The little robot that could.
Intense, satisfying and totally out of left field…no, I'm not talking about a date with Barry Bonds, I'm talking about the odd little shooter currently in the GR crosshairs. We aren't often surprised by games - unless, of course, it's so bad we want to kill it. Which isn't to say that we were expecting Terminator 3 to rock. We just weren't entirely prepared for exactly how bad it was.
But Metal Arms: Glitch in the System is a different kind of surprise, the good kind, the eyes wide-open, Kool-Aid man grin kind of a surprise. This first dish from newcomer Swinging Ape Studios circumvented the GR guard dogs and our own internal Security Task Force, and in this instance we're glad it did. Who could we blame but our own stubborn selves for missing out on this solid shooter rich in action and rife with adult-themed humor?
Enter Glitch, a rebuilt sentient bot waging a relative one-bot war against, well, other bots under the evil leadership of the tyrant General Corrosive. The story is simple, familiar and merely serves as a vehicle for you to shoot up a lot of baddies. Along the way you will be treated to some very funny cut-scenes between the bots that flesh out this industrial fantasy í¢â‚¬“ scenes of a significantly mature nature. Profanity included, so kids, cover your ears.
The adult language is more indicative of the intense, grueling, action-packed firefights than the at-a-glance kiddie theme of the game. Metal Arms is played from the third-person perspective but feels like a first-person shooter. The control is really quite solid and very intuitive, especially for any regular console FPS players. Switching weapons is no problem and the default sensitivity is right-on.
Hordes of enemies and giant mechanical nasties with some nifty AI belie the game's child-like underpinnings. Glitch pulls no punches when dispatching bad bots, either. Limbs, torsos and heads go flying in a brilliant burst of sparks and flying scrap as a result of well-placed shots. To add to the intensity, enemies are not only legion, but will strafe and move in impressive patterns to honestly necessitate well-placed shots. Metal Arms is not an easy game.
This is helped by the variety of gameplay that serves to break up the frantic bot battles. Though he clearly prefers to shoot things, Glitch will not shy away from the familiar key searches, turret commandeering and vehicular jaunts, including battle armor, hovecrafts and more. He is also capable of assuming control over menial bots to reach otherwise unreachable areas. The varied play styles breaks up what could have easily turned into a mind-numbing shooter.
Much of the intensity is born out the all-around beauty of the game. The lighting is dynamic; shots from your numerous firearms illuminate the surrounding area as they streak by. For the most part, the framerate is silky smooth on the Xbox and adequate on the Gamecube, while the PS2 shows considerable chug when the action heats up along with far less impressive lighting. All three display some nice textures, but again the Xbox is the cleanest with the tightest effects, such as better reflective metal surfaces and smoother edges. The sound is sewn together well. Booms, scraping metal, shotgun blasts and explosions sound spot-on.
Still, Metal Arms is weighed down a few anchors; namely, the lack of depth and unavoidable monotony. The game is challenging, no doubt about that, but there is a fine line between challenging and repetitive. Success on most levels requires several play-throughs to assess exactly how the enemy is going to play its hand, similar in some ways to the old-school pattern memorization in Pac-Man. I found myself inching through levels and piecing things together like enemy spawn points, turrets, exits etc., which is really not my idea of how a great action game should play.
Metal Arms is also not online at all, featuring just a typical split-screen multiplayer. Online play could have done wonders for some of the repetition.
But if you stick it out, you may be too drunk off the inebriating style and intense action to notice your 20th play-through. Metal Arms: Glitch in the System does what it does very well, especially for a game few saw coming.