Strike out a name for yourself within the Galactic Federation in Metroid Prime: Federation Force. That is, if a bigger name isn’t stealing the show.
Developer: Next Level Games
Platforms: New Nintendo 3DS (Version Reviewed), Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: August 19, 2016
Nintendo, clearly in a holding pattern for a brighter future, are trying certain things out right now with their various properties. One of their bigger experiments is to take the excellence of Metroid Prime and wonder, “What would it be like if you played as not-Samus instead?”
Enter Metroid Prime: Federation Force, a squad-based single/multiplayer game that you can play with your friends, or alone. Each player acts as the go-to contact of the Federation Force, a group of Mech unit Marines trained up for a military operation by the Galactic Federation. All traces of space pirates in the local Bermuda system seem to have been eradicated, but you are sent down to explore the remnants that remain.
Metroid Prime: Federation Force functions in a wholly different way than what traditional Metroid players have come to expect. Instead of embarking on a journey to explore a planet, understand the complex intricacies of its history and come out unscathed, gameplay takes place over several missions.
Each of the 22 different missions in Metroid Prime: Federation Force takes place across three planets in the Bermuda system. Excelcion is a frozen planet with a former Federation mining operation, Talvania is a gaseous planet home to a power station, and Bion is a desert planet with powerful storms. As you could guess, due to the ecosystems and climates of these planets, enemies carry characteristic and weaponry of their homes.
Regardless of accepting a mission solo or with a squad, players must prepare for every mission. Customizable MODs (three maximum per player) are chosen, each providing extra benefits to the player such as 20% damage reduction, 30% chance to not take damage or extra ammo slots. These MODs are found as collectibles hidden throughout missions, and can be destroyed if your mech is destroyed or you quit a mission.
Finally, right before a Metroid Prime: Federation Force mission kicks off, you or your team must pick ammo and support loadouts. Most of these range from healing capsules you can shoot at teammates (or down for yourself), offensive attacks (missiles, elemental projectiles and proximity mines), or defensive materials (a time-slowing beam, target decoys for enemies, etc.)
These customization aspects add a tactical layer to Metroid Prime: Federation Force gameplay that lets the player(s) try to control how they form up. It breaks up the traditional class-based system and opts for the player to take agency for the task at hand. Ammo is limited per mission, so you’ll have to think carefully before one player takes all the health and leaves their teammates with nothing. It’s a great concept that certainly fits the style of game Nintendo is pushing for, here.
Boy, if it would only “work” at a reliable rate.
The mission variety of Federation Force keeps things fresh. What you’re actually tasked to do keeps you on your toes, whether you’re capturing ice titans, pushing a cart full of materials through an electrical storm, defending a drill like an outpost or exploring hidden caves. When playing in a group, you’ll find yourself more than prepared for the tasks at hand, and the comradery of working together to get a task done is great when it works.
Boy, if it would only “work” at a reliable rate.
For the pre-release portion of this review, I attempted to participate in online co-op with two separate fellow reviewers from other outlets. One was playing Metroid Prime: Federation Force from the US, the other from Belgium. Meanwhile, I was connected to the internet wirelessly close to my router connected to a 250MB down/20MB up internet speed.
I got one complete mission finished with my US friend, and I’m forever glad I did. Keeping a minecart full of precious minerals safe for an entire level while it’s on rails is infinitely harder to do on your own, and with the in-game messaging system, sending your thanks as your teammate gets you back on your feet can build strong online gaming relationships.
After that mission, though, we were disconnected trying to complete a second mission. Furthermore, with the Belgium reviewer, I couldn’t even get a full level in. Having now played the game with public servers, the experience has been a lot smoother, but can be quite competitive when the person with the highest score gets the first choice of the MODs. Blastball, meanwhile, serves as the low-stakes Rocket League throwaway mode that it always was.
This arduous process makes the slightest misstep an excruciating, unnecessary experience.
