Monday 25 October 2021

Metroid Dread Review (Switch)


It’s been a long road to Metroid Dread. It’s not as if Metroid games even come around every console generation, but the once cancelled Dread has been worth the wait. It’s something truly special.

First of all, it’s a good idea to point out that Mercury Steam where also responsible for the other most recent Metroid game – Samus Returns on the 3DS. Samus Returns really divided fans and critics alike and to be honest it’s too long, the controls are awkward and gimmicky and even the general room layouts don’t really work. So it’s both a massive relief and somewhat of a surprise to find that Dread has removed pretty much every criticism levelled at that game. As such you can dismiss any worries you may have had about the development team. This is not Samus Returns.

As soon as you start playing it’s incredibly clear that a lot of thought has gone into how Samus controls. This has to be one of the most satisfying movement mechanics we’ve seen in years. Samus moves like a dream with everything the player does being slick and solid. At its finest it recalls games like Bayonetta and Vanquish with everything that unfurls on the screen being part of some kind of eye popping ballet of death as one move seamlessly transitions into another. Speed runners should have an absolute ball with this. Again, Samus Returns this is not.

Complimenting the controls, the look and sound of the game set the scene perfectly. The lush opening cinematics are shortly followed by dropping the player into beautifully detailed landscapes to explore. Each area of Dread has its distinctive own personality with ice, lava and botanical areas filled with effects and small details such as the glowing emergency lights on Samus’ suite when she enters a powered down room. The thing looks incredible from start to finish with design of the highest order present throughout. Even the loading screens as you move between sections are gorgeous.

The soundscape is equally impressive. The game moves away from the series trademark of soaring scores and replaces them with more atmospheric tracks that add to the sinister and foreboding feeling that permeates throughout the game. This is highlighted during the EMMI sections which are absolutely chilling and really add to the feeling of erm… dread. If Metroid ever decides to go full survival horror this shows it could probably pull it off.

Speaking of the EMMI, the new gimmick of the game works well. There are seven in total and all are impervious to your attacks until you get hold of a one use upgrade for your arm cannon. They are restricted to patrolling specific areas of the map which are clearly marked with special doors. As interesting as it would have been to have one following you around the entire map like a Terminator, in practice it would have got old fast as the EMMI perform instant kills on you if you get caught. Your only defence is an incredibly short window in which to counter which leaves the machines stunned so you can slide through their legs and run away.

Luckily the game checkpoints well so when you do get caught you can start again from just outside the area. The only real way to get through these areas is to run like hell and hope the EMMI don’t find you. The game does a great job of making your bad ass bounty hunter feel helpless in these sections with the diegetic noise the robots make doing everything it can to make your skin crawl.

Other highlights include some absolutely epic boss fights with beasties that normally take up most of the screen. These can seem imposing at first but every boss has attack patterns which once learned will see you down them remarkably quickly. In general the bosses didn’t stop our progress too much and the only real spike we found was in the game’s final showdown. Keep at it and you’ll get through though and there isn’t anything here that long time Metroid fans will feel overwhelmed by.

In terms of the flow of the general game it should come as little surprise that it follows the general Metroid format of explore map, find skill and explore the bits of the map you couldn’t explore before. Where it does differ slightly is that at some points the game becomes more linear by funnelling you down certain sections by locking doors. The skills you acquire are both the usual Metroid set mixed with some new additions. There’s a slight issue here in that some of the skills, such as the cloaking device, are used only a handful of times throughout the game which is a shame.

Overall though, Metroid Dread is a resounding triumph. The sound, look, design and control of the game is absolutely spot on. The feeling of exhilaration you get when escaping an EMMI or downing one of the gigantic bosses is unparalleled and the plot is a series high with twists and turns all the way from start to finish. It’s an incredible achievement that in a series with such a high water mark and in a genre which is so oversaturated with solid entries that this stands at very top of the pile. Whether you think it’s better than Super Metroid will likely be based on when you first played the seminal SNES classic but Dread is a game that deserves to sell systems and is an undeniable, remarkable classic.

Overall 10/10

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