November 20th, 2009
Areas Covered: Command Center (revisited, again)
Discussion Points: Command Station tutorial, Skyway Access set piece, Pirate Commander, Homeworld pacing
Command Center (revisited, again)
Here we are, back at the Command Center, re-equiped and ready to snuff out the rest of the map, again. We have almost all the tools we need, so on this third time around we can genuinely begin scouting out those hidden missile upgrades. I can’t help but feel a little betrayed that we’ve been teased by these upgrades a numerous times now.
At this point I’m also quite surprised at the length of the Homeworld area, which is probably 1.5 times the size of the other major planets. It’s just long enough that we won’t have the opportunity to cover the remaining sections in this article.
If we head back to Defense Access we can clear the phazon wall (continual practice of the new nova beam/x-ray visor combination) and finally disable the defense system, allowing that jerk-off Admiral Dane and his military men to storm the base. The room just behind the phazon wall, Command Station, is another good example of verticality used well. The room continues the tutorialization of the nova beam and X-ray visor, in a series of climbs and descents, up and down the spiral of platforms. The area is a tangled web and it’s often difficult to discern the next platform, pirate or phazon wall (the latter, part of the power down process). This environment encourages the player to switch between standard and X-ray visors to filter out the noise, whereby the X-ray visor identifies pirates and the elements within the phazon walls, and the standard visor makes it easy to discern the location of next platform. In this way, it teaches the player to operate rapidly between alternative states as the scenario becomes increasingly frantic.
With the defence system disabled Skyway Access is taken off lockdown. The next objective is to rendezvous with Admiral Dane who is appropriately waiting there for us. When you arrive Dane will brief you on the situation before cowering away in his space ship. I’m not sure why, but the notion of this old dude bossing me around, in a Metroid game no less, is a strange anomaly, it just feels offensive. I preferred it when the Galactic Federation were in name only.
Dane equips you with 12 Demolition Troopers dressed in some pretty bad-ass suits. You’re objective is to escort the troops through to a security door which they can then put out of commission, leading the way for the final assault. The sequence is basically divided into a series of smaller sections where the player is given a handful of accompanying soldiers which they must defend, at each interval the soldiers switch up, the goal is to not lose too many of them along the way, however many is never specified.
This sequence seems to ape off the linear set pieces of games such as Call of Duty 4 or Halo. The inherent problem is that Metroid Prime is neither of those games, and whilst the action’s great (due largely to the motion controls and hyper mode mechanic), as a purist I can’t help but gawk at the idea a little. The pumped up music, transit trains which randomly pass through the environment and waves of pirates make it a pretty exciting sequence. There’s little time to fluff about, so hyper mode and the X-ray visor become crutches to lean on. You see, the X-ray visor also has the ability to zone in on the weak points of all enemies, more often than not the face, effecting nailing them in one go with a “head shot”. The sequence is basically a series of regular pirate confrontations, strung together over a few rooms and with a few added variables to watch over. I preferred in ingenuity of the vacuum sequence better myself, but both do well to elevate the action which seems only suitable given that we are in the space pirate’s central base.
Once you’ve made your way on through, Samus runs into the ultra pink Pirate Commander, the final pirates defence. A series of close up shots in hyper mode make light work of the battle. The Pirate Commander warps between the two side platforms, and then hides behind cover once you’re in close proximity. He plays cheaply making it difficult to hit him. Because of this the player is forced to cheapen themselves too and hyper mode and the X-ray visor are made necessities. All the battle amounts to then is the player trying to land shots on the commander while maintaining enough distance in between before he teleports or hides behind cover. It feels like a rather cheap spectacle. Throughout the battle the player spends almost the majority of their tie in hyper mode, it’s disappointing then that the commander’s minions didn’t try to overload Samus with phazon. This would have likely made the battle more engaging, particularly if the commander joined in too and stopped hiding.
Once you’ve downed the commander, the arena opens up, allowing Samus to land her ship before heading directly to the seed. Before we get that far though I want to discuss the pacing of the Pirate Homeworld which can be documented as such:
Command Center, stealth sequence (linear) -> Research Facility, quiet sequence (linear) -> Elysia revisiting, shift of pace (planet swapping, Steam Lord branching) -> Research facility revisiting, quiet area becomes busy (open paths of entry) -> Command Center, front and backstage collide, Samus retreads the area out in the open (open entry points) -> Phazon Mining Site, setpiece battle climbs the pace (linear) -> Assault, action-heavy sequence (linear)
As we can see the pacing starts slowly in the backstage allowing Samus to expand her ability set before she knocks down the gates and storms the central base. This all comes to a head with a final confrontation with Ridley, which we’ll discuss in the next article.