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Diamonds In The Rough: Metal Arms (GCN/XBox/PS2)

Welcome to “Diamonds in the Rough,” a feature in which I take a look at a few lesser-known and under-appreciated titles of the past.  These are games that were fun and original, many of which I fettered away hours of my young life with, but for whatever reason just didn’t get the credit they deserved.
A quirky third-person shooter developed by the incredibly short-lived Swingin’ Ape Studios (this was the only game they turned out, at least under that name), you could be forgiven if you overlooked or forgot about Metal Arms: Glitch In The System.  However, I might suggest that you missed out.  Though the third person shooter has always been drastically overshadowed by its big FPS brother, I’ve always been partial to them (I attribute this to the excellent Jet Force Gemini).  While Metal Arms’ controls weren’t as refined as the modern 3PS, it also predated the genre’s over-reliance on cover systems.  This wasn’t a game about subtlety – it was all about blowing a tremendous amount of shit up.
And it certainly gave you the tools to do it.  Much like Ratchet & Clank, the weapons are both over-the-top and incredibly fun to use.  From a sniper rifle that shoots explosive rivets to grenades that “hack” powerful enemy robots and make them your minions, you can’t fault the developers for lack of originality.  Dual wielding is also something that doesn’t crop up terribly often in the genre (or at least, hadn’t at that point in time), and it works great here.  The fact that all of the characters are robots isn’t just a thematic choice but is really integrated into the gameplay: apart from gaining AI-controlled minions via the aforementioned grenades, you can also launch a fiber-obtic cable into the ports of certain enemies to take control of them manually.  This led to some interesting strategies and even more variety in destructive choices.  As a side note, robots also equal guilt-free dismemberment, something we can all enjoy.
The campaign, apart from being lengthy, challenging, and well-paced, also had a solid sense of humor, sometimes coming off as unusually colorful for a game rated Teen.  There was even some RPG-style progression as your weapons gained levels over time and became more powerful.  But the star of the show for me was the multiplayer, though its split-screen interface is woefully outdated by today’s standards.  Nevertheless, it was a unique competitive experience because all of the crazy shenanigans from the single-player mode actually get thrown in.  Ridiculous vehicles, inert robots that you can make subservient or control manually, maxed-out  weapons, it’s all there.  In fact, kill streaks are rewarded by a small troupe of weak AI bots (that could nevertheless be deadly in close quarters).  The whole thing felt half like a shooter and half like an absurd arms race.

Between its humorous narrative, unique gameplay, and wanton destruction (even parts of the environment were destructible, something pretty impressive for the time), Metal Arms was a thoroughly enjoyable shooter that didn’t take itself too seriously and didn’t get the credit it deserved.  I hear it was released on XBox Originals – I’d recommend checking it out.

What games do you think were tragically underrated?  What hidden gems do you fondly recall from your own childhood?  Let me know in the comments!

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