Too Long: Didn't Read
Sonic Forces is not a bad game, but it's not brilliant either; it's a decidedly average game and misses the mark all too often to achieve greatness. While it can be fun, it feels it lacking overall, especially as the main game can be finished in under 3hrs.
I’m going go out there straight away and say that Sonic Forces is not a bad game by any means. Over the last few years Sonic Team has managed to work out the kinks associated with many 3D Sonic titles and nailed down the fast-paced gameplay we have grown accustomed to.
The problem is that Sonic Forces isn’t a great game either. In its current state it won’t please any of the defiant fans who grew up with the 2D games, or those who enjoyed the likes of Sonic Adventure. And the fact that SEGA/Sonic Team persists down this avenue means that I doubt we’ll see a 3D Sonic game that pleases those gamers anytime soon.
Of course, SEGA has approached 3D Sonic games in a variety of ways now, with differing styles and mechanics. It’s stupid to compare Sonic Forces to the likes of Sonic 2006, Lost World or the Sonic Boom games, but if you want a gauge of where Sonic Forces sits, in terms of gameplay and style its closer to Sonic Generations and Sonic Colors – where 3D gameplay follows Sonic from behind, along strict pathways and side scrolling gameplay features 2.5D visuals.
The darker side of Sonic
Some problems for Sonic Forces lie within its story, where Sonic Team has tried to play more on dark undertones than any other Sonic title. We see Eggman teaming up with a new villain, Infinite, who seemingly has god-like powers, manipulating reality and has brought other baddies from Sonic’s past to fight him.
The opening stand-off sees our blue hero fall in battle, overwhelmed by the sheer number of his enemies and Infinite’s powers. We are then shown several screens of text describing how, after Sonic was defeated in battle, Eggman and his army managed to conquer the world.
In a nutshell: Sonic is missing, presumed dead, Tails has gone off on his own and the rest of Sonic’s friends have taken up arms to form a resistance against Eggman and Infinite.
It’s a weirdly bleak affair which could have worked, if it wasn’t for the juxtaposition from the rest of the Sonic cast; where we have super cute characters like Charmy Bee talking about fighting in a war, and brief scenes where Infinite appears to kill equally endearing anthropomorphic creatures trying to fight back. It’s not that I’m against gritty storylines in games, but it just doesn’t work properly with the source material here.
But to the story’s credit, the one thing is does is allow for an introduction to the ‘Rookie’ (aka. Avatar) character. This is the character that SEGA heavily advertised pre-launch, where the gamer gets to design and play as their own hero.
The Rookie (as he’s called during the game) moves as fast as Sonic during levels, is equipped with a grappling hook (allowing for lock-on attacks) and also a weapon which utilises a single Wisp power to change its effect, such as fire or lightning. The Rookie customisation is pretty impressive, allowing for a variety of animal types, each with their own unique abilities and, as you progress, you unlock more items of clothing and new weapon effects/Wisp powers during the game.
The added issue I had with Sonic Forces’ story is that it’s filled with practically every Sonic character we’ve seen over the years, yet they seem to do little more than talk to you over the radio during levels and have their faces appear next to text boxes, moving the story forward when in the world map view. The likes of Knuckles and Silver, who have proven their worth as competent fighters in previous games are now relegated to benchwarmers, while the Rookie steps up and basically saves the day.
What’s a little frustrating is that Sonic Forces’ story isn’t bad, the main plot devices and Infinite as a new baddie are good ideas, and there’s a decent amount of humour within the script. Essentially, with a little tweaking in areas, I think it could have ended up becoming one of the best plots we’d have seen in a Sonic game in years – but they just missed the mark.
A Modern Sonic game, where Modern Sonic is the worst bit
Even though the story’s opening alludes to Sonic’s death, it should be apparent to everyone that Sonic is not dead – he’s merely been captured by Eggman’s forces and the resistance needs to save him early on in the game.
From the trailers and box art you should also know that you can also play as Classic Sonic. In terms of story, Classic Sonic’s appearance makes little sense – it’s just said that because of Infinite’s powers, the dimensional fabric has been torn and Classic Sonic appears… although no other dimensional trickery really occurs, there’s no second Eggman or Tails from previous titles, just Sonic.
