Metroid Prime 2: Echoes Reader Review
I love this game. But I need to get a few things off my chest first. So, to begin, some confessions:
I didn't finish it. Got as far as the final boss battle, had a couple of attempts, then gave up. I still have bad memories of the final boss in the first MP - it was stupidly difficult, took me hours and hours and caused immense frustration which respectively poisoned my opinion of the entire game, and I didn't want to go through that all over again. Anyway, read somewhere that the final cut scene wasn't all that great, so didn't feel like I was missing out on very much.
I don't really like the whole Dark Aether idea. It's just too... well, dark, and depressing. It seems like a fairly cheap way of doubling the explorable world, with little improvement to gameplay. Only once in the game did it strike me as being used to good effect - when I had to switch back and forth between dimensions to progress towards a key expansion. The rest of the time, I just tramped through it with a feeling of impatience and frustration, hoping baddies wouldn't materialise from those oleaginous black pools, anxious to return to the wonderful environments of light Aether with my life intact.
I get lost ALL THE TIME. I spend probably over half my time playing MP2 just staring at the map screen, zooming in and out, panning, scrolling, rotating - desperately trying to work out exactly where the hell I am in a room relative to the exit which I can clearly see on the map. Is it slightly above and behind me? Is it behind a passage or a wall? What is the quickest route back to a Save station?
I am forced occasionally to refer to walkthroughs. Some of those expansions I would never find if I played this game constantly from now till the next millennium. And sometimes I have absolutely no idea where I'm supposed to be heading next.
I really struggled to get into this game at all. The first few hours I found oppressively tough, and just not as enjoyable as the early part of the first MP (with its fantastic space-ship training level). It was more of the same, but harder, with more scanning, tougher bosses, and more doors which I just couldn't bloody get through yet, because I didn't have the right beam or power-up.
I stopped playing for months when I got bogged down. Yes, that's a pun, as it was in the Torvus bog area; I just stopped playing. It seemed like a slog, and the succession of horribly difficult bosses had worn down my resistance. Each one took forever to fight, and losing meant starting again from the last Save point, trekking back to the boss arena, going through cut scenes again (I only recently realised you could skip them!)and attempting the battle once more with a new attack strategy, only to realise that the idea was hopeless and my energy was depleting twice as quickly as before.
I don't read most of the scans. There are just too many. I'm still a bit confused about who the Pirates are compared to the Troopers and the Luminoth and the Ing, and what they're all doing on this planet, how they got here, what exactly that energy is and what all the temples are for - it's like Eastenders in space, just loads of plot. To be fair, it seems like a pretty decent and well constructed story for this genre of game, but reading all the Lore entries and diary entries of all these characters is too much hard work. The story is like background noise to me, although it does add atmosphere when you start to piece some of it together, I suppose.
Till quite late on in the game, the Light/Dark beam weapons are frustrating to replenish, having to kill something with one to gain ammo for the other. It seems gimmicky and doesn't work.
Some of the areas are distinctly lacking in Save points.
Phew. Having got all that out of the way, you may be wondering why I still love this game and rate it as one of the finest games I've ever played. In fact, I'd argue that that it's up there with some of the greatest videogames of all time. So, after all those caveats: Why? I can sum it up in three words. This game is a WORK OF ART. It has been crafted meticulously by artists and level designers who are immensely talented people at the absolute peak of their skills. Later, when I'd come through my patch of frustration and emerged the other side, all tooled up and able to go anywhere, I started to roam through the game world and really look at each area carefully. The range of environments was staggering. The attention to detail astonishing. The different ideas about how a player can get from one point to another were joyous in their exuberance and variety.
And, above all, it has an organic quality, which suggests - as much as possible in a game of this type - a real living, breathing environment. To present so many different kinds of ingenious puzzle within a coherent game world, and challenge the player to use such a diverse range of skills (some of those spider ball track puzzles still make me smile when I remember them) is an immense achievement, and one that painfully few games exhibit. To my mind, there are platform games which are dull because they take the elements of the formula and don't do anything to disguise their essential artificiality - ie. 'the world is just the game'. Then there are adventure games which are boring to play, because the game world may be well realised and atmospheric, but the actual mechanics of playing the game and travelling through that world are not interesting. And then there's Metroid Prime, which is a remarkably successful fusion of game world and game mechanics. It never feels like you're just jumping from platform to platform for the sake of it, to progress to the next area. But neither does it feel that the world you are traversing is pretty but sterile and not there for the purposes of presenting a gameplaying challenge. And that is all down to the design. Every inch of the game has been thought about. It's that rarest of unions in a game, the marriage of beauty and function. Intricate, detailed, gorgeous, varied... you get the idea!
Take, for example, the Sanctuary area. After wading through the watery environs of Torvus Bog, with its submerged passages and underwater caverns and all its rich variety of flora and fauna, you finally ride the elevator (even here, with something as simple as a lift between levels, they are all different, and each in harmony with its location) to arrive in Sanctuary, a futuristic neon-lit fortress vaguely reminscent of Tron, with disconcerting translucent floors and walls, populated by all manner of technological defences and robotic sentries. The contrast is breathtaking, and Sanctuary is such a visually overwhelming location that merely arriving there feels like a reward for all your previous labours. The atmosphere is further enhanced by an urgent bleepy-bloppy soundtrack that sounds like a modem on the blink. Now, all that back-tracking, map scrutinising and boss-battling seems worth it, and the deeper you penetrate into the Sanctuary area, the more rewarding it gets.
It's here that I find myself muttering "wow" a lot, and chuckling with pleasure - after a sharp intake of panicky breath - when the effects of the Rezbit's scrambling attack first hit. (Eternal Darkness's sanity meter, anyone?) As I acquire more and more of Samus's kit, and unreachable regions of the game start to open up to me, revealing their always delightful secrets, I begin to put my earlier struggles in the game into context. It was supposed to be tough to begin with, and it has been deliberately designed such that you slowly but steadily gain mastery over the world by the gradual accumulation of the necessary power-ups. By the time you've collected all your bits and you can roam through Aether like a god, untroubled by enemies that harrassed you the first time, and crashing through puzzles which stubbornly refused to yield for hours, there is a genuine sense of achievement and all the niggles have dissolved into a warm suffusing glow. Even Dark Aether, that oppressive gloomscape, eventually becomes less intimidating and forboding, albeit never quite 'enjoyable'.
Because of the artistry and care lavished on the landscape, each area repays several visits. The first time, you're usually distracted by the need to fight off enemies, read scanned text, or race through to the next area to collect something important. Later, confident in your armour and ammo, and at a more leisurely pace, you see each area with new eyes and can really appreciate the geography, geology and biology of this wonderful world. Returning to Agon Wastes after several hours in Sanctuary, for example, it brought home to me how each area really does have its own character and atmosphere.
If only all games were like this. It's clearly been a labour of love for some very talented people.
10 / 10