Sonic Forces: As Bad As Everyone Says?

Sonic Forces is a game that needs no introduction, be that for better or for worse. It was a game even I slept on for quite a while, boasting a Metascore of 56 and a user score of 6.1. Panned across the board by critics for just about everything, Forces received the short end of the stick compared to its cooler cousin, Sonic Mania, which brought the series back to its 2D roots. However, even with all of that, I’ve always found myself wondering what the big deal was, so this week I did just that; I played through Sonic Forces start-to-finish, and I’ve got plenty of things to say.

Story

Sonic Forces’ story doesn’t waste any time getting into the action, Dr. Eggman once again is attempting to take over the world, but this time around he’s not messing around. Sonic retaliates in Sonic fashion, but he doesn’t expect what he sees, Eggman is joined by none other than Shadow, Metal Sonic, Zavok, and Chaos, all antagonists from previous titles, as well as a completely new face to Sonic and the gang. With the help of his new allies, Eggman gains the upper hand on Sonic and manages to defeat him. With Sonic finally out of the picture, Eggman launches a full-scale assault on the globe. Hope begins to dwindle as the Eggman Empire quickly becomes the dominant force, with the rest of Team Sonic forming a group called the Resistance, swearing to do all they can to stop Eggman from conquering what little of the planet is still free from his grasp.

Presentation

Sonic Forces feels very “Modern Sonic” in its presentation, with plenty of quips from the blue blur as well as Team Sonic, personality still very much at the forefront. All the while, though, adding some grittiness to make it feel like you’re fighting tooth and nail to push back the enemy. The hub menu, for example, has a constantly updating map denoting how much of the planet is controlled by Eggman, and how much by the Resistance, and every level starts with a sort of mission briefing. It also wouldn’t be a Sonic game without the music, and good lord does Forces deliver. Even ordinary levels had me turning down the sound effects so I could get a better listen to the killer soundtrack, and if you haven’t heard Fist Bump yet…please do yourself a favor. If nothing else, this game has an incredible sense of atmosphere and general feeling, one that simply cannot be understated.

Gameplay

Forces’ gameplay is what can be described as a mixed bag. Throughout the game, you’ll flip-flop between 3 different characters, each with their own play style. Sonic is easily the most familiar of the bunch, collecting Wisps to build up his Boost meter, blasting baddies with his Homing Attack, grinding on rails, everything you’d expect from, well, Sonic. Classic Sonic makes his return from Generations, and he brings 2D gameplay with him, along with power-up monitors, Spin Dashing, the whole lot. And finally, we have Avatar. Not the last Airbender nor the James Cameron film, the Avatar refers to the customizable character you create and outfit throughout the game, which we’ll dive into in just a moment.

So, how does everything mesh together? Modern Sonic levels play well enough, hold forward on your analog stick and get ready to press the A button because you’ll be doing a lot of it. Linear is the perfect word to describe it, as there is not loads of freedom aside from whether you hug the left wall, right wall, or run down the middle. There were also a couple of moments where it felt like if I didn’t take exactly the right path, I would just die, and in some spots I did. I would describe them as fine if not a little boring at times. Classic Sonic…poor Classic Sonic. They did you dirty in this game. Classic Sonic levels are this game’s weakest link by a lot. Controlling Classic Sonic feels like you’re constantly on ice and mid-air physics feels bafflingly “off”. It’s playable, but very annoying when you’re faced with, say, an autoscroller requiring you to make precise jumps lest you die and have to start the entire section again..was not a fan of that one, suffice to say. It’s a shame, because Classic Sonic’s stages were Sega’s chance to incorporate series staple locales like Green Hill, Chemical Plant, and the menacing Death Egg. The Avatar is easily the most interesting of the bunch, with two unique gimmicks. Firstly, it’s the first and only time a Sonic game has let you create your own character. While it’s not the most in-depth Bethesda or CD Projekt Red level of detail, it still lends itself to a lot, plus you unlock more than a fair few outfits as you play through the game and complete certain challenges like getting an S rank or collecting a certain number of red star rings. You can pick between 7 different species for your Avatar, each granting it a minor ability, like the bird’s double jump or the cat holding onto some rings after taking a hit, however the more important is your choice of Wispon. The Wispon is the Avatar’s weapon of choice, featuring both a basic attack for dispatching enemies and a “special action” to traverse stages, which is charged by collecting Wisps similar to how Modern Sonic fills his Boost meter. You start with the Burst Wispon but you unlock other types very early on, and you’re encouraged to try them all out. Now that we’ve covered how it works, how do the Avatar’s stages play? With a Wispon and the use of a grappling hook rather than Homing Attacks to lock onto enemies and bounce pads, Avatar levels play like Modern Sonic’s with a lot more variety, ironically they feel the most Sonic out of the three in their open-ended design, with plenty of secrets if you use your Wispon ability to take alternate paths. In some levels, you’ll be tasked with playing as Modern Sonic and the Avatar simultaneously, with one being controlled by the player and the other following shortly behind, akin to Sonic Heroes. Control swaps between Sonic and the Avatar depending on ability use, as in if you press the Boost button, control swaps to Sonic, while if you hit the Wispon Attack button, you’ll be back to controlling the Avatar.

While the main story levels are a mixed bag, one area of the game I especially felt shined is the boss battles. They’re chock full of variety and are home to some of the best music in the already amazing soundtrack. Combine this with the Sonic boss battle formula of waiting for an opening and striking it fast and hard and you have a recipe for a truly incredible set of fights.

Verdict

After my several hours of Sonic Forces, would I recommend it? Not for $40, to be completely honest. That said, if you can get it from a Humble Bundle or on a Steam sale, then I would say it’s worth giving a play. While it’s different and it does have its missteps, I would say if you’re a Sonic fan, try this out and see where you stand on it. You may like more of it than you initially thought.

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Someone with thoughts about games, who puts those thoughts into words and posts them here.

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