There are certain aspects of the “built for online multiplayer first, then single-player” ideals of Metroid Prime: Federation Force that I like over others. For one, the mission variety works for both teams and individual players. The developers did a great job at making sure everything was possible to complete for both styles, including getting a maximum three out of three medals if you’re quick enough and complete each mission’s bonus objective. You might need to install a Lone Wolf MOD (double damage done, half damage taken) to do it, but online multiplayer is not crucial to enjoy playing the game.
For each good idea, there are a number of shortfalls that are involved with tailoring everything about Metroid Prime: Federation Force for online play. To avoid ragequitting and screwing over online teammates, if you quit a mission, a MOD will be destroyed. However, if you are replaying alone in order to max out your medals in the strive to achieve 100% completion, one false step could leave you unable to get the three medals. You are then stuck either trying to complete a full mission once more or risk losing one of your powerful upgrades in a quit-out.
Furthermore, and this seems almost completely unacceptable for a modern game, but there is no checkpoint system in Federation Force. If you are seconds away from completing a mission, and you die or receive a Mission Failure, you will have to start over from the beginning. Some missions can take over twenty to thirty minutes to complete, and resetting also means adjusting your customizations and weapons load outs on top of cutscenes and loading screens. This arduous process makes the slightest misstep an excruciating, unnecessary experience.
If you could boil down the criticism of Metroid Prime: Federation Force to one central focus, it’s the failure to execute on a noble idea. I truly wanted to buy into the game’s story, learn about the Bermuda system and a Galactic Federation outside of Samus, yet it seems like we can never have nice things at all. Despite the Federation Force being the subject of each investigation, mission or objective, Samus Aran is always narratively adjacent to your travels. Your GF commanding officer often notes receiving transmissions, reports and messages from her throughout your travels.
While normally I would be appreciative of learning about what Samus is up to in this part of the timeline, the attention on her distracts the focus on the narrative that should be on you, the player. Because Metroid Prime: Federation Force is an online game, though, it’s extremely difficult to place each player as an individual within the narrative.
Outside of the fun missions, the gameplay loops of Federation Force eventually drive to a repetitive conclusion.
There’s nowhere to expand beyond vessel for victory or failure status of a mission because that’s how the game is built. Each of the mechs is similar in representation and does little to express individuality or character, despite a mission-to-mission story of the Galactic Federation facing off against the Space Pirate delegation. Despite your involvement in creating the narrative, the importance of the story goes above and beyond your character.
Outside of the fun missions, the gameplay loops of Federation Force eventually drive to a repetitive conclusion. Half of the time, you’re doing cool stuff like thwarting massive bosses, capturing gigantic beasts with your cunning, stopping gigantic creatures from destroying objects of interest and blowing up Space Pirate lairs of your own. The other half, however, boils down to doors closing behind you, waves of enemies pouring in, defeating them, and the door unlocking. This becomes so prevalent in one of the final missions that you’re pretty much thrown into an unending gauntlet.
It would be fine enough if the variety of possible enemies were healthy, but I could probably count the number of different enemy types with the fingers on my hands. Metroid Prime: Federation Force, just like its party of heroes, suffers from an individuality problem. Space Pirates and planetary creatures are your main enemies, and there are similar repetitions in both factions. Trooper, Brawler, Flying, and regular Space Pirates make up your main threat, with stronger “Elite” variations of each. Each has a similar color pattern to the next, leaving most distinctions down to weaponry or body size.
Furthermore, depending on your hardware, it might be a bit annoying trying to aim for them all in a 3D space. New Nintendo 3DS users finally find purposes for their ZL and ZR buttons, used for targeting and shooting special weapons. The c-stick can even be used to aim the reticle, making it easier to lead your shot. However, regular 3DS users must remain using gyroscopic aiming, which can get tiresome in horde missions.
I wouldn’t be surprised to know that the restrictions of the hardware were to blame for overall visual choices, as character models (including the Federation Force and others) have a decidedly Chibi style in their creation. It creates a cartoonish representation of a continuation of the Metroid Prime series, one that is traditionally dark and cold in its aesthetics.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.