Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Metroid Marathon: Remembering Metroid Prime

[Part of a series of posts in which I discuss my favourite videogame franchise: Metroid. Today, recounting my initial experience with Metroid Prime, a title that went on to become my most cherished game.]

Do you remember the first time you played Metroid Prime? I do.

Seeing Samus' Sci-Fi epic begin was an amazing moment, her 3D adventure leaving me in absolute awe as I first stepped into her shoes, but not before a marvelous display of her agility as she leapt from her gunship and onto the opening area: the abandoned space frigate Orpheon. Here to investigate a distress signal, assuming control of her was remarkably relaxing. The planet Tallon IV loomed in the distance, its rich blues and bright yellows standing out from an otherwise derelict, almost ruined frigate. Floating above were small chunks of space debris -- asteroids slowly making their way past, a carefully timed shot from Samus' beam cannon breaking them apart, revealing a neat example of the detail that would later be found throughout the game.

Entering the space frigate was eerie, the initially narrow hallways instilling a sense of claustrophobia (exacerbated by the uncertainty of what was to come next -- particularly for someone completely new to the Metroid franchise) that hadn't been felt in any other game prior. Discovering the first signs of disaster was chilling: a carcass of a test specimen lied uncomfortably across the floor, small parasites chewing at its lifeless hide. Scanning the environment revealed that Orpheon's escape pods had all been discharged, their destination somewhere on the planet below, whilst space pirate bodies were strewn across the room, their cause of death varying from the severing of a spinal cord to traumatic blows to the head. Farther into the frigate's desolate ruins was yet another room with a story to tell, this time containing another example of the specimen found before, safely in a state of hibernation, while helpless space pirates attempted to attack. Their last-ditch efforts seeming almost sad as we swiftly put them out of their misery.

Omnipresent humming sounds and sudden explosions as Orpheon's panels started to collapse ensured an atmosphere that was haunting, our isolation as we continued forward causing brief, poignant moments of hesitation yet interminable curiosity as we discovered yet another piece of information about what may have taken place here. The ship's computer systems provide some facts, an experiment with a substance called Phazon and some of Tallon IV's native life appearing to have played a part in the ship's devastation, while pirate logs reveal a hasty retreat, a reaction to the fall of the planet Zebes, and a fear about the possibility that "The Hunter" (clearly Samus Aran) may be following.

Metroid Prime's first boss may be easy, but that doesn't mean she isn't creepy.

Deeper into the frigate, yet more space pirate bodies and debris lay strewn across the barren floors, our wits tested once again as the ship's defense system, some mounted ceiling turrets, attack on sight. After a short elevator ride a cheeky space pirate drops from the ceiling, his attempt to unnerve us with his sudden appearance failing as a few shots lay the final blows to his fragile body. Then we find her, the Parasite Queen, crawling out of a duct and into the ship's reactor. Protected by shields she begins her attack, though the spaces in her defenses provide an easy way for us to fight back, her timely death causing her to fall into the reactor's core, initiating the ship's self-destruct sequence.

The following escape is intense, the frigate's structure collapsing as we run through its ventilation shafts and tunnels. More defense turrets attempt to impede our progress, but a quick scan of their control panels deactivates them and allows us to continue on our way. Farther along we find Meta-Ridley, a cybernetically enhanced and reborn Ridley after his defeat on Zebes, his fleeing an incentive to follow. Tracking his flight pattern, Samus escapes Orpheon and lands on Tallon IV, its heavy rain providing a distinctive change of atmosphere as we look around and see the lush but alien plant life. Attention to detail is rife here, as exploration and scanning starts to peel back the layers of the planet's ecosystem, its flora and fauna's appearance proving to be surprisingly compelling. Raindrops fall gently onto Samus' visor, an impressive technical feat back then, whilst mist hovers above a small pond. Everywhere you look there are neat little details that immediately make Tallon IV a captivating place, and they definitely make for a wondrous change of pace after the creepy, confined spaces of the now destroyed Orpheon. Instantly, a sense of adventure is instilled inside of me as I search my surroundings and learn, along with Samus, just what this foreign planet has in store for me. Preparing for the unknown, I take a moment to take in the beauty before firing off a shot at the nearest door and continuing on with my... no, our adventure.

All of the above happens in the first hour or so of Metroid Prime and, when compared to the rest of the game, it seems almost insignificant. But despite this, I thought it was worth reflecting on these initial moments, recalling the time I (and perhaps you) first experienced what Metroid was like in three dimensions, and when the game's atmosphere, mechanics and wonderfully alien art direction were revealed for the first time. Like Mario and Link's before it, Samus' transition to 3D was a special one, and it is an experience that will stick inside my memory forever. But it's not the only fond memory I have of this game; there are plenty more moments that deserve some attention, too, and I'll discuss those in my next post.


Gaming in Public said...

This game is good not just for Metroid, but helped put Retro Studios on the map. Now I am 2-D biased myself when it comes to Metroid but it did a lot for 3-D games. A good map system, loading screens a thing of the past, and a targeting system that worked well.

Steven O'Dell said...

Gaming in Public -- Yeah, but those loading screens were replaced with elevator rides, a solution that went on to plague games like Mass Effect, so its innovations aren't all good. ;) Don't get me wrong, though -- I'd definitely prefer something happening in game than some random, placeholder screen while the game loads. It's just obvious that Metroid Prime and its sequels use the elevators and slowly opening doors to hide it, that's all.

Otherwise, I agree wholeheartedly. It also demonstrated that first person games need not be shooters all the time -- though of course some would argue it is a shooter -- which I wish other developers took advantage of a little more. I get that shooters make the money, but that perspective's potential is going untapped while everyone focuses on shooting things in the face. :(