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Metroid Prime 3: Corruption – third time’s a charm October 31, 2007

Posted by Chris in Console, Games, Reviews.
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When the Wii’s controllers were first showcased to the world, almost everyone immediately thought how perfect they’d be for the FPS genre. Yet it’s taken ten months for that potential to be realised. Red Steel was clunky, Elebits wasn’t quite right either, but with the third and final game in the Metroid Prime trilogy, Retro have finally nailed it.

And when I say ‘nailed it’, I really mean it. Corruption has not only the best first-person shooter controls on Wii, but on any console. There’s simply no argument – five minutes after you start, you’ll wonder if you’ll ever be able to go back to dual analogue. A little something called Halo 3 might well tempt you, but even the most nimble of thumb will struggle to be so accurate so quickly. Right at the beginning Retro are confident enough to showcase the beautiful precision of their new system, asking you to shoot four targets to open a door. Assuming you’ve got the controls set to ‘advanced’ (sensitive, but not too twitchy), you’ll be able to zap ’em all in around two seconds. Later on, you’ll be tasked with shooting down moving targets as you speed down a zipline, or to hit several weak points on a particularly swift enemy. And it’s a doddle. So much so, in fact, that on its default difficulty, Corruption seems much easier than Primes 1 and 2. And that’s a good thing, after the frustration of Echoes and its near-obscenely tricky bosses and unfairly-spaced checkpoints. If you’re the kind of gamer that likes a challenge, then stick it on Veteran instead. It’s the first Prime that can genuinely appeal to all comers.

The structure’s friendlier too – Samus’ adventures take place on several planets instead of one giant gameworld, each split into smallish sections, which are more linear than before. Again, that’s no bad thing – there’s backtracking but it’s much less noticeable, while the ability to communicate with the Galactic Federation is another boon. It might compromise that Prime purity and the sense of all-pervading loneliness, but the radio instructions give the game a greater sense of purpose. With the regular doling out of suit upgrades, progress feels a whole lot swifter.

The corruption of the title is a phazon infection which gradually takes over Samus’ body the further you get. With the new PED suit stopping the disease from destroying her, you can activate Hypermode at any time – here you can use up a full energy tank to get a few seconds of super-powerful blasting to take out pretty much any foe. There’s an element of risk to this, though – Samus can easily get overloaded – an instant game over – if she doesn’t expel enough energy, or gets shot by a phazon-enhanced enemy. In truth, it’s hard to get killed this way, or indeed at the hands of most enemies – the bosses (particularly early on) might require a retry or two, but the surfeit of extra tanks plus the regular energy drops mean that hypermode gets you out of jail in most circumstances.

If Corruption was purely combat-based, that might be a problem – but the intensity of the set-pieces and hunter encounters makes up for that. There’s one particular standout battle involving the defence of a descending platform against a series of space pirates and their attack skiffs, which is followed by a race-against-time escape. But there’s so much more to the Prime games than blasting. The exploration is as much of a joy as ever – with some exemplary level design putting all other first-person games to shame. Sure, Prime’s always been more of an adventure than an out-and-out shootfest, but it’s still a delight to see rooms whose architecture twists and dips, while huge arenas have several levels of platforms to leap from, or bomb slots to activate. And the level of artistry on show puts most 360 and PS3 games to shame. There’s not as many areas of natural beauty (though the more organic Bryyo has a Phendrana Drifts-aping section) but the spiralling morphball tracks and floating Bespin-like platforms of Elysia in particular are cornea-caressing delights. In fact, the entire Skytown level is a design masterpiece, with those aforementioned on-rails ziplines, where Samus’ grapple beam whizzes you through several blast doors which need shooting before you reach them. Its blissful serenity is quite the contrast from the abandoned GFS Valhalla, where corpses of Federation Troopers line the floors, and lights flicker and fade – it’s one of the creepiest Metroid areas ever, with one guaranteed jump-shock, and a fair few unnervingly dark moments if you take the time to read the scans and the cause of death for all these bodies.

Further immersion is provided by the motion controls – it might sound gimmicky, but thrusting and twisting the remote to activate levers or insert energy cells feels brilliant. Ripping the shield from a space pirate by casting the controller forward and yanking it back is even better. And, amazingly, Retro have even managed to make remote-controlled welding fun. Then there’s the medal system which mimics the 360’s Achievements – far from cheapening the experience, it’s nice to be rewarded for your efforts, with unlockables such as a bobblehead Mii for your cockpit, a screenshot taker for swapping pics via Wi-Fi and bumper stickers on Samus’ ship if you’ve got other Nintendo save-games in your internal memory.

Anti-climactic ending aside – there’s a real missed opportunity for a thrilling denouement that’s so obvious it can only have been cut for lack of time – Corruption is a blistering twenty-hour sprint through some of the most intoxicating gameworlds on Wii. Prime lovers may be irritated by the refinements, but everyone else can enjoy the best-designed, best-controlled, and most purely enjoyable entry in the series yet.

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