In my opinion, 2003 will probably go down as the year of the sleeper game. While too many high-profile releases were disappointing or worse (Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness and Dino Crisis 3, for example), there were quite a few “smaller” releases that deserved twice the attention and ink spent on those titles. Metal Arms: Glitch in the System is one of those surprises that’ll keep you entertained from start to finish. The game combines 40+ missions, excellent level design, challenging gameplay, 7 multiplayer modes, and a wicked sense of humor that ties everything together quite nicely. At first glance you may think it’s a kids game or some sort of Tiny Tank/Halo hybrid, but don’t pass it up, as you’d be missing out on quite a cool purchase.
The story isn’t incredibly original, but that’s really the only major gripe I have about the game. You play as Glitch, a tough as nails droid who’s discovered inactive in some ruins by a group of other droid. The mechs are able to reactivate Glitch, but his memory is damaged and he has little clue of how he got into the ruins or what the strange symbol on his helmet is. Meanwhile, a war is going on between the droids on the planet Iron Star and the evil General Corrosive and his Mil army. Glitch ends up drafted into service and you get to guide him about as he sends hundreds (if not thousands) of robots to the scrap heap. Metal Arms is quite a funny game from the outset with a well-written and paced story featuring some laugh out loud moments during cut scenes and in-game animations.
There’s plenty of bleeped profanity and a great sense of fun missing from far too many games this year. It’s great to see s developer cut loose and not only create an original new character, but one that doesn’t rely on angst and a bad haircut to win over gamers. You’ll run across a couple of helpful (and amusing) droids as you make your way through the game, like master spy Agent Shhh, weapons engineer Krunk, and Colonel Alloy, who almost skeptically sends you off on your missions although he’s got no other choice.
Metal Arms moves at a lightning pace and there’s an excellent tutorial that’ll keep you on your toes as you learn the basic moves needed to complete much of the game. Glitch starts out with a simple mining laser and a tiny life bar, and he’ll come across 17 other metal mashing weapons and life bar extensions as the game progresses. Most of these can be upgraded via well-hidden power-ups or by purchasing them with collected metal rings from a pair of shady metal shopkeepers you’ll come across from time to time. Early on in the game, you get to take control of one of the smaller enemy droids, and while it’s a load of fun while it lasts, it’s nothing compared to the giant brutes you can take over with the Tether Gun you acquire later on.
Some areas are completely impassable without some large-scale destruction, and you’ll also need to use a bit of strategy. If the big ‘bot you jack is relatively unscathed, you’ll have to deal with it once you’re unhooked. Glitch also gets to drive enemy tanks and watercraft as well as man turrets and drive a cool armed buggy complete with a gunner onboard to take out other vehicles and enemy droids in his path.
Overall the controls are great, especially the weapon selection and reloading, which help keep things from getting too unbalanced. Glitch tends to handle a tad loosely though, and you’ll really need to take care on and around the plentiful narrow ledges, deep water and assorted chemical and lava pits you’ll come across. Definitely make sure to save your game when the opportunity arises. Metal Arms uses an auto-save feature that will sometimes put you back at the start of a tough area or beginning of a stage depending on how far you made it before you got scrapped. Once alerted, smaller enemies don’t usually stop coming at you until they’re shot at or shot up- then they’ll run off to get help or dodge and weave as they attempt to convert you into a tin coffin. Bigger mechs and bosses are relentless with a capital R. Thankfully, there’s usually plenty of ammo and some decent run away room in the majority of the stages. Glitch can also issue simple commands to troops and recruit new droids (with a recruiter grenade), who don’t last too long against some of the tougher enemies, but they give you some much-needed breathing room.
Swingin’ Ape has put together a really sharp-looking game in Metal Arms. The characters and levels looks great for the most part, although I’d prefer to have seen more destructible buildings, vehicles and environmental objects. Droid design and character animation are excellent, and the game goes for its own distinct look rather than swipe references to Japanese mech or anime games. There’s a nice sense of scale here, and it’s quite funny to see sets of mech legs running about after their bodies have been destroyed, or a Gatling gun hanging off the arm of a larger mech still firing wildly as it angrily attempts to get back at you for damaging it. Sound effects and music are also great with a nice selection of thumping techno tunes and electronic beats. Special mention and a big shout out must go to the voice actors- this is the first game I’ve enjoyed in years that has great voices for every single character with a speaking part.
The multiplayer games are also solid and well done, if you’re looking for some hot controller action with your friends. You get 2 King of the Hill variants, 3 “’Bot Brawl” variants, and 2 “Tag” games. The Xbox and Game Cube versions of Metal Arms support 4 players and run at a smoother frame rate than the PS2 version (which can only support two players), if you’re a multi-console kinda guy or gal. You’ll need to track down a load of Secret Chips in order to unlock all the multiplayer stages, so some careful exploration in the single player game is definitely required. There’s a lot of game here, and to be honest, some folks may crave a little more variety than just blowing away tons of robots in different ways. But if you’re looking for an all-out 3D action game that can stand up with the best of them, well Metal Arms: Glitch in the System is definitely for you.
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