However, Classic Sonic soon becomes the best thing about the game. His familiar loveable form from Sonic Generations has made a return and, even though he doesn’t speak throughout the game, his interactions with Tails, Eggman and the other characters are quite brilliant at times.
He also has some of the better story levels – which are side scrolling and, I’m REALLY happy to say, that just like traditional Sonic titles, Classic Sonic does NOT have a lock-on attack and retains his spin dash (and drop-dash) attacks. The downside is that Classic Sonic has the fewest story levels in the game.
What surprised me most though is how much I ended up enjoying the Rookie’s levels. The first couple I played through I was bored, but later on I found some of the levels being really entertaining and, once I got used to the Rookie’s weapon and grappling hook mechanics, I found myself have some fun.
However, and quite ironically, my least favourite levels all involved Modern Sonic and I think I know why…
You’re playing Sonic wrong, let the computer show you how
I found Modern Sonic’s levels involved more and more segments where you have little-to-no control over Sonic’s movements. Gone are the days, like in Adventure, where you had complete control over Sonic and if you had to run across a vertical wall and went too slow, you’d die. Instead now, where Sonic Team wants to show off Sonic’s impressive speed, the game takes control and doesn’t really let you do anything.
There’s chunks of levels where it encourages you to use Sonic’s speed dash/boost ability and by holding down the X button (on Xbox), Sonic runs full pelt, at blistering speeds. It’s so fast that enemies and barriers are no match for Sonic and he just smashes through them. It’s also so fast that you can’t really control Sonic’s turning, but that never matters because the game either puts up barriers or helps to guide Sonic round corners in these segments, meaning all you are literally doing is holding down one button and are able to defeat Eggman’s forces. It just feels cheap – you don’t even need to attack enemies any more, just run through them!
Modern Sonic (and the Rookie) levels also feature a lot of rail grinding. This has become a staple of Modern Sonic games, but while it was quite an impressive feature in the earlier games, it’s become all too prevalent; huge sections of levels require you to hop between rails. It’s fun on occasion, but when every level features rail grinding, the novelty soon wears off.
Then there’s the adverse flip-side, where the game will suddenly relinquish control back to the gamer. Being thrown back into the driving seat suddenly feels alien, causing you to lose control and fly off the sides of the level.
There’s also moments in the side scrolling parts (with all three heroes) where trying to perform timed jumps would result in an infuriating mix of the characters not jumping quite far enough, to suddenly jumping well past the target platform.
On a handful of levels, Modern Sonic will partner with the Rookie, bringing in a team gameplay style similar to Sonic Heroes. It’s not a terrible idea, but it feels pretty pointless, because the Rookie runs as fast as Sonic and also has a lock-on attack; the only difference between the characters is that the Rookie has a weapon that often kills enemies more easily than lock-on attacks (so you may as well just play as the Rookie).
One thing this tag-team gameplay allows for is a story mechanic where the two of them can ‘combine’ their abilities and run at a super-fast speed. But again, this is just a way of the game to take control – as you run forward at a crazy speed, any objects or enemies are pointless to resist. It’s a mechanic that was kind of cool the first time it was used, but it’s used on every level where you team up, meaning the innovation is lost.
Exasperatingly, there is one moment where this mechanic is required and makes sense in the storyline, but by the time it is used you have already performed this several times and it’s not a surprise. Had SEGA held out until this plot moment, it would have been more impressive and a proper ‘Wow’ moment in the game.
Time is not your friend
The length of gameplay time is a cause for concern. Sonic Forces’ story is essentially made up of 30 very short levels, many of which can be done in 2-3 minutes and none of them are particularly challenging.
I managed to complete Forces’ main story in under 4 hours on Hard difficulty – and that’s on a first playthrough, making plenty of mistakes, trying to record footage and take screenshots, making three cups of tea and also taking a phone call… and I’m far from the best Sonic gamer. I’ve seen other gamers beat it in well under 3 hours on their first play through.
This is a big step away from previous 3D Sonic games, where you could spend days playing through the game on your first try.
Another bug-bear I have with Forces is how you are scored on time, yet the timer runs during animated moments, like bosses showing off at the start of battles, which you can’t skip. The timer also continues running when you die – so if you keep dying and keep having to wait a good 10-15 seconds for Eggman’s robot to flex its muscles each time, you soon find yourself losing an extra minute from your level time. It’s minor, but it seems a little unfair.
