Join the Galactic Federation team as a marine on the brink of a high intensity invasion by the Space Pirates in Metroid Prime: Federation Force. But fail to keep your wits about you and you’ll soon find solo mode is tricky and mundane without friends in the fray.
Developed by the studio behind such great GameCube and 3DS titles as Super Mario Strikers and Luigi’s Mansion 2, Next Level Games has taken on the Metroid mantle in a bid to calm the brewing storm of negativity. As a co-operative first person shooter, Metroid Prime: Federation Force is a direct spin-off following the events of Metroid Prime 3, where Samus joined the Galactic Federation to fight off the Space Pirates. Though she doesn’t directly feature as a playable character, Samus is still used favourably within the main storyline which will appease some fans’ outpourings. Instead, players will fight as a young marine in Federation Force, taking on up to 22 in-game missions stationed at three different planets; the ice-laden Excelcion, the unforgiving desert of Bion and the gaseous planet Talvania.
As it stands, Federation Force features three distinct modes within Campaign play: Solo, Local Co-op and Online. Before unlocking one or a group of missions, each main assignment must be completed once by earning a medal for the main objective, with up to two more available for bonus goals. And while you can select all unlocked missions in solo, local or online co-operative, you cannot join online campaigns you have yet to unlock on the board, nor can you host them either, giving players a much more balanced game in terms of storyline.
Before setting out on any of the missions, however, each marine must go through some training. The in-game tutorial sets up the game superbly for newcomers, who can get to grips with the gyro aiming controls. On a new Nintendo 3DS, players can use both the large circle pad for left and right movement and the smaller nub for vertical camera movement. Unfortunately players cannot customise the control schemes and are locked into choosing one of two formats; namely one with gyro aiming and one without. And as the game focuses on mech customisation with different paint jobs and collectable mods, it would be neat to have that optional freedom.
With that said, however, Federation Force is not without its control frustrations. There are particular moments within missions where gyro aiming is completely and utterly necessary. Couple that with perpetual RSI from your trigger finger, small hands such as my own and larger hands may find hand cramping becomes the biggest issue and sadly limits the length of play sessions.
The main meat and bones of the title comes with the 22 main in-game missions. Evenly spread between each planet, the assignments are well varied and interesting on your first outing. There’s a strange overwhelming stillness that chills to the bone when playing in solo mode. The tension on your first couple of missions going it alone can be unnerving and terribly exciting, but the waves of nausea as you have to sift through a slew of space pirates repeatedly in the later missions gives way to the mundane rather quickly. Slowly it becomes a game of cat and mouse. Just one lonely, lovable mouse on the brink of death as cat after cat comes to taunt, maul and grapple their way to that drill your defending, or the architect device your holding, or that uplink your boss says is horribly important.
In fact, Uplink was probably the moment I gave up on solo mode after making it through 14 other missions alone. That’s not to say the subsequent assignments are impossible in solo mode, far from it, but masochism isn’t an art I enjoy. And when failing a mission actually damages those great mods you’ve worked hard to collect, many of which are distributed throughout the map in secret cubbies or behind lava and rocks as the only explorative part of the game, it becomes personal and can unhinge any marine out on the field.
As players work their way through the main story campaign, your marine will be able to unlock heavier carry weights and additional slots for chosen mods. Up to three modular slots can be used at any one time, and it’s paramount that you use these wisely depending on the mission presented. Players can pick up armoured plating to reduce damage, boost your rate of healing, improve your charge shots and bomb proximity rates, alongside doubling the damage output of your freeze, burn and shock shots. A necessity in solo mode, your carry weight affects the amount of auxiliary ammo your marine can carry. Between missiles and super missiles, decoys, scan bolts, freeze shots and repair capsules, there’s a decent variety on offer and each are fun to use.
Should you wish to team up with three other marines in Federation Force, online mode will be your calling. Despite some minor hiccups with connection instability after the North American and Japanese servers opened, the online component works remarkably well and is arguably the most pleasing way to experience the full game. By working together during missions, you’ll actively need to help each other out by reviving fallen teammates or by using items to slow down and defeat huge enemies such as Goliath Beetles, Ice Titans, Bruisers and Elite Pirates. It’s a real shame the online chat is limited to mere phrases though, as it can become problematic in certain missions where your team has been separated and needs help to regroup.
Frustration is likely to ensue in one particular mission where your group is disbanded and without their mechs. Due to some absurd server lags, a teammate dropped out and my avatar was struck down without my mech suit. The others couldn’t reach my player to revive as I was within an area only reachable without a mech. Hilariously, after five minutes of frantic “helps”, the game transported me to the beginning of the area where I was able to be revived. A free typing in-game chat mode or voice chat is desperately needed should these situations continue to arise.
A minor flaw at best, online mode has no equal distribution of items before a mission begins, leaving the slow to adapt players with very little to take on entry. However, Federation Force does give players an equal fair share of all collected mods, with the highest scoring player selecting first. You can even skip your turn and let another player choose the mod too; both polite and a neat addition.
While Federation Force can be completed in around 10 hours, players will most likely repeat missions to acquire the bonus objectives. After you’ve defeated the main storyline in an epic boss showdown, players will automatically unlock hard mode where they can experience different objectives in each of the main missions. Let’s just say it’s brutal and challenging.
Not to be forgotten, Blast Ball is also available in Federation Force. As a knock-off mini-game to Rocket League, it’s merely a tutorial tool for new players. A redundant feature that isn’t half as good as the aforementioned title above, it’s better to blink and miss it.
Though not without its redundancies, flaws and general frustrations, Metroid Prime: Federation Force is a well varied first-person shooter with an enjoyable online mode. Perhaps it will never be the Metroid title fans really wanted, but it doesn’t intend to be either with its set up. Repetitive enemies, lack of exploration and solo mode aside, at its core there’s a fun to play title. But as always, we shoot first and ask questions later.
Based on the PAL version.