Version tested: Wii
Far longer, more intricate, more challenging and just simply more imaginative than most shooters cluttering up the shelves, Metroid Prime 3 is another master-class of design brilliance from Retro Studios and the perfect end to an almost perfect gaming trilogy.
Sow your oats
Set six months after the events of Echoes, the general idea of Corruption (as detailed in our recent hands-on preview is that the Galactic Federation's network computers (the Aurora Units) have been infected with a virus. Swift action prevented all of them going down, and it turns out that entire planets are being corrupted with a mutative substance called 'Phazon', via gigantic 'seeds' called Leviathans. In a nutshell, your job is to go to each and every one of these infected planets and take out the seeds in an attempt to reverse the devastating corrupting effects of this deadly Phazon. Very early on the game, it transpires that the nefarious being behind all of this meddlesome nonsense is actually the yang to Samus's yin - Dark Samus.
But in corrupting Samus with the effects of Phazon, the Galactic Federation comes up with a Phazon Enhancement Device which allows her to enter what's known as 'Hypermode' (by pressing the + button on the Wii remote), allowing you to harness its powers, and - you guessed it - bolt on a whole array of new abilities as you progress through this rather wonderful game. On the downside, though, entering this super-powerful Hypermode actually drains Samus' health in the process, so it needs to be used with a degree of caution, and within a strict time limit. Failure to observe these restrictions means you run the risk of overdose and imminent death unless you frantically stab the fire button to vent it all out of your system. Remember: winners don't do drugs.
Kill your television
Aside from this new weapon-enhancing ability, the fundamentals are all very similar to the previous games in the series. Once again, with the press of a button you can change into the Morph Ball and, viewed from a third-person perspective, rolls around the environment and access parts of the level that are otherwise off-limits. This central dual ability has always marked out the Metroid Prime games as something distinctly difference from the first person shooter herd, and allows Retro to craft levels in a way that's simply not possible in standard shooters. Your approach to exploring the intricacies of each planet is always with the knowledge that eventually you'll have all the abilities you need to access its tempting secrets. No other shooter demands the level of re-exploration that Metroid Prime games do. Some might not appreciate the back-tracking but, for me, the puzzle-esque approach to the level design gives the game an immersive sense of 'place' that's quite unique.
Where Corruption really progresses over and above the previous games in the series is the sublime implementation of the Wii controls. By giving over the targeting to the Wii remote, you're afforded mouse-like targeting precision during combat, with strafing, forward and backward movements assigned to the Nunchuk. Admittedly there is a small learning curve before you'll become truly comfortable (or proficient) with the new control system, but it helps no end by the ability to lock-on to target with the Z button. Given the choice of lock-on aiming (where all shots automatically hit the target) or lock-on free-aiming the latter option is far and away the most enjoyable way to play the game as it allows you to keep your target in your sights easily while giving you the benefit of precision aiming. Having enjoyed it throughout the whole game, I'd go as far to say that this lock-on free aiming system gives a degree of fluid, accurate control that's far and away the most intuitive, satisfying system anyone's come up with on a console. It's that good.
Less easy to get to grips with is the system of turning, which involves pointing the reticule to the edge of the screen. You'll probably have no problem with this system while just avidly scouring and scanning the environment, but during the white heat of boss battling, it's something that may just tie you up in knots if you're not steady with your aim. Overshoot too much, and, whoops, suddenly you're turning when you don't mean to. Again, there's a definite learning curve here, and once you adapt it feels like a great system that's far more than a bolted-on novelty. It genuinely adds something special to an already unique feeling game. Also worth mentioning are the other pleasing areas where the Wii remote's motion sensitivity comes into play, such as having to rotate switches, pull levers and press switches. Sure, they're a rather gratuitous and superfluous novelty, but nevertheless good use of the technology.
Know your rights
As with all the previous Prime games, the gameplay ebbs and flows between gentle exploration (where your scan visor allows you to effectively mine the environment and its inhabitants for contextual detail and narrative) and furious combat. At the gentle end of things, it might seem a little unnecessary to spend ages stopping and flicking to the scan visor just to find out some rather unimportant fine details on what an acid-spitting bug is called, but there's something peculiarly moreish about it once you get going. Far from being a pointless interruption, it adds colour and depth to what might otherwise be Yet Another Alien World. Other games should take note.
