There’s an interesting comparison to be made between No Man’s Sky, the experimental space exploration game from developer Hello Games, and Metroid Prime: Federation Force, the newest title in the long-running Metroid series from Nintendo. Originally developed by a small team of four, No Man’s Sky quickly garnered much attention after its debut at the 2013 VGX award show. From there, the hype train never slowed down; trailers leading up to its release only added fuel to the fire, and the developers themselves had issued very enthusiastic (and somewhat unrealistic) descriptions of the game’s features and ambitions. As one might have expected, the game launched to middling reviews, with fans and critics commenting on the lack of promised features, including an ongoing controversy regarding the game’s multiplayer capabilities (or lack thereof).
On the other hand, Metroid Prime: Federation Force suffered from a polar opposite problem. Backed by one of the world’s largest publishers, one would expect great things for a franchise that has just celebrated its 30th anniversary. That being said, upon its initial reveal, Federation Force was maligned and criticized by fans, and understandably so. Gamers have been waiting years for a proper follow-up to the much-loved Metroid Prime trilogy and Federation Force was written off by many as a sign that Nintendo was forgetting its fan base; watering down its intellectual property to appeal to the masses.
For anyone whose interest is piqued by Metroid Prime: Federation Force, it’s important to taper your expectations if you’re thinking about giving it a go. Like it or not, this is not a scaled down version of the Metroid Prime trilogy running on a handheld, nor is it a revitalization of the 2D Metroid games from years past. At its core, Federation Force feels more like Nintendo’s version of Destiny or Left 4 Dead; while you can tackle it solo, it’s infinitely more fun playing alongside a few friends, all while experimenting with new loadouts and strategies.
Rather than taking control of Samus Aran herself, you’re cast as a greenhorn member of the Federation Force, the titular security group that tasks itself with taking care of threats across the galaxy. There is no one connected world to explore either; instead, players will explore three different planets, with close to two dozen missions spread across them. While you won’t have Samus’ trusty power suit at your disposal, you’ll be able to pilot your own mech instead. While your arsenal isn’t a one-to-one match for traditional Metroid gadgets and firearms, there’s plenty of diversity on display here. Missiles, mines, elemental ammo, and more are all at your disposal, and you can outfit your loadout before you embark on a mission. Outfitting your mech is equally important; mod chips allow for bonuses such as increased fire power or armor, which allows you to customize and tailor your equipment to your playstyle.
I originally didn’t put much stock into Federation Force. To be quite honest, I was one of those dissenting fans I mentioned earlier, and I didn’t have much hope that Federation Force would live up to the Metroid name. However, I’m glad to say I was (mostly) mistaken. While it’s look and feel is quite the departure from the rest of the Metroid Prime games, Federation Force does have its moments. There’s not nearly as much lore to discover via environmental scans, but for a handheld game, developer Next Level Games has done an admirable job of evoking the same foreboding sense of isolation and mystery that the original Prime trilogy did. Whether you’re trekking through desolate environments or abandoned facilities, Federation Force stirs up more feelings of nostalgia than one would expect.
Federation Force’s harsh landscapes are not the only highlight worth mentioning. Unlike Nintendo’s effort with The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes, Next Level Games does a much better job when it comes to keeping missions diverse and interesting. Some puzzles might task you with manipulating rail tracks and mine carts in order to hide from deadly storms, or by herding spheres across a level with your mech’s weapons. Every so often, you’ll even get the opportunity to explore without your mech suit, which is a decidedly slower and stealthier experience, though enjoyable nonetheless. Regardless of what you might be doing at any specific moment, the game’s controls do a fine job of handling both movement and shooting. If you happen to have a New Nintendo 3DS (or a Circle Pad Pro), you can take advantage of a dual-analog setup that is typical in most shooters, but those with older hardware can use gyroscopic controls. Either control method works well, though relying on gyro controls does make it difficult to play in public spaces or when lying down.
As much as Federation Force shines when it comes to its mission design and gameplay, things become a little less clear when you take into account how the game handles online and solo play. If you’re lucky enough to have a few friends who want to tackle the game co-operatively, it’s best to make sure you play in the same room. While the game’s netcode is more than capable, communication is limited to pre-canned sentences during each mission’s ‘preparation stage’. With a lack of a robust messaging system or voice chat, online play can quickly dissolve into a chaotic mess, depending on who you’re playing with. Things don’t fare much better if you attempt to tackle the game’s missions solo. For some inexplicable reason, Federation Force doesn’t scale its difficulty depending on how many people are playing. Simply put, those who decide to go it alone are going to have a much harder time clearing the game’s missions; and especially, the bosses. The lack of difficulty scaling is somewhat offset by the ability to customize your loadout before each mission, and solo players can even bring along self-piloting drones to help with more difficult missions. Still, playing through Federation Force solo is not recommended, especially when you take into the account that the lack of checkpoints forces you to restart a mission should you die.
Normally, I try to shy away from recommending games based on your ability to play with others, but it’s a necessity when it comes to Metroid Prime: Federation Force. If you’re planning on tackling it solo, Federation Force is a much tougher pill to swallow, with its prohibitive level of difficulty. On the other hand, if you have a friend or two who are willing to take the plunge with you, Federation Force can make for a good time, especially if you’re all playing together in the same space.