Producer Yoshio Sakamoto doesn't want you to think of Metroid Dread as a horror game, but rather that it embodies the sense of titular dread. For me, watching the new E.M.M.I. robots chase and hunt Samus around each of their patrol zones, that sense of dread - but also terror - is palpable. Every E.M.M.I. is accompanied by a very specific soundscape that intensifies the tension through these zones. Make a noise and a ring around Samus' waist appears, pulsing yellow to show that the E.M.M.I. is tracking her. It's coming. Get spotted and the music intensifies, your ring turns red, and it's time to run. I haven't even played it yet, and I know that those E.M.M.I. are going to follow me into my nightmares.
Metroid games have always drawn comparisons to the Alien movie franchise, and now with the E.M.M.I. terrors, it's easy to think of Alien Isolation as another influence. The E.M.M.I. won't stalk you throughout each of the game's hub areas like the Xenomorph would, but instead occupy controlled zones. But, because of the, well, Metroidvania gameplay style that the original game helped turn into a genre, you'll be backtracking through these E.M.M.I. sections multiple times to unlock new paths and reach new areas.
You won't want to though, because these hunter bots are incredibly fast, and once they've clocked you there isn't much you can do but run. They're indestructible using Samus' arsenal, and although it is possible to counter their attack when they've got you pinned, the animations will keep changing, which means that working out the incredibly precise timing is near impossible. Definitely more a case of luck than skill if you manage to pull a counter off. Therefore, those E.M.M.I. sections will always be a source of tension among the more traditional Metroid gameplay.
"We have our own vision of Samus, and we definitely don't envision Samus always running away," adds Sakamoto san. "On the other hand, the game does feature a lot of scenes of pursuit where Samus needs to evade the E.M.M.I. and this provides for a dread-filled experience. It's a scary, suspenseful experience filled with tension that will hopefully resonate well with prospective players."
Fight or flight
Of course, Sakamoto san was keen to stress that the E.M.M.I. are just one part of this game. "The fear element symbolized by the E.M.M.I. is just one element integrated into this whole," he says, which is part of the reason that the developer wants to get away from the idea that this latest title is more of a horror game than previous entries.
"The basic concept, the core of game, remains the same – regardless of which Metroid game you will be playing," he adds. "Metroid Dread, of course, inherits the core – which remains the same – but also leverages on all our past experiences and learnings up to now."
In development as a joint partnership between Nintendo EPD and MercurySteam – the developer team behind the 2017 3DS release Metroid: Samus Returns – Metroid Dread is taking many elements from Samus Returns to increase the fluidity of Samus' movement and combat options. For example, the slide movement is now part of Samus' base abilities, allowing her to slip through narrow gaps – especially useful during the E.M.M.I. pursuits. Metroid Dread also incorporates the free-aiming introduced with Samus Returns, which allows our hero to aim her weaponry in a 360-degree motion. In Metroid Dread though, she can also do this while moving, which, when combined with the slide, suddenly makes moving around and attacking enemies much more seamless.
As you'd hope though, Samus will gain new powers throughout the game, all clustered under the Samus Returns-esque Aeion abilities. But, these ones are all brand new, and include things like the Phantom Cloak, which turns Samus invisible for a period of time and is excellent for E.M.M.I avoiding, along with the Spider Magnet that lets you climb walls and other surfaces with a glowing blue magnetic coating.
Long-term fans of the series will be pleased though that the game will retain a lot of the classic elements of a 2D Metroid title. "The exploration element is particularly important throughout the series, and we've worked hard to integrate various gimmicks and new systems in order to enhance the overall gameplay experience by coming up with new abilities and trying to come up with ideas that we had not conceived of, or not been able to achieve in previous installments," explains Sakamoto san.
So aside from the new abilities and the E.M.M.I., there are traversal puzzles to solve, locked doors to open, map sync points to seek out, and familiar, more biological enemies to take out. Of course, there will be boss battles too, with the one shown during the Nintendo Treehouse Live segment for Metroid Dread featuring a gripping fight against an enemy also capable of cloaking itself, with some beautifully dramatic cinematic moments that also seem to really dial into the titular dread.
Many may think that another element of Metroid Dread's apparent non-horror is the fact that it's emerged some 19 years after Metroid Fusion released on the Game Boy Advance. Rumors for the game circled around 15 years ago, but it's not until now that we've had official confirmation of the game. Sakamoto san says the reason we've waited so long to see the conclusion of this story is just down to technology. "The biggest technological factor was the graphics," he explains. "Thanks to the technological evolution of graphics and also the performance of game consoles of the Nintendo Switch, we felt like we could now realize our original vision."
Heroically, Metroid Dread is continuing Samus' story arc from those games; a narrative that originally started in 1986. But interestingly, it sounds like the developer is leaving things somewhat open for Samus to return in future 2D narratives. "What I can say upfront is that Samus’ adventure will continue," teases Sakamoto san. "As to how… when you clear Dread you’ll have an idea of that.”
But, Sakamoto san wants to stress that despite this closing up the story of the uncanny relationship between Samus and the Metroids, this game isn't inaccessible to new players. Similarly helpful to those of us who haven't played Metroid Fusion in 19 years or so, Metroid Dread will offer up a recap of events so far as part of its prologue.
"So 15 years ago when I originally conceived of the game, the story wasn't yet set and so it was basically driven or kept alive by the concept," states Sakamoto san. "It was fairly recent that we finalized the detailed story, and so as you can imagine, what I envisioned 15 years ago is not the same as what actually was achieved now. But, of course, we've taken into consideration the past games and we've also taken into consideration that this marks the conclusion of this story arc. We've come up with a fitting ending to wrap the whole thing up."
From everything we've seen so far, Metroid Dread seems to encapsulate everything that made the original Metroid games such a success, and inevitably went on to define an entire genre. But with these new elements, including the E.M.M.I., I'm looking forward to it feeling like a 2D Metroid for the modern-day when it releases on October 8, exclusively on Nintendo Switch.
For more exciting titles hitting Nintendo's latest console in the near future, check out our round-up of the upcoming Switch games for 2021 and beyond.