Because of the inevitable back-tracking that persists throughout every single Metroid game, it's also a little jarring that the game feels the need to respawn enemies whenever you revisit certain sections of the game world (but not necessarily all - it's inconsistent in that respect), but it's something you get less irritated about as soon as you realise you can generally just run past most of them if you can't be bothered getting into a pointless scrap.
With the slightly negative disclaimers out of the way, the game, as a whole gels fantastically well - as all the Prime games do so expertly. Never less than hugely satisfying to pick your way through, Corruption refines the concept with its perfect sense of pace. Always ready to throw another challenging, wrist-shattering boss encounter in your way, such moments of wide-eyed fire-button pummelling mayhem eventually give way to new abilities and new areas to explore. And unlike some of the ridiculously challenging bosses you'll have faced in previous Primes, there's a sense that Retro actually balanced them properly this time. Sure, you'll be stuck on a few of them, but not in a 'for-god's-sake-I've-been-at-the-same-boss-for-two-hours' kind of way. If you really want that level of challenging insanity to wreak havoc with your carpal tunnels, there's a third difficulty level awaiting those who see it through to the end. For mere mortals, it's pitched perfectly.
Take your time
As for the upgrade formula, it's practically identical to previous games, and some of the same abilities make an inevitable comeback. Without spoiling the fun of discovering the upgrades, Samus get improved abilities to melt metal, freeze liquids, as well as missiles which lock-on to multiple targets, not to mention the excellent Grapple Lasso, which lets you attach the grapple to loose items like enemy armour or door plates, and literally yank it off by whipping back the Nunchuk. Sadly, the plethora of upgrades which emerge later in the game don't quite involve the same level of gesture-based interactivity, but in terms of what they allow Samus to do, they more than make up for that. As with all the games in the series, the progression of your abilities is directly connected to the level design - so not only do you get to enjoy exploring new areas with your improved athleticism, you also have it in the back of your mind that areas that were previously off-limits can be returned to and explored - with rewards guaranteed at every turn.
Responding to criticisms of the past, Retro appears to have realised that players need rather more prompting than it used to give, and the already extremely useful mapping system has been improved with a touch more hand-holding. And when I say 'a touch', I don't mean Halo-style 'walk this way you moron' arrows, but gentle nudges to make it evident that where you really ought to be heading. And before you exclaim that it used to do this before, it just seems better implemented, and seems less inclined to make you traipse halfway across the world just to tell you to sod off somewhere else. It still does that too - but not to the same extent.
The icing on the cake of Metroid Prime 3's appeal lies in unquestionably glorious visuals. Already the best-looking game ever to grace the GameCube, it's appearance on the Wii might not represent any kind of dramatic leap, but nor did it need to make one. Keeping the game consistent with the visual style of the previous two appears to be the order of the day here, with minor improvements to effects, draw distances and detail levels. Tellingly, playing it on a massive plasma screen doesn't prove to be its undoing (as is so often the case with 480p games), and the worst thing you can say about it is that wall and door textures sometimes lack a little detail when viewed up close. Apart from that ridiculously tiny quibble, the rest of the game is a sumptuous feast of artist vision, both ornate and convincingly alien at every turn. Sprinkled with a typically moody soundtrack accompaniment, the game oozes atmosphere without even trying. Once you factor in the challenging combat, silky smooth control system and engaging storyline, it really is a game with very few flaws.
If you wanted to be extra picky, you could gripe about the lack of multiplayer (removed since last time, but not a loss as far as I'm concerned), and you could justifiably say the gameplay hasn't changed a great deal in the intervening years. You might also say the boss monster design obsessed with showing off the precision targeting element too much, but these are the sorts of hairs that superfans like to split. For most of us, the game is utterly fantastic and deserves a place in your collection if you're remotely turned on by either sci-fi or shooters. If you like both, it's a must-buy.
If you've never been treated to the delights of a Metroid Prime title (and sales figures of the last two suggests that's most of you) then it's essential that you at least give this a try - and if you liked either of the previous two, it's just plain essential. Corruption is a game which places adventure as a joint priority among the action, and one that will live long in your memory once you're done with it. Quite unlike the slew of generic first-person shooters crowding out the shelves this year, it's a special game that might take a while to appreciate because of the way it does things differently to other games of a similar nature - but once you do unravel its charms, you'll be glad did. Immersive, engaging and with the kind of gameplay depth that so many shooters lack, Metroid Prime 3 might not represent a huge progression as far as the series goes, but that doesn't stop it from being one of the best games I've played all year - and certainly one of best yet on the Wii.
9 / 10