I was a big fan of Sonic Mania when it came out earlier this year. In fact, it was such a good title that my faith in Sonic was restored and it seemed we might enter a new golden age for games in the series. Sonic Mania may have set up my dreams, but Sonic Forces dashed them so quickly and expertly that I could feel joy draining as I continued to play.
The story of Sonic Forces has Sonic the Hedgehog face off against his old nemesis Dr. Eggman who has teamed up with an entity named Infinite who faces Sonic in combat and defeats him easily, the rest of the story unfolds over 30 stages that include boss levels. It comes so close to being a dark story, but the dialogue and voice work is often grating and lessens the story. If you were hoping for a new renaissance in hedgehog stories, Sonic Forces is not that game. Also problematic is the length, after going through all 30 story stages and then doing some optional stages, I found I had only played for about 5 hours.
Sonic Forces: Xbox One [Reviewed], PS4, Nintendo Switch
Developer: Sonic Team
Release Date: 7 November 2017
Price: £34.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
Despite the length of the story, the greatest challenge of Sonic Forces lies in collecting red rings, number rings, and Silver Moon rings. In order to find each of these, players must collect all of one item in a stage first. It gives the game a much-needed jolt of replayability, but that serves to be the only reason to do so.
Sonic Forces sees players controlling two Sonics, a “Modern” Sonic representing gameplay of 3D efforts like Sonic Adventure, and a “Classic” Sonic that has gameplay matching up best with classic 2D titles of the series. The title also allows players to create a third custom character, a character that can be of a few different animal varieties and can wear an abundance of gear. The gear doesn’t do anything but make your character look dashing or freakish, depending on where your tastes lie. The player’s character zips around with the aid of a grappling hook and with the use of a few devices called “wispons”.
These wispons act like weapons and send enemies in your immediate path to the junk heap. They also come in many varieties like Burst, Asteroid, and Drill. These can make eliminating enemies infinitely easier when used well, and come in handy with navigation. The longer a person plays Sonic Forces, the more likely you are to unlock weapons that give additional benefits towards ring collecting, invulnerability, and speed.
And like any Sonic game, speed is the name of the game. The faster you can maneuver through the levels, the better score bonus you can get. Levels that have straight paths do marvellous jobs at giving players a true sense of speed. But, those levels that allow players to move in 3D environments highlight a problem with Sonic Forces. The physics affecting the player is bewildering. In my own playtime, I observed my character taking a tumble into a bottomless pit by sliding off of platforms despite the animation. That on its own would be a problem, but trying to make precision jumps in 2D levels presents new challenges.
Through a mixture of camera angles and awkward mid-air maneuvering, my character also suffered a fall into bottomless depths. These issues represent a gameplay issue that is present throughout Sonic Forces, all while adding a degree of difficulty to certain levels that wasn’t meant to be there. But that is where the difficulty begins and ends. Most of the levels do behave properly, and any slip or ill-timed jump can be quickly remedied. But that also extends to the few bosses that are in the game. Most of the bosses are preludes in how to defeat a later boss, however, a later battle with Infinite is unique and feels like the best challenge. Speaking of bosses, Sonic Forces is relatively low on them with only 7 true boss battles in the entire game. For a franchise that has had bosses after every level in previous games, it is a surprise to see them become such a rarity.
Outside of the regular stages, there are also a variety of secret stages, labelled Secret and EX Stages. These offer new challenges focused on a mechanic not present in the rest of the game. These aren’t necessary to beat the game, but shake-up the gameplay a bit for those who don’t mind the detour.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of Sonic Forces is that it looks great. Modern Sonic and Player Character levels, in particular, have a surprising amount of detail to the environments in both the foreground and background. The Casino Forest, in particular, looked vivid and alive while playing with lighting effects and details in the neon lighting. Sonic Forces also manages to offer a stable 60 frames per second at mostly 1080p. On Xbox One X, the game will sometimes give a resolution of more than 1080p. However, only certain stages reach that enhanced resolution.
Sonic Forces also boasts a robust soundtrack that keeps optimistic tones that are a hallmark of the series. There are even a few songs that will be played at key moments with vocalization. In particular is a song called “Fist Bump” that is far catchier then it has any right to be. Part of that is due to the vocalizations of Douglas Robb, better known as the lead singer for Hoobastank.
Also worthy of praise is the presentation, as an effect used by the Infinite is used throughout the menus while transitioning. While playing the story, the map of your stages and missions looks like a RISK board while Sonic and his friends attempt to liberate the world. Menus are consistently clean and easy to understand, even when creating the player character.
Sonic Forces tries to give Sonic fans what they want by mixing up the formula and having a custom character does go some way to achieving that. It also strives to be a game that is easy on the eyes and has a soundtrack that got my toe tapping while zipping around. However, the slippery and clunky physics makes some stages more needlessly frustrating than the rest of the game. The greatest failure of Sonic Forces is that it has plenty of good ideas that are hampered by poor gameplay execution.