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Metal Arms: Glitch in the System (GameCube) artwork

Metal Arms: Glitch in the System (GameCube) review

"A game like this is a rarity. It's clearly taken a lot of effort, it's a beautifully crafted title and it's very apparent that publisher Vivendi Universal have splashed out on trying to make this a full-blown robotic romp of an action-adventure. Yet, the marketing's non-existent so there's virtually no hype surrounding it apart from a few veteran gamers on internet forum claiming it to be a "Halo-beater". It may not really be that superior to Halo, but for some reason, despite Metal Arms being a..."

A game like this is a rarity. It's clearly taken a lot of effort, it's a beautifully crafted title and it's very apparent that publisher Vivendi Universal have splashed out on trying to make this a full-blown robotic romp of an action-adventure. Yet, the marketing's non-existent so there's virtually no hype surrounding it apart from a few veteran gamers on internet forum claiming it to be a "Halo-beater". It may not really be that superior to Halo, but for some reason, despite Metal Arms being an incredibly difficult game, it's certainly more likeable than Halo.

The opening cut-scene sees the main character, Glitch - a small yellow mining droid with some strange markings - discovered under a pile of rubble by a few other mining droids. The voice acting here is impressive, with some recognisable cartoon voice-acting talent on show and it looks great. After being re-built by the foul-mouthed repair droid Krunk, Glitch soon joins the droid rebellion. You quickly learn that the milbots, under the command of the evil General Corrosive, are trying to rule the droids, and so you decide to help other droids in trying to destroy Corrosive and the milbots. Normally, the story wouldn't matter in what is essentially - at it's core - a third-person shooter, but the quality of the cut-scenes and audio make the storyline quite immersive which in itself is a rare achievement for a shooter based around robots. The story, coupled with some astounding visuals, soundtrack and some amazing voice-acting from both Glitch and many non-playable characters, really give this game character.

The Campaign mode is the single-player mode where you must complete objective-based missions involving infiltrating compounds, freeing other droids and destroying things that would otherwise aid the enemy. These missions tie in wonderfully with the story so the 40+ of the game's levels aren't just random and seem to have more reason than in other shooters. While most of the action revolves around the destruction of milbots, there's a lot of platforming to do while trying to eradicate the enemy, which is why it would be difficult to class this game as a mere third-person shooter (although you still find yourself fending off waves of enemies). Platforming sections make this game feel a bit like an exploration game with massive guns because of the subtle ways in which these platforming elements are implemented. They give the game a non-linear feel despite a few of the puzzles (e.g. find chip, put chip in machine) being quite generic. Luckily, unlike some shooters I could mention, platforming isn’t fiddly thanks to Glitch’s ability to flip in mid-air with a second tap of the A-button. You could argue that these platforming sections are a bit too simple, and therefore pointless, but they are essential to the brilliance of the levels and their scale to create that feeling of exploration.

The level design is fantastic. Levels are varied through complex combinations of long twisting corridors and large halls and chambers. These require different strategies so blasting never gets too monotonous. Objects and enemies are well-placed and there are some neat touches in terms of level variety. There are some sections where, by use of an in-game console, you can take control of enemy robots. This offers an extra dimension to making your way through some of the levels. Once in control of an enemy milbot you must act very robotically unless you want other milbots to start shooting at you. If you feel like it, you can take a pop at your milbot friends, but make sure you use your special milbot clearance to unlock doors for Glitch and his droid colleagues before you get blown to pieces. Another way of taking control of milbots is by use of the control tether which you can use by sneaking up behind foes and firing the tether into their backs. This is very useful if you can sneak behind a very large bot. Glitch can also take control of vehicles and turrets once their usual milbot occupiers have been disposed of. Much of the level design has been subtly yet exquisitely implemented to create a very solid and tight sense of depth allowing greater freedom in what would otherwise be a quite linear game. It rarely feels particularly scripted but even when you are forced into a set-piece, the execution remains tight, atmospheric and a joy to experience. The only weakness in terms of level design is the fact that in nearly every level, there’s a pit or pool that will instantly kill you, should Glitch fall into it or even touch it. I feel that this is unnecessarily harsh and it adds a huge amount of frustration to an already difficult game.

Other examples of Metal Arms’ wealth of variety are in the tank/R.A.T. in which you must wreak havoc in driving and on-rails shooting levels. Unlike the latest EA James Bond games, these on-rails/driving sections feel like a nice change of pace from the normal third-person shooting levels rather than tedious, repetitive levels that disturb the flow of the main game. One of the reasons for this is that they aren’t that numerous and developers Swingin’ Ape have clearly made some effort to make them quite varied. Some see you infiltrating enemy bases by means of tank-blasting and some see you manning a massive gun turret to prevent waves of enemies from reaching your position. Others see you taking control of the turret on a R.A.T. vehicle or even taking direct control over the vehicle itself. While never really enthralling, these levels are never less than enjoyable.

Let’s face it, you can’t have a quality third-person shooter without big, impressive guns and Metal Arms has these by the bucket-load. Some of the weapons are just normal weapons by other names such as the Scatter Blaster (a very powerful shotgun) or the Barrage Cannon (it’s a rocket launcher). Some of the weapons you’ll find are only useful in certain situations, which often means that some segments of levels require more thought in terms of weapon selection as well as movement through the levels. Scatter Blasters are very handy for narrow corridor melees and the rocket launcher and rivet guns are more suited to long-ranged blasting. It’s at this point you realise that the degree of thought required means that this is a highly intelligent action adventure rather than a generic third-person blasting affair. Most of the weapons are suitably meaty and their intense recoil create a satisfyingly cathartic effect.

