The day has come: a new Metroid game is hitting store shelves--the first since 2010's Metroid: Other M. That game was divisive for many fans of the series, but the new Metroid Prime: Federation Force faces a tougher uphill battle. Federation Force eschews the Prime series' format, opting for short, distinct missions rather than one continuous adventure.
More controversial than that, however, is the idea that you play the part of a generic member of the police-like Federation Force, rather than the series' beloved bounty hunter and icon, Samus Aran. Because you aren't a famed, superpowered bounty hunter, you are encouraged to play with others in teams of four. If Nintendo wanted to test its ability to surprise fans by mixing up a time-tested series with experimental ingredients, it hasn't pulled any punches here.
The new Metroid is a blatant departure from the past. But even if it doesn't uphold tradition, it deserves a chance to prove its worth, which is why I'm holding my full review until the servers go live this weekend and I have a better chance of completing the surprisingly challenging campaign. My lack of progress isn't (I hope) due to ineffectiveness on my part, but rather, because the game's difficulty is balanced for a party of four players. Playing solo in Federation Force is thus a monumental task, and though you do gain a slight advantage with an item that doubles your damage output and armor when playing alone, it doesn't allow you to be in two, let alone four, places at once.
After failing to beat the seventh mission numerous times, I ultimately convinced a coworker to play with me, but before that could happen, they had to catch up to me and beat the first six missions--multiplayer is gated by the progress of each player. Having a partner in crime made missions somewhat easier--your teammates can revive you at anytime, and carry different items into missions for added weapon diversity--but we have hit a wall just over half-way through the game. Federation Force doesn't scale enemies' health or strength based on the size of your team, so even with a friend by your side, failure can come swiftly after a few minor missteps, sending you all the way back to the start of a mission. When this occurs in seconds during the final moments of a mission that's lasted over 20 minutes, it's easy to lose faith in the game. But until we play with a party of four players, it's impossible to measure our experience relative to Federation Force's potential.
Even if the difficulty wasn't a cause for concern, Federation Force doesn't make a strong case for itself in general. The missions I've played encompassed a decent variety of objectives, but the game's overall action lacks excitement and intrigue. You move at a snail's pace, which makes trekking across maps a frustrating and boring process, especially during plodding escort missions. The narrative bits that come before and after missions offer mundane details about a conflict you never seem to have control of; by and large, the thing you set out to do was for naught because your enemy found a new way to subvert your efforts in the aftermath.
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It's also telling that Federation Force's presentation pales in comparison to Metroid Prime Hunters, the DS game from 2006. Hunters may be less technically advanced in some ways, but its environments draw you in with interesting designs that define its setting. Federation Force's levels are simple and spread across three planets, disconnected from one another. I never got a true sense of place in the world, which has forever been a crucial component of the best Metroid games.
I have other complaints regarding controls, ammo limitations, and mission objectives, but these may change--for better or worse--when I spend time playing with a full party. That said, I strongly discourage you from buying Federation Force if you plan on playing by yourself. This is a multiplayer game, even if it doesn't restrict you from playing alone. Even with another player, Federation Force feels too hollow, too difficult, and too drawn out to recommend. I have some hope that this will change when I team up with a full party, because teamwork has proven to make missions slightly more lively than playing solo. Once the servers are populated, I'll dive back in and report my findings next week.