Metroid Dread Review – Samus Is Hunting For More
Metroid DreadOctober 8th, 2021
Metroid is back in the genre the series helped name. Taking on a new threat and a new planet, Samus is back in her power armor looking for trouble or running away from it. Since the Metroid series last released a Metroidvania game, the genre has seen many pretenders to the throne and a few new monarchs too. But Metroid Dread looks to expand on what made the franchise (and the genre) so popular in the first place and isn’t just resting on its laurels.
The story behind Samus’ journey to planet ZDR is explained at the very beginning of the game with painfully slow text and an increasingly unwelcome exposition dump. Frankly, it was not the most encouraging start to the game. It feels as if the developers of Metroid Dread were worried about immediately letting players loose. Thankfully this does come to an end, and you can actually start playing the game, but not before Samus loses all of her powers because this is a Metroid game after all. Despite this, the first few minutes will be spent learning the controls to everything you still have access to.
It’s not that you have a great deal to remember at first – you’ve got your platforming, your aiming, and your shooting – but what you’re really contending with is the speed of the game. Metroid Dread is fast. Really fast. I booted up Dead Cells for the first time in ages to compare and, after a few hours of Dread, I could barely stand how slow Dead Cells felt. You will be almost literally rocketing down corridors and around enemies in Dread and you’ll have to get used to it.
The world is sprawling too, which coupled with the speed can get you very lost, very fast. Hub rooms scatter the alien world, but they often look similar enough to confuse you as to where you are if you’re not pausing to check. Actually, quite a lot of the rooms have similar shapes or patterns to them which can make traversal by landmark quite difficult, so you’ll probably need to use the map whether you want to or not.
Despite the 2D layout of the areas in Metroid Dread, there is a lot to explore here. The hub rooms I mentioned offer have four different exits that take you in completely different directions, and nearly every other room has at least a few routes to take. Exploration is a key part of the game at any rate and while it can be daunting at first, you’ll start to relish the chance to explore somewhere new as time goes on.
As with most Metroidvania games, you’ll need specific equipment to unlock certain sections of the world, which means you’ll be retreading old ground to uncover new secrets. Dread does a good jump of offering new routes to familiar places as you unlock more equipment, so the amount of time you’ll send running up and down the same corridor will be reduced, but it doesn’t help with navigation if you’re already lost. It also spaces out these vital upgrades as well, as you’ll have time to explore the map thoroughly without actually flying through it entirely.
Some doors don’t need any equipment to unlock but take you into the hunting grounds of the deadly EMMI. These near-indestructible robots are a new addition to the series and really change the way you’ll think about the game. Samus can’t fight them without some limited use heavy ordnance so while you might be a famed bounty hunter, you are the one being hunted inside their hunting grounds. Players have to navigate these platform heavy sections while avoiding detection which means putting your platforming skills to the test. If you’re seen, you’ll have to escape or attempt to overcome the hideously difficult QTE if captured.
These hunts make the games overlapping rooms and corridors feel claustrophobic and terrifying, and you will absolutely love them. The EMMI themselves stalk and skulk across them in a deliberately unsettling fashion creating some segments of classic horror panic to take up the rest of the combat.
The rest of the combat is what you expect from a Metroid game. Most enemies can be killed with a few blasts of your arm cannon or whatever weapon they are weak to. These foes fly around the room or stick to the walls or floors to create obstacles and threats. On top of them, there are several hazards such as cold, fire, and water that force you to slow down at least long enough to line up a shot.
Bosses test you on everything you’ve learned and gained up until that point. They are impressively distinct and often fall into the Lovecraftian spectrum of things you really don’t want to look at for too long. Most of the time, it is really easy to identify the weak points of these bosses (anything glowing), but there are easier to miss QTE moments that allow for some extra damage. If you find yourself in one of them, make sure you are trying shooting during what looks like a cut scene because often you will get the opportunity.
If anything lets Metroid Dread down, it is the story. It feels tacked on at the start of the game and doesn’t offer anything in the way of characterization or growth, assuming you don’t count a vast array of collectible weaponry as such. Metroid hasn’t exactly been known for its storytelling in the past, and diehard fans of the series will most likely enjoy it nonetheless, but those less familiar will be expecting more. Games like Hollow Knight have proven that the genre has a great opportunity for storytelling, but it seems Metroid decided to avoid it.
But apart from that, Metroid Dread is a fantastic game, filled with old-school Metroidvania fun and some new exciting inclusions as well. The EMMI hunting grounds are hands down some of the most innovative and exciting parts of the game and prove that Metroid still holds powerful sway over the genre it helped build.
Review code provided by the publisher.
Metroid Dread proves that the Metroid franchise is still ready to innovate the genre it helped build with exciting new ideas. While it hasn't taken on all the lessons from newcomers that have filled in since its absence, it doesn't feel like an outsider looking in.
- Excellent platforming
- Excellent combat
- Hunting Grounds turn everything on its head
- Great boss battles
- The story is tacked on
- Some repetition makes it difficult to navigate by landmark