Sonic trips Up… again.
Game reviewed on PS4 (Review Code not provided)
Also available on Xbox One, Switch, PC
The very idea of Sonic Forces has always had me intrigued to say the least. From it’s first announcement that Classic Sonic has somehow made a another return after Sonic Generations. Or the story of Dr Eggman finally achieving his lifelong ambition of taking over the world. Discovering Silver The Hedgehog from Sonic 06 (officially known as Sonic The Hedgehog) is also back considering his future timeline was repaired so he shouldn’t even know Sonic or his friends. And even the reveal that your Tumblr/Deviantart OC Sonic characters can now become official(ish) canon with the Avatar creation tool.
But one thing that always had me worried from the start, was the gameplay, more specifically the level design and the extremely limited gameplay clips found online. SEGA did a very good job of marketing the right aspects of this game. The game is indeed fast, the classic sonic stages are indeed 2D and the scripted cinematics in-between levels are indeed fun to look at. However, what SEGA failed to show you was how boring, linear and unimaginative the level design is.
This style of gameplay featured here has been around since 2008’s Sonic Unleased and over the years, has had many tweaks to make the gameplay and controls to make it better… in theory. Modern Sonic’s gameplay was by no means a terrible idea. We saw how well it could be implemented in Sonic Generations, with it’s combinations of corridor boosting, set pieces to move the action along smoothly and slowed down platforming sections, made for some intensive fluid movement from the blue blur. But all of that also highlights the problems the boost formula has. If not executed corrected, it will result in bland, hold X to plough through enemies to win. After some levels it begins to feel like a cross between a story driving experience like Heavy Rain mixed in with rhythm gameplay like Parappa the rapper, stiff and flat.
Levels can be completed within 2.5 minutes and we are already seeing YouTube videos of people completing levels in around a minute each. Sonic Forces as a result is too easy and can be completed in a matter of 2 hours. The game looks absolutely gorgeous, the environments, the backgrounds and the colours really pop, but what is the point of it all when level design lets it down.
What Sonic Generations did so well was it made every jump, boost, slide and rail grind feel so rewarding. There was always that incentive to get a higher score or a faster time. If you failed one section of a level you always had that feeling that you knew you could do better. This was result of carefully placed bounce pads, enemies, rails, jumps etc. that made you go from one to the other flawlessly with patience and plenty of practice. Sonic Forces doesn’t have that and just feels like you are playing an interactive cut scene because you are practically stuck on one path.
Classic Sonic however has the advantage of 2D gameplay, so these levels are much more streamlined and enjoyable to play. Classic Sonic offers more variety and go beyond the standard left to right we have been used to. Some levels have their own gimmicks, such as gravity shifting to provide a much needed change of pace.
You begin to wonder if the 2D sections were the main focus for Sonic Team and the Modern Sonic sections were designed fully in 2D and later twisted to be 3D levels. With Sonic Generations many players would shout to the high heavens that the 3D sections were better designed and the 2D sections fell flat at times. It may have something to do with the fact most of those levels were reimagined versions of already existing 3D stages from the previous games, but here it’s the other way around. With no safety net of pre-existing levels from Sonic’s past, Sonic team had to create everything from scratch. 2D sonic still doesn’t have that genesis feel to it, but with the recent release of Sonic Mania you don’t need it. There is nothing wrong with what we have here but don’t expect a 1:1 remake of the Genesis physics.
Finally let’s get to the Avatar gameplay. Your created character’s levels are a mix of the two Sonics, but without their speed and abilities, leaving you with gadgets to mow down your enemies and assist with platforming. At first you look at the variety of gadgets on offer and you think there is some depth here, but in all honesty your default weapon is just as powerful and that blaster you’ve just unlocked, just with different flares and whistles. Because this character is a lot slower you can appreciate the levels more but still doesn’t give you any excitement or urgency to complete the game.
Boss battles are a complete joke. Apart from Sonic Lost world on the Wii U, every sonic game has featured boss battles to be remembered. They were this grand cinematic event that you have been dying to see. They were an award for your time spent in levels and often challenged the skills you have learnt previously. Sonic forces, doesn’t have that that. Instead we get boss battle that might as well be QTEs as QTEs are much more exciting. No real skill is required.
It’s now a running joke with Sonic games, but Sonic Forces is visually stunning and sounds amazing. A classic case of great graphics and audio doesn’t make better games, it just makes a game better. There is so much going on in the background I couldn’t help but stop a few times to look at set pieces. So much effort was put here and it’s all accompanied with great music.
This was reviewed on PS4 and I didn’t experience many issues. However, PC users are experiencing frequent crashes and Switch users are locked to 30 FPS. We are not aware of any issues on the Xbox One version but it appears the game has been optimized for PS4, so use that information as you will.
When it comes down to it, Sonic Forces was over hyped, just like every other sonic game before it and it didn’t pay off. Sonic forces, is plagued with bizarre design decisions that it feels like the game was rushed. On paper, it’s a complete experience, but in actuality it’s falls way too short to even be classed as a full experience. Levels are cut too short, boost gameplay is on autopilot, avatar is wasted potential and all in all there is no incentive to want to come back to get better. You’re more than likely going to A or S rank on everything first go.