Sonic has seen better days
Sonic Forces on PlayStation 4
In theory, Sonic Forces sounds like it could have ushered in a much needed success for a modern 3D Sonic. In execution, Sonic Forces does little more than stumble at almost every turn and immediately undercut its own successes with disheartening caveats. Sonic Forces it could have been a great Sonic game. It offers the potential to blend both modern and old school elements of the franchise. It brings fun character customization to the game in a way that even builds a small sense of community. It flaunts some impressive art direction in the form of stages packed with character and a soundtrack that is crafted from the stuff of your wildest retro remix fantasies. Sonic Forces does at least make the effort to create a product that feels fresh and exciting. What you will ultimately find, however, is that Sonic Forces sprinkles some fun, flashy toppings on top of the same vanilla gaming experience that has long prevented 3D Sonic from finding consistent success. So while you will get a solid few hours of your usual Sonic brand of entertainment, you shouldn’t have your expectations set high for much else.
Despite my own personal reservations about creating custom characters for a heavily narrative driven linear experience, this turned out to be one of Sonic Forces best features. As to be expected, there aren’t a ton of customization options to choose from in the beginning. When you first create your unnamed masterpiece, there is a small handful of gear to select from. Once you start racing through stages, however, you’ll quickly find your avatar being showered with tons of new gear that will help you create a look all your own.
Rather than being forced to be a hedgehog, you can choose what species you want to be. Depending on what species you choose, you will also have a small perk added to your character. The wolf species will draw items in toward you, while the bird is allowed to perform a double jump. This doesn’t drastically alter how you will approach the game but it’s still a nice touch. More important are the new Wisp inspired gadgets called Wispons. These tools are what your avatar will need to keep up with the likes of Sonic. Certain Wispons will give you different abilities and act as another way for you to tweak how you want to approach the game. In fact, having a certain Wispon equipped for a certain level will often have more impact on your gameplay than the perks that came with your character.
The excitement of a customized avatar, cool gear to collect, and a small variety of weaponized gadgets fade quickly though. These features simply don’t compensate for Sonic Forces’ bewilderingly bad level design. 3D Sonic games have a history of struggling to create levels that rely on reflexes instead of memory but Forces seems to really up the ante in terms of just how impossible it is to see obstacles ahead of you. It creates a situation where the vast majority of your gameplay experience boils down to you holding down right (or up when the camera moves behind your character) and tapping X pretty much whenever you feel the urge to do so. This often leaves you accidentally jumping over checkpoints and dash panels because you mistook them as obstacles or enemies. Not because you weren’t paying attention, but because the busy backdrops are distracting and have very few tells for when real danger is ahead.
While level designs are not great, they do offer a sense of personality and storytelling that you can’t help but appreciate. These backdrops are all very alive, and visually underscore the narrative carrying Sonic Forces along. Whether it’s seeing the destruction Dr. Eggman has caused in stages like Aqua Road and Sunset Heights, or following a trail of mechanical parts in the desert to reach a hidden base in Arsenal Pyramid, it’s actually pretty fun to witness the different areas that Sonic Forces takes you to. It’s just a shame that Sonic Forces doesn’t really capitalize on this success. You’ll easily be able to soar through these stages in about two and a half minutes on a bad day, and since scoring at the end of the game relies heavily on how quickly you’re able to complete the stage, you’ll pretty much have to decide between earning an S Rank on a certain level or discovering its hidden treasures. If you aren’t concerned about the rank though, you will easily have a great time exploring the different paths available in each stage and taking in the scenery — even when the scenery is an entire town up in flames.
None of the game’s boss levels are particularly challenging, but these bouts with the likes of Dr. Eggman and his allies at least give you something else to do other than blindly run through stages and simply hope that you don’t fall victim to the level’s poor design. These battles will provide you with the few moments where you get to make meaningful, purposeful decisions. You’ll just need to be prepared for some of the game’s most cringeworthy cut scenes before each battle.
The entire story is plagued by lackluster cutscenes with dialogue that features familiar faces from the Sonic franchise taking themselves entirely too seriously. The overall tone of the narrative feels a bit confusing and odd for the franchise. Sonic is held captive and tortured before finally making a jail break. The new villain by the name of Infinite appears to be desperately trying (and failing) to pull off the whole condescending, yet effortlessly powerful villain trope. Meanwhile the dialogue forces tons of chili dog jokes and cheesy Sonic trash talk. It’s as if references to the classic days of Sonic the Hedgehog are meant to somehow solve the strange identity crisis Sonic Forces struggles to cope with.
For die hard Sonic fans, Sonic Forces will indeed give you more Sonic with a few new minor perks. Character customization gives the game a fun touch of personalization and collecting new gear incentivizes you to just keep grinding it out even when repetitive gameplay starts to bore you. But if you’re not willing to simply sign up for more of the same Sonic with the same problems and not enough meaningful innovation, Sonic Forces will easily lose your interest and leave you frustrated with its many shortcomings.
Score: 3/5 – Fair
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