But there is fun to be had!
However, that game time mentioned above is just for the main story and there’s plenty to do once the story is over. As you progress you unlock items for your avatar, which includes a crazy range of clothing (with some cool items from other SEGA franchises), Wisp powers and weapons.
As you progress, you unlock Extra and Secret levels, short bonus levels that often have a gimmick, such as plasma cannons dotted around them, or my favourite, where certain blocks are explosive and trigger when you touch them – meaning you have to be quick to make it through. They are surprisingly fun and a highlight of the game for me.
You also have the opportunity to freely go back to any level and replay it, bettering your previous scores and unlocking even more Extra/Secret levels and Avatar items. All these extras do extend your gameplay time. So, if you are an amazing gamer and do finish the main story in a couple of hours, you’ll find yourself playing for a few more hours, just for the extras.
Sonic Forces never gripped or entertained me in the way that Colors or Adventure did, but I did find myself having fun. I’ve already mentioned how I enjoyed Classic Sonic and the Rookie’s levels, and while Modern Sonic isn’t the best, I didn’t hate my time with him.
There’s one area where I felt Sonic Forces excelled over previous 3D entries: exploration. The classic 2D Sonic games always had a sense of exploration about them, where you could explore new routes through levels; something other 3D Sonic games have rarely succeeded in recreating.
Sonic Forces though has several split routes in levels and I was surprised to find myself taking alternative paths at times and being treated to a new route through part of a level. Of course, these new routes aren’t entirely reminiscent of old school Sonic, where you could go back and explore a level freely – in Forces you usually have a split-second to make a decision and hope you’re going the right way, because you can’t go back.
With that too, as you unlock new Wisp powers, you can go back and replay levels, finding new paths and sections, which can only be accessed by certain Wisp abilities, similar to Sonic Colors.
It’d also be criminal for me to ignore how good Sonic Forces looks and the soundtrack. One thing SEGA has consistently achieved with Modern Sonic titles is top notch graphics and some very impressive surroundings, even if you can’t explore them.
The soundtrack, while not as catchy as the old Mega Drive games, is still very good. Sonic Team has managed to bring in composers and musicians to create tunes that fit in perfectly with moments of gameplay and action happening in the levels.
Sonic Forces is not a bad game; those of you who do really enjoy the gameplay mechanics of Generations or Colors, you’ll be in for a treat. For Sonic Team’s perseverance in this type of gameplay, the team does appear to have ironed out a lot of the kinks and bugs that were problematic in previous titles.
The problem is that Sonic Forces won’t be for everyone and though I did get some enjoyment from the game, it does solidify a path that Sonic Team seems to be stubbornly taking with the Sonic franchise and it’s a route that not everyone will enjoy.
While I would like to see 3D Sonic return more to its ‘Adventure’ style roots or maybe branch out and try to do something like the Sonic Utopia fan game, I can’t/shouldn’t sit here and bitch about what Sonic *should* be – that’s entirely up to SEGA and Sonic Team.
So, if you enjoy other Modern Sonic titles, you could probably boost the overall score. But, if you’re like me and don’t enjoy them to the same extent as you did the classic ones, or even Sonic Adventure, then Sonic Forces is a decidedly average game; neither bad, nor particularly good either.
It’s a shame, because I would be leaning more towards a ‘Good’ game, but it misses the mark all too often. The fact that the Rookie and Classic Sonic’s levels were more fun than Modern Sonic’s is a concern for me; it’s a Modern Sonic game where Modern Sonic is the least enjoyable part! SEGA could have just removed all Sonic references, kept the Rookie character and had a whole new franchise… which may have been better received.
+ Gorgeous visuals and excellent soundtrack
+ Sonic Team has ironed out kinks from previous 3D titles
+ Tails’ relationship with Classic Sonic (and just Classic Sonic in general – he’s the best character)
+ Plenty do/unlock after finishing story missions
– Modern Sonic in this form isn’t anywhere near as fun as earlier 3D Sonics
– Dark story undertones don’t really work (and most characters are redundant)
– Very short story and levels (it can be finished in about 2-3 hours on Hard)
– Game takes control far too often during Modern Sonic levels