Reviewed: January 3, 2004
Released: November 18, 2003
When I first heard about Swingin' Ape Studios’ Metal Arms: Glitch in the System, I immediately thought of Ratchet and Clank. This shouldn’t be surprising since the main character, Glitch, looks an awful lot like Ratchet’s sidekick, Clank, cast in yet another platformer featuring oversized weaponry and a spacey setting. But don’t fool yourself; where Ratchet and Clank is family-friendly fare, Metal Arms is definitely aimed at an older crowd – coming across as more of a tongue-in-cheek take on MechAssault, only with bleeped-out foul language and adult humor thrown into the mix. It’s a neat concept, and it works well.
The Metal Arms story is fairly unoriginal; two exploring droids, fittingly named Hosed and Screwed, happen upon the lifeless remains of our hero, an outdated robot named Glitch on the planet Ironstar. Glitch is salvaged and in-turn volunteers himself into a revolution to free the good robots from the oppressive rule of the evil General Corrosive. The course of events leads Glitch through over 40 levels of non-stop blasting action. Throughout the game, Glitch will not only be fragging enemies, but will also be driving vehicles and commandeering (remotely and first-hand) adversaries to bid his destruction. Sounds like fun, eh? It is…if you can get past the “Glitches”.
At first glance, Metals Arms isn’t a whole lot more than a cookie-cutter third-person shooter – much like MechAssault, Robotech:Battlecry, and Brute Force. Your mission is simple: hold down the right trigger, then run, jump, circle and strafe your way around swarms of General Corrosive’s Mil Bots. Clear the area of Bots, collect the items left behind, flip a switch, pass through a door, and repeat the process.
Games of this ilk, what the pros call a “twitch shooter”, are often found to be tedious and repetitive, and generally necessitate an acquired taste on the part of the gamer. That’s where Metal Arms succeeds by mixing genres, and in-turn ensnaring nonbelievers into its web. You could say that it’s a bit like the antithesis of Ratchet and Clank. Where Ratchet and Clank introduced shooter elements to an established platformer formula – Metal Arms turns the tables and adds large doses of platformer into the shooter formula, injecting some light-hearted humor and developing a likeable character to combat the usual cheese. While not completely devoid of shooter-induced tedium and repetition, it is still one of the more engaging titles in the genre. Thankfully, a number of vehicle-based levels and seven multiplayer modes give a much-needed respite when the standard story mode gets too dull.
As a platformer, Metal Arms has you hopping (but not bopping) your way up, down, over, under, through and around the large levels trying to root out each and every enemy and discover the many hidden microchips scattered throughout the levels. Not unlike Ratchet and Clank, certain destroyed enemies will leave behind a cache of monetary units (in R&C, they were nuts and bolts – here they are washers) which can be exchanged for upgrades and/or ammunition. Unlike Ratchet and Clank, many foes will also leave behind left over weaponry and ammunition, which comes in very handy. Finding the hidden microchips may take a bit more dedication, but are quite precious as they are used to unlock maps for the bevy of multiplayer modes. It’s a unique system that gives the gamer some real incentive to 100% the levels, knowing that they are unlocking actual gameplay elements and not just an alternate costume or something equally silly.
Metal Arms is hard…real hard. Plan to restart a lot. Thankfully, Metal Arms uses a checkpoint system that allows you to restart from points within the massive levels, keeping you from having to play the entire level over from the beginning (see: Medal of Honor) – but beware, as these checkpoints aren’t saved to your memory card, so if you plan on starting a level, you best finish it before you go to bed or you’ll be one unhappy camper in the morning. The first time this happened to me, when I lost over a half-hour of exploring, I honestly thought my PS2 memory card was defective…funny how spoiled we get with the Xbox hard drive and real-time, high speed saves.
The controls are standard FPS fare brought into a 3rd person perspective like we have seen recently in Max Payne and Hitman 2 – left stick controls movement, right stick controls aiming, the shoulders do the shooting and grenading. The control scheme is quite intuitive (mostly because it uses an already-proven formula) and do a solid job as long as the framerate stays up to the standard. However, once you get two or three characters on screen and the framerate begins to crawl, you might as well throw the controller on the floor and get yourself a drink, because you’re SOL, partner.
Oh, how I wish I had been asked to review the Xbox version of Metal Arms: Glitch in the System. Call me a snob, but since the momentous day I first plugged in my big green box and saw what games should look like, I haven’t been able to look at a PS2 game the same. Unless I have absolutely no choice (i.e. SCEA games or assigned reviews), or unless the game is definitely better on the PS2 (NFS:HP2 or the Two Towers games), I always pick up the Xbox version – I just prefer being able to see crisp, clear graphics with little-to-no slowdown. And yes, I am well aware that a game doesn’t need great graphics to be considered great – Grand Theft Auto III is a perfect example. But when the graphics hamper the gameplay experience, it is a problem.
Metal Arms on the PS2 is a perfect example of a game that gets ruined by its poor graphics. I mean, I KNOW that Metal Arms is a great game – I can tell that the developers took a lot of care in making an original, witty and fast-paced shooter that stretches genre boundaries and sets new gaming standards. But I also know that the game I played suffers from some of the grainiest, washed-out graphics and exhibits the most massive slowdown of any game I have ever played on my PS2. And by that, I am speaking of game destroying slowdown – slowdown that makes aiming and movement impossible. And, because this slowdown occurs even when the fewest of enemies are around, it always seems to be at its worst at the most inopportune times – when you need the flexibility the most. It’s really a shame – Metal Arms would be a shoe-in for sleeper hit of 2003 if it weren’t for the chuggy, ugly graphics.
On a positive note, the cutscenes are truly hilarious and well produced, albeit a bit on the grainy side.
I had the weirdest sense of aural deja vu playing Metal Arms. I couldn’t quite place my finger on it and it was driving me nuts. Then I heard it from one of the Mil Bots…”Miner!”. Red Faction! The cool, atmospheric background music, the booming explosions, but most of all the ”Miner!” – this game sounds an awful lot like Red Faction, as if they took the actual soundtrack and voice cuts and popped it right in. Obviously it’s not, but it sure gave me that creepy feeling.
In total, the sound is pretty darn good. The music is moody and exciting, the effects are great and the cutscene voice acting is absolutely terrific. The sophomoric humor and censored profanity may prove too much for some, but it kept me giggling throughout – and I fancy myself a stickler for good writing.
Now I have to get down to brass tacks with Metal Arms. Is it a value? Well, you have an awesome single player experience with over 40 action-packed levels, a full multiplayer experience with a 55 gallon drum-full of modes (which, as I said, are unlocked by finding microchips in the single player mode), you get to pilot vehicles and commandeer enemy robots. It’s one hell of a game, and there’s no doubt that gamers get their money’s worth with Metal Arms. It’s only too bad that the PS2 version looks so much worse than the other consoles’ versions and becomes nearly unplayable once the action gets too hot for the graphics processor.
I really want to write a positive review for Metal Arms. Swingin' Ape Studios has really made a wonderful game despite the flaws. It’s nice to see a relatively new developer pop up from out of nowhere with something as cool as Metal Arms: Glitch in the System. They have successfully melded the best aspects of a number of popular titles in various genres to form an exciting game that is dripping with quality.
However, Metal Arms puts a serious strain on the PS2 – a strain that drastically and negatively affects gameplay. That is a real shame when Metal Arms has to go up against flawless PS2 competition like Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando. It’s quite obvious that Metal Arms was made for the higher-end systems and I myself will be keeping my eye open for an Xbox version to pop up in the used racks around town. Until then, I’ll probably file this one away for a while until I need a fix for some multiplayer action.