When Nintendo and Retro Studios sent Metroid Prime for the Nintendo GameCube out into the world back in 2002, there was a lot of concern that shifting the familiar Metroid formula into a first-person perspective would irrevocably hurt the franchise. I'm really not sure how though, considering that Metroid was effectively a dead series at that time (the last Samus Aran adventure, Super Metroid, had come for the Super NES back in 1994, after all). Still, despite some of the game's design quirks, most Metroid fans look back on Prime and its sequels as some of best entries in the series. Johnny Driggs at GameSpite certainly feels that way, partly because of the incredible immersion that has players feeling like they actually are the star of the story.
Here's the weird thing, though: If there ever was a game that didn't need the “freedom” allowed by sequence breaking and other extracurricular possibilities, it would be Metroid Prime. The intended sequence and play experience might be as rigid as any other action game, but it sure as hell doesn't feel like it. I may have just poo-pooed the idea of immersion in games, but damn does Metroid Prime feel immersive.
Part of it is the first-person perspective. A lot was made at the game's release of how steam would fog up the visor and water would drip down when exiting a lake. Most striking was when the light from a large blast would reflect off the visor, flashing Samus' face on the screen for a fraction of a second. It's more than visual gimmickry, it really does make you buy the idea you're Samus Aran. When you're attacked by metroids in the later portions of the game, you panic not because they're sapping your energy at an alarming rate but because OH MY GOD THERE'S A SPACE JELLYFISH ON MY FACE GET IT OFF!!!
I'm not traditionally a first-person shooter fan, but I enjoyed Metroid Prime up until its unforgiving difficulty level spiked me out of contention late in the game (damn you, Omega Pirate!), and part of that reason is due to the incredible immersion. I love being able to identify with a game hero in such a way that I feel like part of the experience as opposed to just watching the characters move from place to place on a predestined path. Make me feel like I have an actual blaster in my hand instead of a controller and I'll come back for more every time (well, at least until the Omega Pirate shows up). I really should revisit Prime now that it has more accessible Wii-based motion controls grafted on to it.