A game so intensely divisive you might as well call it the 2016 video game equivalent of the Ghostbusters reboot; Metroid Prime: Federation Force has had wildly varying opinions on both ends of the spectrum. Some have found it to be an excellent experience while others a mediocre shell of a Metroid game. So what’s my consensus? Let’s dive into it.
The opinions from my Blast Ball impression remain the same and some of them carry over into Federation Force relatively unchanged: such as the music, controls and graphics. However, now that those opinions for Blast Ball are in a full fledged game there is bound to be some differences. But let’s begin with the plot.
After Phaaze went boom in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, the Galactic Federation now needs a new way to combat the Space Pirates, since using the corrupting Phazon was a flawless idea. To this end the GOLEM Project was created – huge mech suits designed to combat the Pirates more efficiently. The player(s), new to this program, are sent to a remote system with three planets to do reconnaissance missions until suddenly the Pirates resurface and apparently now as huge as these same Golem mechs. Thus, it falls to the Federation Force to stop the Pirate threat and uncover a plan that may very well put the entire galaxy at risk.
Does this sound simplistic and basic? Because it absolutely is. Even Hunters, limited as it was, has relevant world building through its lore and rival hunters. Nobody in this game receives significant characterization, there’s no high stakes beyond what’s implied, your commanding officer(who I should point out is one of two named characters with dialogue) is more akin to Duck Dodgers than a hardened Federation commander and basically the entire plot is bland. There’s nothing to get invested in (except the ending, detailed in a spoiler at the end of this review), so if you’re expecting to get invested in the plot you’ll be sorely disappointed.
But plot isn’t much of a hindrance when the meat of the game is solid, so how does it play? Short to the point…it’s okay. Federation Force is divided into 22 missions that take the player(s) through the three planets accomplishing various types of objectives to earn medals. Essentially, think of it as an amalgamation of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (a co-op campaign that’s mission based) and Star Wars: Republic Commando (a co-op campaign where action is at the forefront of the experience). If you think that 22 missions is short, especially compared to the former game, then don’t be fooled; running through just the main game can take you at least 9-14 hours depending on skill level and how many players you have.
Speaking of which, let’s get to the missions. Early on, they are a comfortable experience that anyone can get into and enjoy. However, after the ninth mission or so, the game will very quickly get hard. Deceptively hard. You have to be on your A-game to get through some of these missions, let alone get more than one medal on them. Now, it’s not impossible when riding solo, more on that later, but the game really wants you to gather more players, and honestly, multiplayer is really this game’s strong suit, like Hunters before it. Co-op can get very fun and very hectic as you and your buddies complete the objective(s) given, and it definitely makes some of the missions easier. Because each mission has three medals(one for completion, one for a time limit completion, and one from a bonus objective), there is some evident replay value, as collecting medals unlocks different mech skins(separate from Blast Ball) to customize with as well as extra mod slots(more on this in a bit). For the particularly daring, completing the game once unlocks Hard Mode, which lives up to its name and demands perfect play should you want every medal.
The other cornerstone of the gameplay involves mods. Scattered through levels are pods that when shot grant mods, which are collected at the end of a mission and can be equipped to your mech to grant different abilities. These range from an auto-revive to boosted damage dealt, among other benefits, but they can be broken should you fall in battle or quit a mission. Three mods max can be equipped (once you have 19 medals), so experiment. To make the game easier for solo players the unbreakable Lone Wolf and Hyper Mode mods are options; the former is unlocked from the start, and the latter is unlocked from playing Blast Ball. If you played the latter’s demo extensively, you’ll unlock it right off the bat when you transfer save data. It’s not a perfect solution to the game’s unbalanced difficulty in solo play, but it makes the experience manageable.
Despite how enjoyable the game can be, Federation Force has several glaring flaws. Most notable is how slow the pace is; mechs walk so slow(probably the slowest playable characters in the series) and it makes getting from point A to point B a drag. Think of how slow Young Link is in Ocarina of Time, without the warp melodies and Epona, and you have a perfect parallel. This can be partially circumvented by repeatedly side dashing (hilariously, much like Ocarina of Time again) and is a great method for clearing missions quickly when out of combat, but this slow movement speed brings the pace down to a crawl at times.
Some missions can also be a chore even with four players, particularly in the final stretch. Don’t be surprised to see your mission timer clock past 10 minutes and/or miss the time trial medal all too frequently. Lastly, by way of how the missions are designed for co-op, it practically mandates other players when trying for some of the bonus objectives, which can make the game supremely frustrating at times, especially the final three missions. These problems pave way for Federation Force‘s biggest flaw: an inconsistent balance for solo play. Unlike the aforementioned Peace Walker and Republic Commando, some of the missions are significantly harder when riding solo because they are either not designed well for both single and multiplayer(the former is much easier to run solo by comparison) or don’t compensate well enough for the lone wolf(the latter has your other squad mates always present), and automated drones, available when less than three players are playing missions, do not fill the void of another mech seeing as they can only shoot enemies and pick up some items that may be a part of an objective. These flaws very much hamper the experience, but are by no means deal breakers because of the online mode. Online play is very stable and in my experience with it I have only had three separate instances of disconnects and lag, out of 15 missions I cooperated in before this review (admittedly due to my signal strength being low from where I was at the time). Getting a team shouldn’t be hard, thus issues with solo play can be avoided.
Overall, whether Federation Force ends up enjoyable depends on the person. Anyone who disliked it from the start or was turned off by Blast Ball‘s demo are better off playing any of the main Prime trilogy or waiting for a price drop. Veterans of Hunters, people won over by Blast Ball or anyone looking for a challenging FPS need look no further. As an overall product it’s definitely not the franchise killer certain types of fans label it as, but it’s objectively on Hunters‘ level at best as an overall experience, and nothing more.
—Spoiler content for Mission 16 and the ending—