Ever since its unveiling, Metroid Prime: Federation Force has been subject to endless ridicule and hate from unhappy fans. After so many years since the last mainline Metroid title, I can understand the frustration with getting a mere co-op multiplayer game for the series’ 30th anniversary. However, after going hands on with Next Level Games’ spin-off, I struggle to understand why the game received so much grief.
Yes, Federation Force is largely different from the main Metroid Prime games. Structured as a mission-based experiences with an emphasis on team-based multiplayer, you’ll immediately notice it lacks the depth, atmosphere and freedom found in the previous Prime titles. Samus Aran isn’t the protagonist and you’re instead placed inside the shoes of a generic nameless soldier completing tasks for the Galactic Federation.
It’s clear to see the game has an uninspired plot and very loose ties to the series’ universe. There are a few cameos and references thrown in here and there. Every few missions, the famous bounty hunter herself is mentioned to remind you that you are playing a Metroid game. It’s safe to say it doesn’t share the same strengths of its sister games, nor does it go very far out of its way to celebrate them. Yet still, the more I played, the more I realized it wasn’t the abomination of a game hardcore series fans might have me believe.
For the most part, it does control like a Prime game. Gyro aiming might take some getting used to, but once you’ve adjusted you’ll find that it works well and feels relatively natural for blasting aliens. I found that playing for long periods of time would become uncomfortable on the hands, but it’s generally not a problem when the campaign’s missions are split up into short 10-15 minute affairs.
The missions themselves are easily the highlight of Federation Force. From the impression given from initial tasks, I expected the game to have little more depth than mindlessly shooting down hordes of enemies one after the other, but that’s really not the case. From luring gigantic creatures into cages for capture, to stealthily infiltrating a Space Pirate base with no access to weaponry, there is plenty of variety in objectives to keep the gameplay fresh and interesting. The action is consistently well paced throughout each mission.
Considering the campaign’s missions take place on only three unique planets, a great job was done in designing the environment and gameplay to ensure you never feel as though you’re exploring the same area more than once. Both visually and in terms of content, the game managed to avoid being repetitive and held my attention for the duration of each objective.
The collectable MODs scattered around each level also do well to break up the action and encourage exploration. These items can grant the player with either permanent or temporary buffs when equipped, making them well worth searching for. Best of all, if you fail the mission, you still get to keep the ones you found, ensuring you feel like the time spent playing wasn’t wasted. Once collected, MODs are also replaced with new pick-ups, offering more incentive to replay levels.
One thing I wasn’t very keen on was the inventory system. Before departing on a mission, you have to select from a limited number of resources to assist you. These vary from health packs, to missiles, to weapons with elemental properties which help uncover secrets in the levels. While intended to add strategy into the mix, it was more frustrating attempting to guess which kind of items would be most appropriate when the mission content isn’t immediately clear. Similarly, the weight limit which restricts the amount of items you can bring along proved more of a hindrance than a challenge.
Small annoyances with mechanics aside, it’s time to address my biggest problem with Federation Force: the way it isolates solo players from the full experience. While the emphasis is on multiplayer and getting together in up to groups of four via local or online play, it is possible to undertake missions alone. However, the game doesn’t make it very clear that progressing will more than likely require help at some stage or another.
While it’s certainly possible to enjoy the game in single-player, it’s only a few hours of fun before the frustration sets in. I managed to pull through a good eight missions or so with my one-woman squad before frequent mission failures would grind my progress — and subsequently enjoyment — to a sharp halt.
For every few missions I would unlock, I’d be able to complete the odd one by the very skin of my teeth. Any satisfaction received from an incredibly challenging or close encounter would immediately be forgotten and replaced with frustration come the next daunting task. It was a case of having a go at each available mission to see which were achievable without assistance.
It became too difficult, too imbalanced and too inconsistent to remain fun on my own for very long. For example, one mission tasks you with defending an uplink terminal for a set period of time before being destroyed by Space Pirates, yet there would be far too many enemies for one person to ward off. On another you must push a cargo crate back to your ship, frequently stopping to shoot down the endlessly spawning Pirates and clearing rubble from your path. Oh, and this is all while ensuring the cargo doesn’t get destroyed and you remain sheltered from an electromagnetic storm which periodically shows up to zap away your health.
The amount of multitasking found in the game’s objectives can be ridiculously overwhelming and exhausting. What adds to the frustration is when a cheap one-hit kill catches you off guard, causing you to fail and restart the mission from the very beginning. Of course this was designed with a co-operative multiplayer environment in mind, where a player would be able to revive their downed ally with a health kit. There are no second chances or additional help for players going it alone though, and that definitely sours the experience for people who enjoy solo experiences.
Hop online and form a squad however, and it becomes bearable. Missions that felt impossible while playing alone can either become a cakewalk or just about manageable depending on the number of players. As far as I could tell, team size made no difference to the number and strength of enemies which would appear. The most glaring issue with the game is that there doesn’t seem to be any difficulty scaling or balance to accommodate for the lack of players.
That being said, if you do have friends to play with or don’t mind joining forces with random folks online, you can have a good time with Federation Force. The game was designed with multiple players in mind; missions won’t just become easier with company, but more enjoyable as a whole. It doesn’t get much more satisfying than having a full squad giving it their all against a gigantic boss only to succeed in taking it down at the very last minute.
All of the missions I played online were smooth experiences, free of frame rate drops and pesky connection errors. My only concern with multiplayer is the sluggish method of communicating with team mates. While the ready-made list of commands/phrases serve their purpose and shortcuts can be assigned to the D-Pad, voice chat will always be the preferred method of communication for co-op play. It’s no missing feature that can’t be worked around and we’re not used to seeing it in a Nintendo game, but it’s disappointing to not see nonetheless.
Fans of competitive multiplayer will also appreciate the inclusion of Blast Ball mode. The mini-game is essentially a 3v3 match of soccer, but you’re instead trying to shoot a huge dangerous ball into the opponent’s goal. It’s hardly Nintendo’s own version of Rocket League, but it’s as close as we’re likely going to see on 3DS, and it serves as a fun distraction from the main campaign. If you played the free demo version from the eShop, you’ll have the option to transfer your progress over to the full game.
Overall, I would argue that even though Federation Force doesn’t do much to stand out, keep Metroid fans satisfied, and isn’t the most consistent single-player experience, it’s not a bad game. It’s a competent first-person shooter which is well designed for co-operative play. There is a nice amount of variety in gameplay and a lot of replay value to be found in its score-based missions. There are loads of neat customization options for your mech and amiibo are well utilized, allowing you to unlock character-based paint jobs which offer perks to gameplay. The online multiplayer works well and Blast Ball is a neat bonus.
While difficult to recommend for solo players, it’s a decent co-op shooter which is massively undeserving of the hate it’s received. If you go in expecting a fully immersive single-player Metroid experience, you will be disappointed straight away. If you drop the unfair expectations and manage to appreciate Metroid Prime: Federation Force as the game it was always supposed to be, you might be pleasantly surprised.