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