Fatal Force is a great side-scrolling shooter that captures the core gameplay of games like the Metal Slug series, though it can't capture that series' frenzied pacing--which is likely a technological impossibility on current Series 60 handsets. What the game does offer is a good variety of futuristic weaponry (including a knockoff of the one-man mech for which Metal Slug was named) and plenty of opportunity to use that firepower. It also provides some great two-player action via Bluetooth, if you're packing the proper handset.
The Fatal Force has been tasked with controlling a growing alien menace by using heavy firepower and extreme prejudice. Your motley crew of special agents comprises an array of cruel racial and ethnic stereotypes. Mostly, you'll be commanding Leon Fournier, a freewheeling Frenchman whose disregard for danger and impractical camouflage colors make him the ideal alien-killing machine. Ocassionally, he'll team up with Jade Hunter, a stiff-lipped Brit, or Nikolai Tremenko, a Russian powerhouse whose ferocity in combat is matched only by his prolific eyebrows. In these instances, Leon's teammates will follow him, mirroring his actions and movements like Tails in Sonic the Hedgehog II. Despite the rudimentary artificial intelligence, these team-based levels are fun, forcing you to take a different strategic approach than you would use for lone-gun missions.
Fatal Force's control is about as simple as you can hope for, with movement controlled by the number or directional pad and gunfire triggered by the 5 key. Unfortunately, chording doesn't seem to work reliably, and some of the game's platforming elements can prove tedious as a result. We tested the game on the N-Gage QD as well as the Nokia 6600, and while it was possible to control Leon and company using only the directional pad and the fire key, it was often pretty necessary to use the 1 and 3 keys for diagonal jumping. This inelegant control method somewhat disrupted the fluidity of Fatal Force's gameplay. In addition, you can enable a temporary bullet time mode by pressing the 0 key. There's no real need to slow things down any further in Fatal Force's 2D setting, so this mode may go largely unused during gameplay.
Further hampering gameplay is a rather serious bug that occurs in the third mission. If you lose your mech/tank too quickly there, the screen will fail to advance past a certain point, even if you beat all the enemies onscreen. This forced us to restart the game several times until we figured out how to bypass the glitch. It's worthwhile doing so, because Fatal Force starts hitting its stride almost immediately after that point. This bug only seems to be present when the game is played on an N-Gage.
Fatal Force's healthy complement of missions spans more than four different areas, though the differences between these areas are represented by little more than slight changes to the game's graphics. Fatal Force reveals its cards slowly by bringing new enemies in to the mix only every few levels. Largely, the new enemies are graphical reinventions of baddies you've already fought, but a new foe will occasionally provide a gameplay shake-up. You'll have to battle both robotic and organic enemies that attack you from the land and the air. It would be nice to be able to aim your weapon up for this reason, but no such luck. You'll have to leap and shoot laterally at airborne aliens. Although its frame rate chugs a bit during large firefights, Fatal Force mainly looks serviceable. Its weapon effects are noteworthy, especially the billowing blaze that slowly cascades upward from your flamethrower.
Although you might not expect it in a shooter, Fatal Force's music is excellent. The background music track only gets switched a few times--during boss fights and during major scene shifts--but what you get is truly excellent. Strangely enough, you won't hear any gunfire or explosions in this action title. The game sports several fairly long loops that are characterized by old-school, emulated TS404 oscillating noises and pervasive beats. It's a bit weird listening to synthpop while smoking aliens, but, heck, if it works, it works.
In addition to its main story mode, Fatal Force also features a skirmish mode in which you can battle a wide variety of bots in deathmatch, capture the flag, and domination bouts, which essentially represent the standard game types for PC first-person shooters. Additionally, you can play these games with a friend (over Bluetooth) on certain handsets, namely the Nokia 6620, 6600, 7610, and 6230. The N-Gage QD lacks J2ME Bluetooth support. There is a slight bit of latency over Bluetooth on the 6600, but it's manageable. Games with bots tend to lag a bit more than games with only human players. Regardless, Fatal Force's multiplayer is highly playable, and it's by far the game's best feature.
The capture the flag game type is best suited to Fatal Force's two-dimensional play, although if you're using an assistant bot, you may find its base-guarding skills to be lacking. It's great playing CTF cooperatively, and it's fun coordinating tactics with which to take down the AI menace. You and a buddy can each choose from a host of potential avatars so that you can differentiate yourselves, and you can play on any of five maps that are adaptable to each game type.
Despite some single-player flaws and that annoying third-mission bug when playing the game on an N-Gage, Macrospace's Fatal Force rises above the pack with its surprisingly strong multiplayer. Players in search of a solid action game will definitely find one in Fatal Force.