Monday, January 21, 2008

Game Review: Metal Slug 3 (XBLA)

So here it is, review of the game of the year. The game everybody has been waiting for, with high definition 3d and immersive RPG elements... Wait, no sorry. That's Mass Effect, and I'll get to that soon but it's so good I don't want to rush playing it to get a review as soon as possible, like I did with Halo 3. Keep your eye on the page though, it'll be here soon.

In the mean time, here's the best game to hit the X Box Live Arcade since Castlevania Symphony of the Night, Metal Slug 3. In the aftermath of Doom's release in the early 90's, the side scrolling shooter had it's death knell called, and the genre began to dissipate into infinity along with the point and click adventure and the dentist simulator. Like Rush for Prog Rock, a few examples of the genre survived and carried on releasing with a cult fan base eager to scoop up any new releases. The aforementioned Castlevania series were one, and Metal Slug was another.

Metal Slug 3, for me, was the pinnacle of the series, with branching paths, drop in two player mode, vehicles and a wealth of ridiculous weaponry. Despite this, the main appeal is the lovingly drawn 2D graphics that, while low resolution, convey a perfectly cartoon-ish atmosphere for the ensuing carnage. Rather confusingly, though one would expect the simple graphics to be a breeze for the mighty 360's triple core processors, the game does get laggy in some of the busier sections. The design work is splendid and varied too, from giant crabs to riot geared troopers, from big robots to the Lovecraft-ian second boss the game maintains a constant sense of chaos throughout.

It's this chaos and sense of humour that helps make Metal Slug 3 such a fun title. The player constantly has to dodge a hail of incoming fire, though not as intense as the frankly unplayable looking "Bullet Hell" games, while firing back enough to give the player Shell Shock from prolonged exposure. The weapons on display include everything from a pistol, to a laser weapon, with the shotgun and flame thrower proving to be the most deadly. My favourite weapon, despite not being that powerful, is the Rocket Launcher, mainly due to the Arnie-esque exclamation from the game when it's collected ("RACHKET LO-AUNCHERRR").

The vehicles are a mixed bag. Whilst all are very cool, many of them are about as useful as stilts made from crackers. The classic Metal Slug itself is still the most versatile, with a spinning turret and bizarrely brilliant manoeuvrability (for a tank) make it a stand out choice, whereas the elephant slug is ponderous even against the zombie enemies. It makes up for this a little with the ability to eat a car battery and fire lightning from its trunk, but from a game play perspective it serves little to no purpose. Still, self destructing a heavily armed ostrich will never get old.

The game revolves around special agents hunting down a sinister dictator while mutant animals and zombies start cropping up everywhere. Coincidence? You bet. The story isn't anything special, but at least it gets the player from A to B, and is better than giving no story whatsoever (Ahem, Nanostray). Interestingly though, the game has as much of a plot twist as you can have with a game with no real plot, which doubles the length of the game.

At the same time, the length is a major problem for the price. With it being an Arcade game initially, the game is finish-able in about an hour. Despite the replay value, it seems a waste to have not added in extra content. There are seven slug games in all, but only 3 (the 4th in the series!) has ever graced a Microsoft console, so one of the other titles could have been thrown in for the price. Add to this it's priced at 800 Microsoft Points, which roughly equates to eight new English pounds. Not that I'm suggesting this is a complete rip off, but bear in mind the whole series is available on the Wii for twenty pounds, and even on XBox Live Arcade there's Psychonauts for twelve, which happens to be one of the best games of all time.

If, however, you do want a short, fun, two player game you can do much worse. In terms of fun, this is light years ahead of the XBLA's very similar Alien Hominid, but at the same time loses out in terms of content. Besides, even if you don't enjoy the game, what other titles can boast a sub-machine gun toting monkey in a diaper fighting an army of blood vomiting zombies?