By Josh Speer / October 29th, 2021
|Developer||Nintendo, Mercury Steam|
|Release Date||October 8th, 2021|
|Age Rating||T for Teen – Animated Blood, Fantasy Violence|
20 years is a long time to wait for anything. Especially a video game, since most consoles only last a handful of years before being replaced by the next generation. And though we’ve had adventures set in the Metroid universe since Metroid Fusion, we’ve all been waiting a long damned time to actually play Metroid Dread. I still remember my complete shock when Nintendo unveiled it recently during E3. I nearly fell out of my seat, and spent the rest of the presentation hollering in glee. Now that I’ve rolled credits on Metroid Dread, I feel adequately equipped to cover the latest adventures of Samus Aran. And hopefully to answer the question of whether or not Metroid Dread lived up to 20 years of crazy expectations.
Right out of the gate, I loved how Metroid Dread continued Fusion’s focus on narrative. The early Metroid games didn’t have much of anything in the way of plotting or dialogue, even though the Prime games did. So I appreciated the narrative tool of Samus’ AI companion ADAM laying out the stakes as you progress. The game starts when you get a warning about a possible X-Parasite appearance on the distant planet ZDR. It’s set in a remote corner of the galaxy, one you’re not familiar with. Things go wrong very quickly. The EMMI robots sent by the Federation to investigate immediately go radio silent. Thus, it’s your job to be the badass bounty hunter again and put things right. Which would normally work out just fine, but this time you have the odds firmly stacked against you.
From the moment you land, you’re confronted by an unknown foe. Not only does it utterly thrash Samus, but worse yet, it appears to be a Chozo. The same race that not only saved Samus as a child, but helped empower her to face a future of deadly threats. So why is this one attacking you so viciously? All you know is you lose the fight, and wake up with most of your armor and upgrades stripped away. There’s also a gaping hole in your memory for most of the incident, so ADAM fills you in on what it observed. Which unfortunately isn’t much. All you know is you still have a job to do, and you’re bound and determined to do it, even in a much weakened state.
When I say Samus is weakened, I really mean it. All she has left are the bare essentials, her arm cannon and standard missiles. She’s lost her Morph Ball, her powerful element-resistant armor and her Power Bombs. And while you’ll eventually get all those back, there’s another issue. Samus is actively being hunted by the same EMMI sent by the Federation. Someone hacked them, and turned them into merciless hunting hounds that patrol distinct zones. I can honestly say I’ve never encountered this sort of threat in a Metroid game. Sure, SA-X would need to be escaped a few times before you could finally defeat it in Fusion. But here, no matter how strong you get, each and every EMMI encounter is a life or death chase. And what makes it more challenging is these nasty robots learn new tricks as you proceed, making each one a more effective hunter than the one that came before it. I never expected survival horror elements in this series, but they’ve effectively integrated them here.
I loved the atmosphere in Dread, both literal and figurative. ZDR is a strange planet unwilling to share its many secrets until they’re hard earned. Meanwhile, the story atmosphere is one of anxiety, mystery and, obviously, dread. While the thrill of exploring the unknown is still present, it’s minimized somewhat due to the newfound focus on survival horror. That’s not a complaint, necessarily. It’s just that on planet ZDR I often felt like a rat in a maze, especially when the cruel robotic felines started chasing me. The map isn’t as free to explore as in previous Metroid games, most notably Super Metroid, which I still revere as the best of the series. You’ll regularly be forced onto new tracks you have to explore to proceed. That said, there’s plenty this game still has going for it, and that includes the gameplay itself.
Much like the recently overhauled Metroid: Samus Returns, Metroid Dread showcases the talents of Mercury Steam. Besides her usual tricks, Samus also has her Melee Counter return, which can be incredibly helpful once you master the timing. And master it you must, since later bosses and foes feature QTE counter moments that must be accurately pulled off to defeat them. I had some mixed feelings about that, since it basically forces gamers to play a very specific way.
That said, I loved exploring in the game and blasting harmful alien species. It’s relatively easy to use the shoulder buttons to stop and aim your arm cannon, though less so in the heat of the moment. Honestly, the farther in the game you go, the more buttons you’ll have to hold at one time, which did frustrate me somewhat. Especially with regard to the Speed Booster and Shinespark maneuvers, which were inexplicably mapped to the same joystick. Honestly, if Mercury Steam just allowed the option to remap controls, this wouldn’t have been a problem whatsoever. But since they didn’t, I found it difficult to muster the patience to explore 100% of the map.
One area the gameplay shone, despite the challenge, was in the EMMI encounters. I’ll be the first to admit, I hate those crawling robotic monsters. But that just makes it all the more satisfying when you get the opportunity to slay them. This plays out like a classic survival horror segment, with a supercharged Samus aiming for their weak spot, blasting them frantically and striving to destroy them before she’s caught. And even though they’re ruthless as they chase you, I never felt the encounters unfair. They’ll just require fast reflexes, smart tactics and pattern recognition. Luckily, if you fail, you can just try again from the last checkpoint. It also doesn’t hurt when Samus gets the Phantom Cloak ability, which turns her invisible briefly. Just don’t rely on it overmuch, since EMMI can still hear you wandering around, even if they can’t see you.
Each EMMI you defeat will reward you with a new upgrade, as will Chozo Statues and a handful of boss battles. You’ll get really rad new abilities like the Spider Magnet, which lets Samus cling to specific types of terrain. You’ll also have returning favorites like the Grapple Beam. There’s a huge variety of upgrades just waiting to be found, though the very best are saved until the final moments of the game.
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