With the slew of games now starting to rain down on us over the festive period there will inevitably be some that don't get noticed. Thankfully most of these will be the abysmal ones that should be dusted into the gutter as soon as they poke their head above the parapet, but then you have the little game from the little development house, that nobody knows a blind thing about, until now. Metal Arms Glitch In The System is perhaps one of the best games on the GameCube; think we're bluffing?
We have never been people to mince our words, is something is bad we will come out and say it, if something is glorious we will sing its praises, Metal Arms is a title that deserves recognition. It is wonderfully innovative, funny, well designed and fantastically playable all at once. And to top it all off its developed by British development house Swingin' Ape!
In the days of titles so realistic and serious, EA going about making games on every sports franchise and Simon Cowell being slapped into a videogame just for the sake of it. There are enough travesties on the word 'creation' to make Neil Buchanan cry and us spit in disgust. One massively overlooked factor on the GameCube is the lack of decent FPS titles. We have had TS2 and that's just about been it as far a standout titles go. Sure there has been the usual dousing of average titles but in a genre that is so popular for only one or two titles to achieve in it is somewhat mystifying. Looking at TS2 it is obvious for the problem. Free Radical had a game that was a beautifully creative piece, it was pure gaming perfection; but did it sell? No it didn't, because it doesn't have women running about with their oversized breasts lolloping all over the place, it didn't have a cool suave main character and it didn't have all the lovely technology. It wasn't cool and the casual gamer made it suffer. We have no doubt that the same will happen with Metal Arms, but we are going to do out best to persuade everyone who reads this review to buy it, perhaps even twice if you like.
So, what's the big deal with it? Well, much like TS2 it isn't your conventional FPS title. When you are told that robots are involved you might expect something ripped straight from a Hollywood film, something big and evil, but that would be too obvious. How do small camp little yellow things that squeak and roll about with the menace of Ozzie Osbourne tickle your fancy? This is where our love for Metal Arms starts; it is wonderfully different and proud of it.
It all starts off perfectly. A beautiful and plot building movie sequence, a feature that you will find dotted about the game superbly, starts to show you the task at hand. The plot in a nutshell is this: You are Glitch, a robot of rather unknown origins who offers himself up to a small force fighting against the evil robot faction lead by the imperious General Corrosive. On the planet Ironstar it is your mission, whether you like it or not, to fight for the freedom of the peace-loving robot people. During the game you find out about the Morbots, these mysterious robots are said to be the people who created the planet and the ones that hold an incredible secret. Enthralling stuff indeed. The movies in the game themselves are excellent. The mechanic, whom you meet at the very start of the game splashes obscenities about like they're going out of fashion, thankfully they are bleeped out to prevent parents going up in arms with shock.
Thus far we have failed to mention a thing of how the game actually plays, to start off the one word that comes to mind is 'innovation'. Those of you that followed Rare on the N64 will know the game Swingin' Apes are playing. There is a very British feeling to Metal Arms, one that was present in Conkers Bad Fur Day and to an extent the revolutionary GoldenEye. You get the feeling of the personal touch; this is without doubt the biggest labour of love to appear on the GameCube. Indeed, the game that nobody has heard of has beaten Nintendo at its own game. The first level you get to play is a very well done training section. Accompanied by two very bossy 'bots you just have to go about doing various tasks in a battle situation before the rather unfortunate instance in which both of your accomplices are obliterated with the aid of an enemy grenade. From here you are thrown face first, ass in the air, into the action of a superbly designed hard-core FPS title. This game is at its best when you are in a big space with lots of enemies, flying, running, hovering and scuttling about trying to dent your shiny yellow paintwork. All you have to do is take aim and fire. The main control stick is used to make you forwards, backwards and side-to-side, the C-Stick lets you turn left and right and is also used for aiming. It's a system that may feel a bit awkward at first but after a bit of time playing it will feel like second nature. At points you are confronted by a never-ending supply of idiotic robotic idiots that stream towards you, so after finishing off a few you have to destroy the source of where they are coming from. So it's not all just about taking aim and firing off a mass of laser beams, you have to think and explore. Sometime the best tactic is to lure some enemies towards you and then pick them off one by one, perhaps throwing a grenade at them might stir things up?
The weapons within the game are very clever. Being a game of robot warfare heaven forbid that you have the humble pistol, here it is the 'Mining Laser' the machine gun for beginners is the 'Spew' and the shotgun is also there under a clever disguise. They are all far from conventional and work in their own special way, and as you get further and further into the game you have to think about what weapon you use and also which ones you buy. Yes, that's right, buy! Dotted across the level are various shops. As you run about bustin' metal ass you pick up metal washers from the steaming remains of your foes, these are currency, which can be exchanged for new weapons and ammo. In total there are 18 different and or upgradeable killing sticks in the game each one has a place to be used and they are staggered throughout the game to ensure there is still excitement after the first three hours of play.
