|Developer Next Level Games|
Metroid Prime: Federation Force loves to remind players just how well Samus Aran works on her own. Unfortunately, it’s far less enthusiastic about letting them do the same.
Not that what you’re doing is inherently different than what she’s doing elsewhere; in the end you’re both killing shiploads of space pirates and alien creatures, after all. Beyond that, most of your time in Metroid Prime: Federation Force is going to be spent hopping back and forth between alien planets, solving challenges and fighting off bosses with their own unique patterns and vulnerabilities … and unlocking doors, of course. Lots of doors.
You can play solo, or join others locally — Federation Force supports 3DS Download Play, which allows one player to share the game with other local players — and through online lobbies. Also, there’s a soccer mini-game, and those are pretty in right now. It might not be a game of the year contender, but it sounds like an okay time, right?
I have three positive things to say about Metroid Prime: Federation Force, so rather than keep you in suspense, I’ll get them all out of the way right now. First, the missions, maps and objectives are pretty varied, so even when you’re visiting the same planet for the 5th time there won’t be much of a sense of deja vu. Second, if you fail your mission, you still get to keep the armor and weapon upgrades (known as mods) that you found; I’m not going to say that kept me from damaging my 3DS in frustration on a few occasions, but I think it would be understandable if that were hypothetically the case. Third, Blast Ball (the aforementioned soccer mode) is fine and there’s a free demo of it up on the eShop.
the most awkward and forced interaction of your entire life
Federation Force seems like it wants to stand on its own, yet its attempts to tap into familiarity with the Metroid franchise come off as desperate. One of its favorite tricks is to roll out a gently rotating model of the upper half of Samus’ power suit during mission debriefings, her name highlighted in orange for emphasis each time. It’s like meeting someone at a party who wants you to know they work with a celebrity, so they mention them again and again with an inflection that demands you demonstrate how impressed you are by how cool and important this person must be. Maybe they hold up their phone and show you a picture of the pair of them with beers and wire-thin smiles. Maybe they call this person just to prove that they can, then hand the phone over and grant you the most awkward and forced interaction of your entire life.
Speaking of things being awkward and forced, the 3DS has never been the most ergonomic system to hold and use, and Federation Force can be outright painful to play at length. Having an older 3DS XL, I didn’t have access to the control nub (or a Circle Pad Pro) which might have allowed me to play it a little more like a traditional first-person shooter, so I was stuck with the game’s default control scheme. This had me working the triggers madly, one to lock onto targets and the other to enable the gyroscopic aiming that allows you to lead an enemy or more precisely target their weak points.
Metroid Prime: Federation Force’s awkwardly showy use of motion controls make it feel like a game that might have come out early in the 3DS’ lifecycle, flaunting a hardware feature at the expense of being more comfortable and playable.
But Federation Force’s disingenuous attempts to convince you that you can play it alone if you really want to are its biggest, most glaring issue. During the tutorial players are given an important tool to help make solo play more reasonable — a mod that can be equipped to raise damage dealt and reduce damage taken. It only works while you’re on your own, but when paired with AI drones that can be used to fill empty party slots, it was enough to trick me into thinking I’d be fine. The problem is that truly multiplayer-oriented design manifests itself in more than just your survivability in combat.
Federation Force is a slow game. Mechs plod along, bulky and staid, but when I was shooting enemies I didn’t notice it so much. On the other hand, when I was completing a task meant for multiple people — like simultaneously pushing and defending a heavy cart of supplies down a track while dangerous storms roll in overhead, or trying to maneuver gracelessly around a massive monster to shoot out all of it’s weak points — it was very noticeable, and in these cases, drones are only slightly better than nothing.
To make matters worse, weight restrictions placed on your character mean that you can rarely carry enough special ammo to break the pattern of mashing the A button to fire your most basic shot during the average combat encounter. This limit is represented by a little bar on the right side of the lower screen that ticks up as you equip more gear, and it can even prevent you from using ammo drops in-world until you expend something else to make room. A stack of three missiles takes up one little tick of weight, for instance, while a single healing item (which only heals about half your health without a mod slotted to improve that) takes two. Equipping the more powerful (and helpful) items that weigh even more consequently means sacrificing a significant portion of your limit to do so. Mods can be used to increase individual or team weight, but only enough to allow for one or two more items.
In these moments Federation Force is all limits and no joy
The weight limits imposed on characters also mean that a group can come excessively well-equipped for a mission by delegating support items to one person, missiles to another, decoys and debuffs to a third and so on. Good for them. But while playing solo, you need to be far more discerning about both your mod slots and your loadout – a mech of all trades but a master of none. Then, of course, if you die and there are no other players to revive you (the drones apparently don’t have CPR protocols installed), you’ll instantly fail the mission and have to start over from the beginning. No checkpoints, no do-overs … unless you use one of your three precious mod slots for an item that will revive you once before destroying itself, which means you can’t use that slot for a weapon augment or something else that might make you more capable overall.
In these moments, Federation Force is all limits and no joy. I found myself either bored to death or being torn to pieces with very little middle ground. At its slowest and easiest points — as well as its hardest — it’s chiming sing-song in your ear that, if you were playing with others, might go faster, smoother, better, easier. The option to select solo play on the menu screen means very little; consider this game multiplayer-only and you’ll be a lot better off.
When I hopped into a multiplayer match, so many of these problems faded away, but the absence of pain isn’t pleasure. It was a relief to be rid of all those obstacles to enjoyment, but beneath them the game is still a plodding series of puzzles and fights and challenges, nearly all solved at the barrel of your gun. I can imagine a set of circumstances in which I would have enjoyed Metroid Prime: Federation Force, but those are the exact same circumstances that have allowed me to enjoy countless other middling co-op games, including more anemic mid-2000s free-to-play MMORPGs than I can count. Playing something with a good group of friends can mask a multitude of sins in just about any multiplayer game, but it doesn’t magically make the game itself good.
With or without friends, Metroid Prime: Federation Force is a slog
When I was playing Metroid Prime: Federation Force alone, I inevitably wished I was playing it with others; when I was playing it with others, I just wished I wasn’t playing at all. Its controls (particularly if you have an older 3DS) couldn’t be more cumbersome, and systems like weight limits don’t provide an interesting challenge so much as they just get in the way. Between my cramping hands and the constant need to recruit strangers into my squad simply to progress I found it hard to care about what I was supposed to be doing, no matter how many times the game dangled a certain iconic bounty hunter under my nose.Metroid Prime: Federation Force was reviewed using a retail copy provided by Nintendo. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here. About Polygon's Reviews