Reviewed: February 20, 2004
Released: November 18, 2003
My first glimpse of Glitch, the unlikely robotic hero in Metal Arms: Glitch in the Systemn, was at the 2003 E3 show. During my demo I got to watch this little robot do things I had never seen in an action game before. Finally, somebody had come up with an original game design.
Metal Arms is definitely aimed at an older crowd, pushing the boundaries of the Teen rating with some adult humor and bleeped-out foul language. Much like South Park, it doesnít take a cunning linguist to substitute the appropriate words in real-time with those bleeps, but at least it got this game past the ESRB censors.
The Metal Arms story begins when two droids, aptly named Hosed and Screwed, on routine patrol happen upon the lifeless remains of our hero, an obsolete 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 40+ levels of blistering third-person shooter action, exploration, and clever puzzle solving. Throughout the game, Glitch will not only be converting enemies into scrap metal using 17 unique weapons, but you also get to hijack vehicles and commandeer adversaries through a clever remote control hacking system to make them do some of the work for you.
While gameplay is diverse the core is undeniably combat. You have a massive arsenal at your disposal and you are constantly fragging something, before, during, or after all the puzzles and exploration. Weapons are attached to your left or right arms and use the triggers to fire either or both simultaneously. This is a great system that feels very natural.
The missions are highly objective driven and each presents you with a laundry list of objectives that you need to accomplish before moving on. Along the way you will trip an insane amount of scripted events that bring the game to life in a way I havenít experience since Half Life. There is also a high level of interactivity with the environments, both by design and the fact that you can destroy parts of them to create new paths or solutions. Itís a level of design that borders on the GeoMod technology of Red Faction, perhaps even a bit better in its implementation.
With all the fighting going on you will be thankful for the target-lock, or rather target-assist, that helps you lock on but doesnít necessarily do all the work for you. Depending on the quality of your gamepad you may have some targeting issues. I had a few, but they were certainly no worse than any other first or third-person shooter and overall the game has some tight controls. The triggers fire left and right weapons respectively and the D-pad cycles those weapons. Glitch moves nicely with the left stick, jumps and double-jumps with the A button and the right stick manually adjusts your camera view.
Glitch rises above the normal shooter genre by including plenty of puzzles and even a bit of stealth gameplay. The coolest feature is the ability for Glitch to hack into enemy robots using his tether control. This allows you to control another droid to gain access to areas you might not be able to go or perform actions you couldnít do yourself. The entire process reminded me of possessing Sligs in the Oddworld games, and much like that game youíll want to destroy your lackeys when you are through with them or face them later.
But the fun doesnít stop with gratuitous combat and electronic possession. You also get to drive a variety of vehicles, some of these are even in dedicated levels, and you can also man turrets to shoot down waves of incoming droids. There is just a surprising and pleasing amount of variety in Glitch that you donít expect from this genre. In a nod toward platform gaming you even get to find and collect hidden microchips used to unlock bonus goodies.
But wait, thereís more. How about a killer four-player mode? Sorry, no Live support or system link cable but if you donít mind splitting the screen you and up to three friends can enjoy seven unique multiplayer modes including Death Match, King of the Hill, Tag, Possession, and others. These are a total blast and add greatly to the already impressive package.
Starting with the opening movie, Glitch just oozes with a unique style and charm all its own. It starts with the character design. Glitch looks like something you might find in the corner of a Jawa sandcrawler, but once you starting moving him around and equipping him with powerful weapons you realize there is more to this unlikely hero than meets the eye.
Glitch is animated with some incredible detail. Each appendage is articulated with amazing precision and he moves and reacts like you would expect a robot of this design to do. Likewise, the other robotic creations all mirror this same excellence in design and animation.
The level designs are just as impressive with vast complicated levels, rich in detail with plenty of colors, lighting, special effects, and destructible objects that actually become part of the gameplay. The lighting effects rise to the top with some of the most impressive lighting Iíve seen since Splinter Cell. Particle effects, reflections, transparencies, and volumetric smoke all combine to create a spectacular visual experience that rivals the gameplay.
The Xbox version is easily the best of the three formats with a silky smooth framerate and support for progressive scan, offering HDTV owners a crisp display that enhances the presentation and makes the graphics pop off the screen. I must confess there is a bit of lag in the split-screen multiplayer games but nothing that ruins the gameplay.
Glitch has a stellar sound package starting with the wonderful soundtrack that fits the action perfectly. Itís upbeat tempo blurs the lines of rock, techno, and pure score, and literally becomes an integral part of the game.
The voice work is flawless and downright hilarious thanks to some professional voice talent and clever writing. The only thing funnier that old people cussing are robots cussing, even when itís bleeped out. Some of the cutscene dialogue will have you rolling on the floor or at least smiling.
The majority of the sound package is comprised of a vast library of weapons, explosions, and environmental noises. These are all solid and presented in a superior Dolby Digital surround mix that will have you ducking incoming fire and looking over your shoulder to investigate that odd sound coming from your rear speakers.
Glitch is a surprisingly long game, at least for this genre. Expect anywhere from 15-20 hours to finish the 40-level single player game, and the wonderful multiplayer components will easily double this estimate if you have the friends or family on hand to participate.
While you arenít likely to replay the main game anytime soon once you finish it I still have to recommend this wonderful action title as a purchase. There is just too much good stuff here to be experienced or appreciated in a normal rental period.
Metal Arms: Glitch in the System really didnít surprise me. I suspected Vivendi had a hit on their hands when I saw this game at E3 and after finishing Glitch my suspicions were confirmed. This is one of the most delightful and exciting action titles you can play on the Xbox or any console for that matter. Itís a shame that it released amongst the holiday flood of titles and will likely be overlooked by the masses, but hopefully everyone who wants to experience this wonderful title will be able to find a copy. I canít recommend it enough.