We eagerly began playing through Metroid Prime 2: Echoes the moment it hit our offices, and will be bringing you a full review in time for the game's release. For now, we wanted to bring you our early impressions based on our first sitting with the game. Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is, of course, the sequel to one of the best games of 2002. Retro Studios delivered a truly amazing and atmospheric game with the original Metroid Prime, so the sequel has a lot to live up to. For what it's worth, the game clearly follows in its predecessor's footsteps--it looks similar and plays similarly, featuring the same innovative control scheme that disguises this latest Metroid Prime as a first-person shooter, when in fact it's very much like the side-scrolling action adventure games on which it's based, only in full 3D. To make a long story short, we're quite impressed by what we've played so far, as the game seems to capture the same essence as its predecessor. But will that be enough?
We should note that we dove right into the single-player version of Metroid Prime 2 in particular. One of the big changes introduced in this sequel is a split-screen multiplayer mode for up to four players, but we've bypassed that for now in favor of the single-player experience. Still, we looked over the available multiplayer options in the manual. The multiplayer portion is available right from the get-go, but seems strangely incongruous with the otherwise-consistent gameplay experience. In the single-player mode, players once again reprise the role of Samus Aran, interstellar bounty hunter. In the multiplayer mode, up to four players can be Samus--there's no rhyme or reason to it, except to make possible a standard deathmatch mode, as well as a bounty mode, in which players must try to collect as many coins as possible, partly by blasting coins out of their opponents. We've reported on the multiplayer portion of the game previously, so check out those impressions if you're curious.
As for the single-player campaign, it begins predictably enough. Samus tracks an anomaly on the planet Aether, and as she flies down to investigate, her ship is rocked by a massive storm--she lands safely enough, but is trapped. No way to go but forward.
Like its predecessor, Metroid Prime 2 makes a strong effort to draw you into its world. Samus must frequently use her scan visor to uncover details about her surroundings, identify the weak points in her enemies, and manipulate objects such as locks and computers. If you're used to playing lots of first-person shooters or other high-speed action games, all the scanning can be a little off-putting at first. Clearly, this is not a white-knuckle action game, but more of a methodical experience. Samus is not simply a killer--she's more of an investigator. The game rewards you for exploring your surroundings.
Early on, Samus discovers a bizarre temporal rift. Your curiosity gets the better of you and you end up entering it, where you discover that there appears to be a sort of evil twin of Samus, clad in dark-colored armor. The enigmatic creature eludes your grasp a couple of times early on, so its intentions are unclear--it's not as immediately threatening as, say, the evil version of Samus in Metroid Fusion for the Game Boy Advance. Still, this serves as an introduction to the fact that the world of Aether has both a light side and a dark side--and most of its inhabitants have a counterpart, accordingly. Samus will need to travel to and from the different dimensional versions of the world to succeed.
The game's combat is basically the same as before. You can automatically lock on to enemies, which makes the combat focused less on aiming and more on maneuvering to avoid getting hit. Samus' power beam is highly effective against the foes you'll face at first, including some rather scary-looking dark troopers--the corrupted remnants of an expeditionary marine force that landed before you. In a clearing, you'll find the dead remains of other marines next to their ship, and scanning these individuals produces a lot of optional background information, which gets stored in your data files along with all the creature logs and other info you've gathered.
At a glance, Metroid Prime 2 looks identical to the first game, since it features the same heads-up display, smooth frame rate, nonexistent loading times, and generally great-looking graphics. However, obviously the environments and characters you'll find are completely new, and once again the environments seem to succeed at having a surprisingly natural look to them, while at the same time not being confusing to navigate. As in the first game, you'll also be able to consult a 3D map of your surroundings that does a great job of letting you see where you have and haven't explored.
A certain event occurs early on in the game that imbues Samus with some strange new powers. She'll be able to decipher alien language and manipulate alien machinery because, it turns out, she's the last hope of an ancient race that's been ravaged by the evil that's swept Aether. She has no choice but to help the enigmatic creature who beseeches her to do its bidding, so she carries on further into the unknown.
The game gives the impression that it's going to be quite big. In addition to having to discover all your old suit enhancements, such as power bombs, the spider ball, and the grapple beam, Samus will now be able to find the classic screw-attack upgrade (which wasn't present in Metroid Prime, despite being in every other Metroid game), as well as some brand-new beam types and visor types. The new light and dark beams will factor into the puzzle-solving portions of the game, as well as into the combat, since the beams will be effective against opposite-hued foes.
We've enjoyed our experiences thus far with Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. The environments are densely packed with detail and are interesting just to walk around in, and the game seems to draw you into its world, convincing you that you're exploring this bizarre, often dangerous landscape. The combat mechanics are as solid as ever, and the puzzle elements seem like they'll have a number of unique twists this time around. Of course, since the game is fundamentally similar to its predecessor, it'll be interesting to see if it manages to be similarly impressive overall, in the wake of that game's success and the time that's elapsed since its release.
We invite you to take a look at our latest batch of screenshots and videos from the finished version of the game. We'll bring you a full review soon.