerily ancient. And due to the stunning level of detail, much of the back-tracking you'll do here forces you to familiarise yourself with the surroundings – it all carries a similar theme throughout, but you never
feel like you've visited the same place twice.
I spent ages in Skytown, and after beating the final boss (there are actually two at separate points in the level) felt as though there was heaps more I needed to be doing (obviously a lot has been omitted to savour for the final version of the game), which just made me want the final game even more. But it's here the true
Metroid experience shines. There's no one to talk to, only things to scan and derive information from, and even though there are little robot drones going about their business, the sparseness of life keeps the tension and anxiety flowing thick and fast. Yet despite this, you never feel rushed or pushed through the level. Every ledge is inviting yet ominous, and the entire structure (which is suspended in the clouds) is massive. From the start point you can see so much, you almost can't wait to unravel its myriad of obvious mysteries – absolutely masterful game design.
I managed to learn you're here looking for one of the bounty hunters from the first level – again, now it's all about piecing together parts of the puzzle and using your accrued abilities to conquer impediments and obstacles. It was also much more difficult than the first demo level, with almost no direction from the game on what to do, where to go, or how to get there – which was awesome and hinted at a game that could be as equally hard as Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (or hopefully even harder).
The perfectly crafted jump mechanics are put to full use here also, and there were small new additions to the game revealed, such as the ability to double jump towards particular ledges that Samus can actually grab onto, opening up the potential for secret locations, ten-fold. Much of the game features those just out of reach
areas you know you need a new upgrade for, and after beating the final boss in the Skytown level, I was given one such device before the stupid thing ended and I was thanked for playing the demo. Damn.
So now all we need to do is wait for Nintendo of Australia to get off their arse and reveal a release date. The last two Metroid titles went through minor additions for their PAL releases though, so while the US version hits this month, it's likely we probably won't see this title until November-ish (that's an educated guess, mind) which would suck. But it'll all be worth it: Perfect controls, a full Metroid adventure with a far more robust game-world replete with characters to interact with, the ability to utilise your gunship in new ways beyond simply saving and re-energising yourself, and more than one world to explore, along with heaps more we haven’t even been told about yet. Sure it may not stack up - visually - against what the Xbox 360 and PS3 are capable
of, but as a Wii title it looks amazing, and it's not always about graphics, and so far Metroid Prime 3: Corruption plays
as brilliantly as the best games on the aforementioned systems. We absolutely can't wait.
(Special thanks to Nintendo's super PR maestro, Vispi Bhopti, for giving us such extensive access to the game)