Title: Metroid Dread
Developer: Mercury Steam
Release Date: October 8, 2021
Reviewed On: Switch
Dread is an emotion that we are all familiar with. It’s that sinking feeling in your stomach you get watching a horror film. You know that something is going to happen. You just don’t know what awaits you, but you know you must continue further. Metroid Dread is a title that captures this feeling perfectly.
Bounty Hunter Samus Aran has received a video message showing that the X, a parasite thought to be extinct, has survived on the planet ZDR. In an attempt to investigate, the Galactic Federation has launched seven research droids, the E.M.M.I. However, all contact was lost when the E.M.M.I touched down on ZDR. Now Samus, the only person immune to the X, must investigate the planet and ensure the eradication of the parasites.
Dread continues where Fusion left off. The BSL Research Station has crashed into SR388, destroying itself and every X parasite that infested the planet. Everything is recapped at the beginning, which causes the opening to be a bit slow as you veteran players will already know this information all too well. Still, it is a treat to see classic scenes from past titles rendered in gorgeous 3D.
The remainder of the narrative is told between a mixture of monologues from the ship AI, Adam, and unvoiced cutscenes. Adam is less verbose than he was in Fusion, making his monologues easier to read. On the other hand, Cutscenes are shown through actions with very little dialogue, cutting right through to Samus’ character.
There were plenty of times that I would squirm in anxiety and delight as Samus meticulously walked around an enemy only to launch a fully charged Beam at her opponent, obliterating it on the spot. For a character that has had little characterization in the past, Dread makes sure that you understand Samus better than ever before by the end.
Although there are a few missteps the story takes, there are scenes at the beginning that can confuse the player. Particularly in the scene directly after Samus lands on ZDR, there is clarity given later on, but initially, I wasn’t sure how I got to that point. Also, scenes towards the conclusion hint at something more to come, but it feels a little flimsy in execution.
Cutscenes transition from gameplay seamlessly that I was often surprised to step through a door only to be greeted with a cutscene. These transitions only helped to amp up my feeling of dread as I was never sure what to expect. This tension went through the roof when I came faced with an E.M.M.I door.
The E.M.M.I prowl around specific sections of the map and cannot leave them, E.M.M.I doors set boundaries for the player to see the range of each one. Once through the door, your only hope is to keep on the move and hope you’re not spotted. This dynamic created delightful anxiety each time I ran into them, and frequently I would check my map to plot a route before heading through.
The E.M.M.I aren’t the only new addition to Dread. Samus can now slide under obstacles and aerial enemies. It’s a simple design choice that makes movement feel fluid from the start and engages the player with new possibilities. I frequently ran towards enemies only to slide under them and then shoot a few blasts before moving onto the next area.
Additionally, the parry from Samus Returns makes a return and feels much better to use this time around. Enemies give an excellent indicator of what attack can be parried, and its utilization during boss fights makes each encounter feel epic. The downside is that it can make the game a joke when mastered as no enemy will touch you, although hard mode could change this.
Hard Mode is unlocked after the player clears the base game once on any percent. The mode seems to upgrade enemy damage while increasing their health. So, parrying might be the only way to survive for some players making it a skill to pull off regularly. But, of course, this mode is intended for experts.
As it stands, parrying trivializes the base game in a way that can hurt the atmosphere that the title painstakingly molds through each encounter and cinematic. This atmosphere is what will keep players coming back to dread, to experience that initial feeling of helplessness as you are unsure of what to do next. However, power creep makes the beginning tenser than the end, as once you get the final suit upgrade, the player can put down anything in a hit or two.
I was happy to admire the design of the world and creatures without fear for my life, though. The world of ZDR feels uniquely foreign yet vaguely familiar. As if it took parts of the world we know and twisted to allow new creatures to inhabit it, all of it rendered in beautiful 3D models.
Metroid Dread is the title fans have been waiting for, for nineteen years. The wait wasn’t easy, but what’s here could rival even Super Metroid in terms of atmosphere and gameplay. Even now, I am thinking about going back to try and perfect my run and see how fast I can get that hundred percent clear. Through its versatility in combat, excellent enemy and level design, and engaging story, this experience sets the bar for the action genre and is brilliantly dreadful.
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