One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do, and that feeling of isolation is a huge part of what has drawn players to Nintendo’s hallowed Metroid series for thirty years. The franchise’s latest entry jettisons that melancholy motif, instead opting for the more is merrier approach of squad-based shooters in an attempt to expand the possibilities of the universe. It may not be the traditional sequel fans wanted, but does Metroid Prime: Federation Force prove that two (or three, or four) over-sized space marine heads are better than one?
Game Name: Metroid Prime: Federation Force
Developer(s): Next Level Games
Release Date: August 19, 2016
There’s nothing wrong with experimenting, and so despite the disappointment and furor over the very idea of Federation Force, that this multiplayer spin-off attempts to mix Metroid up a bit is not a problem. In fact, were it not held back by mediocre gameplay, less-than-stellar visuals, and uninspired mission design, this teamwork-oriented take on the battle against the Space Pirates could have been a surprisingly welcome tangent to Samus’ story, even with her minimal involvement. Unfortunately, those elements are a constant reminder that the franchise has seen better days.
The core of Federation Force sees the little cartoonish soldiers carrying out various bite-sized missions inside mechs that behave very much like a certain power-suited bounty hunter (stripped of her special weaponry), complete with Arm Cannon and all. A slight ability to hover for a very short time is the biggest addition, but don’t expect much else in the way of cool enhancements as the game progresses. Though some standard ordnance like missiles, fire and freeze guns, and shields may be available to load up on before descents to certain planetary surfaces, none feel very useful, and often aren’t even necessary outside of accessing the occasional special area. This might not be a problem if the mechs felt formidable enough, but their shots are overall fairly weak, making stronger enemies a slog, and the lack of tangible impact upon hitting a target gives combat a tinge of dissatisfaction.
A short training segment gets players used to the controls, which while not as refined as the series it borrows a name from, work well enough. Those with a New 3DS have the option exists to use the C-stick nub instead of motion controls for precision aiming, but either way gets the job done, thanks in part to a handy lock-on system. Platforming doesn’t play out nearly as well, but thankfully there isn’t much of it, and despite long sessions inducing some hand cramping, Federation Force still manages to be the most functional first-person shooter on the 3DS.
None of Us is as Smart as All of Us
The same measured enthusiasm could be used to describe Federation Force‘s missions. These brief excursions consist of time-worn objectives that are comfortable in their familiarity, but certainly don’t push any boundaries in the genre. Retrieve an item, escort a slow-moving vehicle, defend something supposedly important from perfectly spaced waves of enemies, fight a boss that threatens to ruin everything somehow, etc. There’s nothing specifically wrong about the 22 or so assignments, but there’s nothing especially right about them either. Few twists or turns pop up along the mostly direct paths, and any tweaks to these established concepts are minimal, sometimes even clunky and frustrating (obligatory stealth missions, I’m looking at you). This doesn’t exactly inspire multiple replays in order to collect the numerous medals given out for certain achievements, but thanks to the complete lack of checkpoints, unexpected strong attacks may have players going through the motions more than once whether they want to or not, especially when playing solo.
Oh, by the way, do not play Federation Force solo if you can avoid it. There is no adjustment for difficulty whether playing alone or with three others, and that difficulty is definitely geared toward the latter. Because of the lack of any real communication other then some banal preset phrases like the extremely helpful “good job” or the annoying “over here” cry spammed by a fallen comrade, the ideal way suit up is with three friends via local play where at least you can yell at your teammates for stealing your repair capsules. Online is a decent option, though the community is a little sparse, and finding a full complement to play the specific level you’re tackling can take some time. It’s worth the wait, though, because that strength from numbers can make all the difference between a frustrating restart and a breezy in-and-out that will have you wondering if the developers mistakenly forgot to include the rest of the operation.
Just a Grunt
That’s the overall feeling from Metroid Prime: Federation Force; it is missing purpose, not completely fleshed out, some runoff afterthought from Nintendo’s development. The absence of passion is palpable, from lackluster visuals that are a pale imitation of their predecessor’s imaginative imagery, to a forgettable plot delivered through a superior officer who absolutely loves to namedrop any periphery involvement from Ms. Aran to remind everyone this really is Metroid canon after all. Even Blast Ball, a packed-in minigame, feels tacked on, as basic as a game of futuristic laser soccer with wonky giant electric ball physics can be. It’s a trite distraction that might have players engaged for an hour or two before its shallowness kicks in.
Seeing a trend? While perfectly playable, Metroid Prime: Federation Force‘s greatest sin is its neutral nature. There’s nothing really to do but go through the motions, and semi-comfortably familiar as those mech movements may be, the void of creative design ideas when carried over to the multiplayer shooter genre inspires nothing but apathy. It is neither Flame Gun nor Ice Beam, and as such not only seems very un-Metroid, but also very un-Nintendo.
Though a serviceable enough intergalactic trip for anyone looking to play a multiplayer shooter on their 3DS, there’s absolutely nothing memorable about this by-the-numbers entry into a hallowed franchise. The bite-sized missions lack balance, easily overcome with a quartet, frustratingly difficult done solo. The familiar action and time-worn objectives are quite playable, but the mediocre gameplay inspires little reason to return to the planet surface.
serviceable controls are 3DS’ best for a FPS
some entertaining teamwork-based missions
lack of balance, checkpoints creates frustration in solo play
by-the-numbers level design relies on cliched objectives
forgettable visuals lack imagination
combat lacks satisfying impact
Federation Force is just a faceless soldier in the Samus' universe