Weapons can be upgraded by spending washers (the game’s currency, which can be picked up from the remains of blown-up mils) at Shady and Mr. Pockets’ (no, I’m not quite sure what to make of their names either) stores, which are scattered around levels in discrete areas, out of the way of any blasting action. It’s also possible to purchase secret chips and batteries that extend your life meter. The fact that you can upgrade Glitch through the levels mean that missions never feel detached or random. In all honesty, when looked upon as a whole, much of Metal Arms' genius derives from the fact that the levels display great continuity, so you never feel as if you're just being thrown through random levels. The entire experience has been brilliantly structured to create the sense of a continuing rebellion against Corrosive and his Milbot army.

If you’re reading through this review thinking that Metal Arms will be a very easy shooter for hardened veterans, then you’d be very wrong indeed. Metal Arms, for all it’s charm and wit is rock hard in places. Challenging could be considered a bit of an understatement in Metal Arms’ case, as you’ll find that Glitch gets torn to pieces repeatedly. Gung-ho tactics will see you restarting the level time after time because of the toughness of the milbots and the AI. The Artificial Intelligence is inspired. Milbots take cover under fire and scatter if attacked in a group. In one-on-one situations, milbots try and use sneaky tactics to flank and then attack you in the rear. Enemies, once they’ve spotted you, will try and work in teams to destroy you and just won’t stop searching after a while like they would in other shooters, they’ll hunt you down either cautiously or recklessly – both of which can be exploited in different ways. The mils aren’t poor shots either, they’re deadly accurate from all ranges so you have to keep moving and use cover when you can. Because your average enemy shows such brilliant intelligence, gun-fights are so much more atmospheric than in any other third-person shooter I've encountered. You're constantly looking over you shoulder to seek out any sneaky milbots who may have evaded your attention. When overwhelmed, I found myself becoming nervous and often panicking, and succumbing to their relentless barrage of bullets. Another thing that makes this game difficult in the earlier stages is the general weakness of the weapons in the first few missions. You’ll probably want to buy the Scatter Blaster upgrade as soon as possible.

Metal Arms’ bane is very much the same as with most 3D games nowadays. Metal Arms’ greatest flaw is certainly the camera. The camera is a bit too close to Glitch, which is helpful for long-range gunning, but it can be a nuisance when searching for that next ledge. It also means that your range of vision is limited and this isn’t helped by the fact that in some of the darker levels, you’re virtually restricted to seeing the light from your torch, which doesn’t aid the situation. It also means that Glitch himself clogs up your vision meaning you often have to twiddle the C-stick repeatedly just to see what’s in your sights. Another problem with it is that the camera can become shaky when backing into walls (but it’s not advised you do that in the heat of battle anyway). It can make the game feel, at times, a little claustrophobic, with your vision being hindered and restricted. It can cause problems when surrounded by enemies. However, the camera troubles are just minor flaws really and never really disrupt the gameplay as much as you’d think. Once used to the camera and indulged in the magnificent gameplay, you’ll easily ignore these faults.

As a nice addition there’s a reasonably well-worked multiplayer for you to enjoy as a nice detour from the Campaign mode. The addition of several vehicles and controllable bots means that battles are varied, but you’ll often find that matches inevitably lower to circle-strafing blast-fests. It never really manages to retain the inspiration of the single-player as the multiplayer matches cannot be structured as creatively as the game's Campaign mode. Unfortunately, there aren’t any CPU-controlled ‘bots either which you’d expect would be a certainty what with the superb AI, although, granted, Halo never had any either. Still, it’s a nice addition but not as engaging or as comprehensive as the multiplayer modes in other shooters, but it remains a successful deviation from the norm.

Metal Arms is a game which excels in almost every single area. It is not only an excellent example of the technical ability of today’s consoles, but an inspired fusion of creativity and astounding production values. It looks great with some nicely varied level locations visually. The draw distances are huge and the character models are impressively designed. The animation, despite robotic, is always slick and of high standards, but in some levels, textures tend to get repeated and there can be some mild jaggies but they’re hardly noticeable. Overall, it’s a figurative feast for the eyes. The music is memorable and changes depending on the feel of certain parts of the levels. Slow whispering music can give way seamlessly to rousing or masterful music to suit whatever mood the dynamic gameplay dictates. The SFX are nice and the speech is brilliant with some recognisable voice-acting talent on show. Metal Arms’ developers have also managed to express their vast inventory of ideas over a prolonged period of time throughout this wonderful title. The levels are vast and there’s more than 40 of them. They’re mostly very challenging and rock hard in places. Even once the Campaign mode’s over, you must search all the levels and complete them in quick times for Secret Chips. These secret chips open up extra arenas in the multi-player mode so they’re worth seeking out. There’s over 150 of them so finding them all will take a long time indeed. Very little of Metal Arms seems rushed.

Metal Arms: Glitch in the System is an atmospheric, intelligent and original shooter that is sure to be harshly overlooked by the majority of gamers, which is a pity considering the quality gaming on show. It’s enjoyable, challenging and exquisitely designed but is only let down by minor camera troubles and a difficulty level that may be a bit too hard (especially on the “Hold on to your Nuts” difficulty) even for seasoned veterans of third-person shooter - it may deter some gamers. Despite this though, Metal Arms is a highly enjoyable title with such wealth of variety that it may become an instant classic in some gamers’ eyes. It’s never exactly ground-breaking but the execution of some brilliant ideas have created a magnificent title for all who experience it. Shooter fans and normal gamers will find plenty to like here.

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Community review by ceredig (November 15, 2004)

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