With weapon in hand you are going to need something kill, and Metal Arms admirably obliges. This is perhaps one of the hardest games on the GameCube and perhaps for quite some years. We have faced harder games in our years in the scene, but most of them possessed a steady learning curve, Metal Arms hurts you hard and it does it fast. Things start to get tricky very quickly and never slow down. You are faced by an onslaught of problems. Being given endless supplies of ammo and some of the best gameplay on the GameCube is all very well, but faced with a room full of robots with the sole aim of claiming your circuit boards will do nothing good for your heart rate, or controller. If you don't go about it the right way and with enough skill you will be exploded into a million pieces and be smoking on the floor in seconds. Thankfully the game is balanced. Due to its amazingly tough nature you are given checkpoints at fair intervals in the game. Make a decent amount of progress and the game saves where you are when you inevitably come to your demise you don't have to jet back through two hours of gameplay to where it was last saved. What makes Metal Arms so rock solid is the sheer cheek of the enemy. Even when you have pumped all your ammo into the thing, it only has one arm; it lumps along clattering and clunking it will still try to hurt you. Leave it alone through pity of its demented state and it will chase you down until it can no longer chase. And just for a rather nice touch, get the right type of shot and you can leave your foe without a body, meaning you have a pair of legs blindly running around and thankfully harmless. The enemy robots aren't fools. They don't just chase you down to have a rocket-launcher rammed in their face, if you get aggressive they squeal and lollop off in a fashion not too dissimilar to Basil Faulty and hide behind a rock. When you think you have them covered and you are just about to finish them off they run around the back of you and start taking the paint of poor Glitch's arse. Amusing for onlookers, not quite that way for you.
When we say that Metal Arms is tough we kid you not, when we say Metal Arms is big we also kid you not. There are 40 levels on show here; each one is vastly different and wonderfully designed. Be they underground in caverns and mines or in Droidtown (your home) we can be sure there will be no shortage of action. Arrows in the floor direct you to the next section of the game along with a small radar at the top of the screen that displays red dots representing enemies nearby and yellow dots your comrades. On the subject of your fellow friendly robots on some levels you can summon them to your command and get them to follow you about and help out. Whilst in most cases they submit to the path of suicide by happily running into a room full of ammo waiting to be fired and merrily standing there and trying to fight off a comparative army. The help is always appreciated and it adds yet more depth to a game so rich in innovation and character. A minor gripe we have with this game, and only a small one is the camera. At times it can get very close to the back of Glitch's head, meaning that running straight towards something and shooting can be quite tricky. Also, thanks to the games total lack of sunlight some of the levels are perhaps a little bit too dark. Whilst Glitch as a small torch planted on the top of his head, when you are in a larger room its miniscule wattage is rather useless.
There is hard and there is unfair, and just to get all of our major gripes out of the way in one burst, here is the last. Pits, lava and water are dotted about the levels, fall into any of these and its bye-bye Glitch instantly. Even when faced by an onslaught of robots, inching backwards you plant one foot in a small pond, you explode. Small shadows reveal themselves to be canyons which when you casually walk over them swallow you up thanks to the use of gravity, resulting in your death. The lava is the same, it isn't to make the game more challenging, it is just poor design and will no doubt frustrate most who play this game.
At the very start we talked of innovation, so just how does Metal Arms do it? Well the gameplay is where most of it is at. Most of that is dotted about the rest of this review, the whole game package is an innovative experience, but there are a few standout moments. One that we personally love is the use of other forms of transport and killing. At certain points there are big arcade units that you can activate and use to control a droid. Without any damage to yourself you can smash, bash and blast the hell out of the enemy with the use of one of their own. It is quite simply a stroke of genius on behalf of the developer and makes the game all the more special. Other examples are when you can jump into craft and take control of them to move about the level and be all the more safe in your more robust casing. Be it a tank or what we can only describe as a 'sit in jet pack' masses of fun is provided for you. There is always something exciting about this sort of chopping and changing of how the game plays and it helps to break things up and bit and keep the enjoyment factor flowing more and more.
The graphics complement the style of the game very well. The animation on all the robots is suitably smooth and comical and the levels have a massive draw distance. No matter how manic things on the screen get we haven't come across one incident of slowdown, which means you can just get on with enjoying the game. The visual effects are also here in great abundance. Be it smoking remains, flashing lasers or massive explosions there is plenty to impress. Outside of that it is all pretty standard stuff. Nothing offends, some parts will amaze but the occasional occurrence of some shockingly jagged edges will make even the fairest of gamer cringe.
A game needs polish and Metal Arms has it by the bucket load. Swingin' Ape didn't need to make this game sound as good as it does, but the effort that has gone in has given something totally brilliant! The cut scenes contain some wonderfully comical voice samples and the effects in the game will bring a smile to anyone who plays it. Screaming robots, massive explosions and a very well composed soundtrack all finish off the Metal Arms package with a neat little metallic bow.
We have gone this far without even mentioning the massively enjoyable multiplayer mode. Whilst not a patch on those found on TS2 and GoldenEye, this is well worth a look. There are various modes, 'King of the Hill' 'Capture the Flag', team and single player matches and more besides. Extra levels can be gained by picking up well hidden secret chips dotted about the single player missions which adds an extra incentive to having a really good poke about the level.
Innovation is dotted all about this title. You have got all the weapons, the excellent controls and superb level design. Then you have the different methods of transport and combat units. Not perfect, but this game is very playable indeed.
Everything looks great and the effects are very well done. The levels are massive and the draw distance just goes on and on making this a very solid game visually. Shame about the occasional jagged edge and dull texture though.
Outstanding and perhaps one of the few games that can put itself in the same league as Eternal Darkness when it comes to what hits your ears. The voice acting is excellent, the sound effects brilliant and the music is damn near perfect. Great stuff.
Hard as nails and with 40 levels to master you wont be taking it out of your GameCube for a while. If you want a big challenge and have enough money to replace controllers regularly, this is for you.
Very few flaws in the game itself but we have concerns. Just where does this game fall in the market? It won't appeal to FPS fans; it won't appeal to many groups when you come to think of it. Comical robots, innovation and character are all very well, but people need to be interested in this game for it to be a great game. We just have the feeling that it will be widely ignored. Want to prove us wrong? Well go and buy this game now, and tell anyone you know the same thing. Simply brilliant.