FORCED is a new entry to this genre by Danish developer BetaDwarf. It is a one-to-four player game with a primary focus on co-operative play. By now you’ve likely read Terrence’s recent article detailing the story of how this game got made. Well, now it’s time to find out whether it’s actually any good or not.
In FORCED, You play as a nameless slave-turned-gladiator sent into a series of arenas to fight for your freedom. Instead of choosing between character classes that you must adhere to, you are able to select your weapon/ability loadout at the beginning of each stage. From the beginning, you are free to choose whichever one you’d like along with their ever-increasing selection of abilities. It’s a great design choice to allow for this variety because it promotes replayability without forcing the player to slog through a bunch of story to try something, only to realize it’s not that great. It did feel in many levels that there was one particular loadout that would carry you through, and while I’m sure it’s possible to get through with each one, it was apparent that there was a ‘best’ one for each stage.
My first impression of the gameplay and combat in FORCED was that it is relatively shallow; hammer away on enemy waves while moving backward until they are decimated, and in the early stages that is very much how it’s done. However, it isn’t long before you need to take extra care with the loadout you choose; considering the area, the enemies, and what kinds of abilities will best suit you. One of the most impressive things about combat is that you can actually avoid all enemy attacks if you are good enough (I often wasn’t) and if you have the right loadout (I often didn’t). This addition really changed how I approached battles; moving around and chipping away at enemies rather than holding down the mouse button in a war of attrition common to action RPGs. Even though I often got destroyed by the many nasty enemies in FORCED, the knowledge that it is possible to not get hit kept me playing far longer than I would have otherwise.
There’s more to this game however than simply hacking away at monsters. You are guided and helped by your Sprit Mentor named Balthus; He is essentially a glowing orb that is used to activate different kinds of shrines in each area. Shrines can be used to heal, open doors, turn Balthus into a bomb, etc. Managing this character adds a layer of strategy to the game because you need to be aware of his location, and also have him properly placed in order to activate something while fighting. Additionally, some levels force you to stay within a set distance from him, adding to the puzzle-solving challenge.
Single-player is split into two modes: Campaign and Survival. The latter is a horde mode involving fighting off waves of enemies while also dealing with traps and encumbrances. The former is of course the story, and it contains a wide variety of levels, each with unique puzzles to be solved and bonus challenges for the brave to tackle. This is a game where you really need to work quickly and stay alert because your fortunes can change in literally a single second.
The only real problem I had with FORCED was that it didn’t seem particularly well balanced for single-player mode. Managing combat against enemies from all sides, your Spirit Mentor’s positioning, and environmental hazards can be infuriatingly difficult at times. On top of that, there are no in-level checkpoints, which can be aggravating especially after getting one-hit killed by an environmental hazard. Then again, I hit ‘Retry’ more often than not, so who’s the bigger fool in the end?
In their defense, BetaDwarf is pretty up-front about this being a co-op focused game, so it’s fair enough I suppose that it’s balanced to mainly accommodate that. On that note, the co-op is really quite excellent. I did have some issues getting into games, but when it did work I had an absolute blast. Being primarily a fan of single-player however, I felt that having the ability to tone down the difficulty (even slightly) for single-player would have been nice.
The ticket to entry is very low for FORCED. The specs for it begin very low but look really nice if you have a system that can handle it — and even the recommended settings aren’t that high nowadays. This game provides a great deal of variety and challenge (especially in single-player), is very easy to pick up and play in any of its modes, and is more than worth its cost of $15 (or $45 for a four-pack). This is a rock-solid action RPG and I can see this turning into a real sleeper hit this winter.
[+Easy to get into] [+Excellent co-op game] [+Clever take on Action RPG genre] [+Deep combat and tactics] [+Multiple modes] [-No variety in difficulty levels] [-Lack of checkpoints can be frustrating]