Metroid Prime: Fed­er­a­tion Force



Well, our 3DS hasn’t ex­ploded. We haven’t con­sid­ered quit­ting games for good. And, be­lieve it or not, our fond mem­o­ries of Metroid Prime re­main en­tirely un­sul­lied. How odd. Wasn’t Fed­er­a­tion Force the game des­tined to ruin not just a much-loved se­ries, but to bring down Nin­tendo and de­stroy the medium, too? Away from the howls of dis­gust and hor­ror that greeted its an­nounce­ment, Fed­er­a­tion Force is far from the ab­so­lute dis­as­ter it was im­me­di­ately as­sumed to be; nor is it the kind of game to in­spire fev­er­ish de­vo­tion. It’s a first­per­son co-op ad­ven­ture that hardly dis­graces the Metroid name it should never have been lum­bered with, even though it falls some way short of the se­ries’ finest out­ings.

Hav­ing been handed such a poi­soned chal­ice, some credit must go to the small team at Next Level Games. The Metroid name is a lit­tle more than just a wrap­per, and not only be­cause its light story el­e­ments ground it within the fic­tion of the uni­verse. The de­fault con­trol scheme, for ex­am­ple, will be fa­mil­iar to those who played the GameCube edi­tion of Prime: you move and turn with the left stick, hold the left shoul­der to lock on and strafe, and the right shoul­der to fine-tune your aim. It works a treat, such that our ex­per­i­ment with the al­ter­na­tive – which uses the newer 3DS mod­els’ tiny ana­logue nub for a more tra­di­tional twin-stick style – lasted less than a sin­gle mis­sion. You’re pi­lot­ing a mo­bile suit, so there’s a heft to your ac­tions that give it a more de­lib­er­ate pace than the Prime games, but the feel is com­pa­ra­ble. It also up­holds an­other se­ries tra­di­tion: a strong, re­li­able first­per­son jump.

The setup for ev­ery mis­sion can be roughly summed up thus: the Space Pi­rates are up to no good. Yet there’s sur­pris­ing va­ri­ety in their stag­ing. You’ll in­fil­trate en­emy bases, pro­tect a ter­mi­nal as it up­loads valu­able data, pre­vent a ma­raud­ing crea­ture from top­pling a Fed­er­a­tion probe, and take down mis­sile trans­ports be­fore they can de­liver their pay­load. Some have last­minute sur­prises; others have en­vi­ron­men­tal puz­zles or rudi­men­tary stealth in­ter­ludes; all have op­tional side ob­jec­tives that you’ll need to com­plete to achieve the ul­ti­mate tar­get of three medals. These aren’t just for show. Earn enough and you’ll un­lock new slots for suit mod­i­fi­ca­tions, which are found within each stage, usu­ally off the crit­i­cal path, or awarded upon de­stroy­ing stronger en­e­mies. In­creased frost dam­age is worth equip­ping if you’re car­ry­ing plenty of freeze mis­siles, or if you’d rather as­sume the role of healer then you’ll ben­e­fit from the mod that lets you re­gain health when­ever you aid a dam­aged ally.

Three seems to be the magic num­ber when it comes to play­ers, too, mak­ing for a man­age­able chal­lenge with­out too much get­ting in one an­other’s way. Most mis­sions are doable with two: though it can get hec­tic on oc­ca­sion, you’ll share a pair of hov­er­ing drones that will au­to­mat­i­cally fire at nearby threats. Any­one think­ing of go­ing it alone may wish to re­con­sider. Next Level Games as­sumes an ex­tra drone and a mod that dou­bles of­fen­sive out­put and halves the dam­age you re­ceive will com­pen­sate for the ab­sence of help. On some lev­els, that suf­fices, though boss en­coun­ters be­come much more at­tri­tional, and when you’re be­ing at­tacked from mul­ti­ple an­gles you sim­ply have to suck up the hits. Others refuse to make any al­lowances. The very worst forces you to carry an ob­ject through a level, re­strict­ing your abil­ity to at­tack and slow­ing you down con­sid­er­ably. A sin­gle hit is enough to knock it from your grasp, so nat­u­rally the game re­peat­edly spawns cloaked en­e­mies be­tween you and the dropoff point. Need­less to say, the par time was un­trou­bled un­til we at­tempted it with a part­ner; with one trooper now pro­tect­ing the car­rier, we fin­ished it with room to spare. It works bet­ter off­line than on, too, since the abil­ity to dis­cuss tac­tics makes a cru­cial dif­fer­ence. With voice chat ab­sent, on­line com­mu­ni­ca­tion is lim­ited to a hand­ful of mes­sages, with four mapped to the D-pad. As such, mis­sions can de­volve into farce if you’re not on the same page. Crossed wires can’t, how­ever, ac­count for the some­times pon­der­ous pac­ing, nor the awk­ward con­trivances of cer­tain ob­jec­tives. One mis­sion presents the most laugh­ably in­ef­fi­cient reload­ing method we’ve ever seen, as you shoot to push can­non­balls up nar­row ramps to­wards cat­a­pults to fend off a pur­su­ing gun­ship.

Oth­er­wise, the set-pieces are nicely mounted, though they don’t of­fer much in the way of spec­ta­cle. The art style does it few favours: it’s nec­es­sar­ily sim­plis­tic, per­haps, to keep every­thing run­ning smoothly for four play­ers, but it comes at the cost of the at­mos­phere the au­dio and en­counter de­sign work hard to sus­tain. The gut­tural growl of a Space Pi­rate should be un­set­tling, but it’s hard to fear the an­gu­lar model be­hind it. Like­wise, the be­lated ar­rival of the Metroids. Their threat to your sur­vival might be more ap­par­ent once they latch onto your mech and you’re mash­ing B to shake them off, but they never feel like the ter­ri­fy­ing cre­ations they’re painted as. The aes­thetic doesn’t al­ways keep the ac­tion read­able, ei­ther. You’ll see pink bolts flash­ing in your gen­eral di­rec­tion, but when you’re straf­ing, it’s pot luck whether or not you take a hit.

Oddly enough, at its best, Fed­er­a­tion Force most re­sem­bles Des­tiny. Its rhythms are sim­i­lar, with tense, quiet mo­ments fol­lowed by ex­tended bursts of fierce ac­tion; both have small groups work­ing to­gether against the odds, re­viv­ing fallen com­rades en route to scrap­ing a hard-fought vic­tory. But most of the time, it’s an­other Tri Force He­roes – a rea­son­able co-op mul­ti­player that’s much less fun on your own. Af­ter all that fuss and fury, there’s lit­tle to get worked up about.

It’s a first­per­son co-op ad­ven­ture that hardly dis­graces the Metroid name it should never have been lum­bered with

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