Now I've never made an effort to hide my undying love for Retro's 2002 masterpiece Metroid Prime, and because of this you may think I'd bring a level of bias to this review. Definately not so. As someone who fell in love with Metroid Prime and heralds it as the single-most greatest gaming acheivement ever I am it's sequel's greatest critic. I was expecting to be disappointed, my hopes were high, part one was brilliant, and now I feel like a fool for ever doubting Retro. Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is gaming excellence.
Duality is a common concept found nearly in all great epics, masterpieces, stories and films. What it boils down to is the eternal battle between good and between evil. And like Star Wars Metroid Prime 2: Echoes casts good and evil into light and dark and imbues this idea physically into every single gameplay element found throughout the game.
Echoes takes place on a planet called Aether which is in a state of interdimensional flux caused by a catastophic impact by a foreign object from space. Essentially the impact created a link to an alternate version of a once peaceful world where everything is a vile and hazardous opposite of Aether, thus claiming the name Dark Aether. The peaceful world is governed by a dwindling, benevolent and strong willed race called the Luminoth where the dark world is ruled by the vehement Ing who's shadowy abilities allow them to symbitoicaly overtake any organic creature and thereby create an insidious evil form. Aside from the two races and the naturalistic mass of unique and well designed creatures, Samus' arch-enemies have made a return. The Space Pirates are back but this time are not Samus' number one enemy. In fact, the Space Pirates themselves, after setting up Phazon Mining Colonies on Aether, are under attack from the Ing too. Prior to much of this they were also being hunted by the Galactic Federation who were in turn terminated by the Ing and in their last hour sent out a distress signal to Samus which is her reason for being caught up in the rift.
However the most intimidating and mysterious force comes in the form of Dark Samus, a deathly version of Samus who's presence is enough to send shivers down one's spine. Duality, though prevalent in the games story-arc is actually a more intergral component of the gameplay experience.
Echoes initially differs only slightly from it's predecessor, you'll still be scanning objects, creatures, terminal and both living and dead beings which will slowly but surely tell the tale of Aether is a dark and engrossing manner. The controls too are the same which is sigh of relief as in the months leading up the release of Echoes rumours were abuzz of Retro implementing a dual analogue control scheme. If any first-person title has the 'best control scheme' then Metroid Prime is most definately it. Retro have taken the road of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' as Metroid Prime did everything so well. Again, Retro have created a rich and ready world full of intrigue and suspense and above off a sense of isolative fear which is key to making you the gamer feel like you're inside Samus' helmet unravelling the mystery of the downfall of Aether and the Luminoth race.
And so, within the first few hours of Echoes you'll come to realise that this is a game of it's own right. Though what is fundamentally a redesign of Metroid Prime, Echoes still manages to add enough innovation and a powerful enough story to truly make this a pure sequel as opposed to a Metroid Prime 1.5.
There is far more greater challenge in Echoes and a more expanse and intricate world to explore. Puzzles are less straight-forward and bosses entirely more difficult. While the game itself in terms of enemies you face feels a lot less harder than the original Prime it could just be due to the fact that the enemies are similar to the first thus already having an understanding of how to defeat them makes things all the more easier. The duality aspect has a touch on the difficulty too in that while you're on Aether you are less likely to die, and while your on Dark Aether, due to the toxic air of the realm you slowly lose health over time which creates a sense of panic and fury.
Portals lend their way to traversing between the light and dark worlds and are activated by weaponry you'll acquire. Light and Dark beams. While not entirely innovative nor surprising the weapons add tactical advantages such as using dark beams on light enemies and light beams on dark enemies to deal the higher amount of damage. While more clever is that in each of the worlds activating certain switches and bomb slots can have effect on it's alternate world. On a few occasions you'll find these switches and bomb-slots in a state of interdimensional flux where 50% of the objects particles are in one world and the other 50% in another and only one world will allow you to manipulate it. Travelling to the alternate dimension can also allow you to access areas otherwise unaccessable in one world.
It's also worth noting how impeccably believable and likeable Samus Aran actually is in this game, which is odd considering she speaks no words whatsoever. Halo's Master Cheif is someone who embodies the bad ass persona but he's one-dimensional and has zero character development nor a realistic and relatable character. Though he speaks little, he still speaks, Samus speaks nothing yet through reading logs and prophecies she is illustrated incredibly clearly. She's a strong warrior whom the Space Pirates fear and loathe, she's capable of many great things and I say it again, without words, she is with a lot of compassion. There are several points in the game where you'll be temporarily taken aback with how selfless and how respectful Samus is despite being a futuristic battle hardened bounty hunter.
There are only a few minor improvements with the visuals in Echoes but considering it's source material was and still is one of the best looking games you'll ever see there is no fault in it. Some metallic objects now have more prominent texture sheens and colours are all round more sharper. What makes the graphics look so good is in fact the artful level design. No two rooms look alike and each and every one is incredibly beautiful from an artistic standpoint. To top it off there are no loading screens to be found which in itself is another remarkable acheivement (which is carried over from the original).
From the opening titles to the closing credits Echoes boasts one of the most memorable scores ever. The music is a sort of ambient electronica hybrid and never falters out of place. My only complaint it that it isn't as memorable as Metroid Prime's, yes it's good, fantastic really, but not as classic. Sound effects are heavily borrowed from the original but there are enough new sounds to make it feel fresh.
For a game which is referred to as a First Person Adventure (as adventuring is it's primary motive) it is a little strange to see Multiplayer Deathmatch included here. Apparently Retro wanted to include it in the original but were strapped for time, so here, finally we can taste what they wanted to offer. With up to four players wearing differently coloured armour you can hop into a classic Deathmatch scenario or Bounty mode where destroying opponents earns you coins, first to a designated number of coins wins. If it weren't for Samus's special abilities like turning into a ball or her numerous other weaponry functions the multiplayer would be rather bland. There's nothing too special about it, though it's a welcome addition, Metroid is really all about the engrossing single player action.
Retro Studios set the bar awfully high for themselves with Metroid Prime yet somehow they still managed to surpass their previous effort. Admittedly the game isn't as amazing as the original was when it was first played but it can't be marked against because of it. Echoes is a brilliant game which quite frankly is another masterpiece of gaming history. Immersive storyline, stunning graphics, incredible audio and wonderful gameplay, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is one of the years finest.