PLATFORM: SWITCH | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
It's been a long time coming (the game's title was first mentioned all the way back in 2005), but the mainline Metroid series has finally received a brand new instalment in the form of the Switch-exclusive Metroid Dread, courtesy of the folks at MercurySteam, the people behind 2017's Samus Returns Game Boy / 3DS remake and 2010's Castlevania reboot, Lords of Shadow. In Dread, a rare and extremely dangerous species of parasite – previously thought to be extinct – has been found on the planet ZDR. Research robots known as E.M.M.I. were dispatched to the surface but, when all contact with them is lost, only one person is up to the task of figuring out what's going on – enter bounty hunter Samus Aran, whose mission to ZDR quickly turns into an all-out fight for survival against an ancient maniacal tribal warrior, the hostile creatures that inhabit ZDR, and even the planet itself...
While a cursory glance at Dread's trailer might lead you to the immediate conclusion that this is a Metroidvania consisting of huge intricately-designed interconnected environments that encourage backtracking and careful exploration, this turns out to not quite be the case. Dread's level design carefully funnels players from one area to another, with each area ending in just the right place for Samus to use her newly-acquired abilities to open up a new path. There are plenty of opportunities to backtrack at your own will to find additional power-ups, but the game as a whole is much more linear and streamlined than other Metroidvanias – you're forced to track down any essential items before being able to move on, so other than adding some extra health and missile stocks to your arsenal (many of which are unobtainable until the very end of the game) there isn't a huge amount of motivation to scour every corner of the map. It does, however, mean less time is spent getting completely lost, which is good news for those who want a more straightforward adventure!
Samus' encounters with the seven rogue E.M.M.I. Robots are quite the highlight – when entering certain areas, Samus will be stalked by one of these beast-like monstrosities who are able to kill her with a single hit. By simultaneously avoiding the E.M.M.I. while locating and defeating a (sort of) mini-boss within each area, Samus is able to power up her arm cannon which then enables her to blast the E.M.M.I. to smithereens in spectacular fashion, resulting in the acquisition of handy abilities or other upgrades. These encounters, set within grainy and dimly-lit tunnels and corridors, can be extremely tense, definitely living up to the Dread title. Elsewhere, some punishing boss fights, particularly later in the game, are similarly daunting, as is the general tension brought about by the game's claustrophobic atmosphere. It doesn't quite reach horror territory, but there's a definite sense of unease that runs throughout the entire game.
More of a perfectly-executed action platformer than a traditional Metroidvania, Dread is a sleek, challenging, engaging and beautifully-formed game that excels in pretty much every way while throwing in a few twists and turns to keep you on your toes. A little more motivation to revisit earlier areas after the end credits have rolled might have been appreciated to add a layer of longevity and replayability but, taken as a “one and done” adventure, it really is an excellent experience.