Review: Sonic Forces
3D Sonic games have always ranged from bad to mediocre, with the exception of Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations. While those two games weren’t groundbreaking or amazing, they showed signs of improvement that Sonic Team is desperately trying to make with their games. Now, Sonic Forces is the newest 3D Sonic title that tries to break through as another good Sonic game. Does it succeed? Or does it belong with Sonic ’06 and Sonic Boom?
Story with conflicting tone
Dr. Eggman is back and he has created a new arch-nemesis for Sonic, called Infinite. Using Infinite’s power, he conjures up replicas of Sonic’s greatest enemies: Chaos, Shadow, Metal Sonic and Zavok. Using his evil army, Eggman quickly takes over the world and it’s up to Sonic, Classic Sonic, and a new character created by you to form a resistance and save it. It’s basically the same old Sonic story. The problem with Sonic Forces, though, is that it takes itself way too seriously. Characters constantly tell you how your army is facing off against Eggman’s forces and taking casualties. That’s right, characters die in this game. The game never shows any actual deaths on screen, but every now and then you’ll get notified that your forces were annihilated or sacrificed. Sure, this is not the first time a Sonic title has tried to implement things like these, but Forces acts so serious about it that it almost feels like a war drama film. It also doesn’t help that, occasionally, characters crack jokes right after something serious happens.
The worst part of the story, though it’s so bad that it becomes funny because it’s so ridiculous and over the top, is Infinite himself. If you thought that Shadow the Hedgehog was the edgiest character in the Sonic universe, boy oh boy, are you in for a surprise. Infinite is nothing less than an amalgamation of every horrible human being that has existed in the entire history of humanity. This guy is always talking about destroying everything, how powerful he is and why fighting him is such a waste of his time. Even his theme in the soundtrack is filled with edgy lyrics like “I’ll cut you down in a second cause I was born in this pain” and “Only scars remain of who I was”. Yeah, that’s what a cartoony game needs, a guy talking about killing you and how badass he is.
Mostly solid gameplay
The gameplay is split into three similar ways but with some differences. Classic Sonic is, like the name suggests, the most faithful to the classic gameplay of the older games. His levels consist out of 2D platforms that you have to run through while avoiding (or destroying) enemies. While his levels have the same 3D graphics as the rest of the game, the music and sound effects sound just like they did in the 16-bit Genesis era. Fans of the classic 2D Sonic games will probably enjoy these levels, although the controls are a little floaty and the hit detection is not as tight as it was in the classic games.
Modern Sonic uses the same “boost gameplay” as the older 3D games, and this too can be fun. Slamming your way through enemies while dodging obstacles is a blast in early stages. However, as the game goes on, the stages become more difficult to use your boost ability in. They have fewer railings on the side of the tracks and more gaps that are quite tricky to notice in time, making it easy to fall off the stage when using your boost. Luckily, Sonic Team has included a well-designed targeting mechanic that makes it a little easier to avoid getting off the track. Whenever you see an enemy, bumper or other stage hazards in the near distance, you can hit the lock-on button to perform a homing attack. This will pull you towards the object your targeting reticle is on, which can save you from falling or taking damage.
The third different kind of levels are those that include your own unique character, which provides a new and fresh gameplay experience. In these you have a grappling hook, a special ‘wispon’ which gives your character a unique attack, and special abilities depending on what animal species you choose in the character creator. The sheer amount of options allows for multiple routes through every custom character stage. You can use the lightning wispon’s light speed dash to zip along rows of rings, or the burst wispon’s multi-jump to reach high platforms and burn enemies in one burst of fire. This gameplay style is a solid enough experience without many flaws. Your custom character runs slower than Sonic but jumps higher, making them more fit for platforming. These are the best parts of the custom character stages, as you can use your customized loadout to tackle platforming challenges in unique ways. However, some levels are clearly designed to be played with a specific wispon. For example, if you enter a stage and find a ton of lightning wisp energy scattered around, you better make sure to have the lighting wispon equipped. Playing this level with a different loadout will probably make you miss a lot of the bonus items and rings, which makes it difficult to earn a high score after finishing the level.
There are also levels where modern Sonic and your custom character are controlled at the same time. This improves the gameplay of both since you essentially gain access to both character’s abilities. You get Sonic’s speed and boost abilities but the custom character’s jump height, wispon, and maneuverability. These are the shortest stages in the game, usually over after a brief platforming segment and quick-time event. There are also not that many of them so they’re basically short bonus levels instead of fully developed ones like the others.
The gameplay in all types of levels is pretty solid for the most part but suffer from one big problem. They basically offer no challenge and are way too short. You can easily finish the game in less than 6 hours and that’s WITH the cutscenes included. The levels being easy also results in less replayability because there’s a high chance you’ve already collected everything during your first playthrough, especially when you have experience with the other Sonic games. There’s also nothing to do after finishing the story. No search for chaos emeralds, no secret levels, no secret boss, nothing.
The biggest selling point of Sonic Forces is probably the character creator, in which you can design your very own avatar. When first starting the game you don’t have a lot of customization options in terms of clothes and accessories. That’s because these have to be unlocked by finishing levels and achieving certain goals. Once you’ve reached the end of the story, you’ll have earned a lot of items, which makes the character creator fairly deep. The creator can also be accessed whenever you want so if you’re not happy with the looks of your avatar, you can simply change it without having the restart the game.
The custom character you’ve created will also be uploaded to the online component of the game in which other players can use your avatar the help them in their levels. This is called the rental system and adds some more purpose to the character creator. The downside with this, though, is that these are randomized. Say you want to play with an avatar one of your friends has made in his game, then you can’t rent his specific character. You’ll just have to refresh your rental list and hope your friend will eventually show up.
The graphics in Sonic Forces are kind of a mixed bag. To start with the positives, it looks great in motion. When you’re playing through a level, it’s simply the best looking Sonic game in existence. The colors are popping, the backgrounds look great and the overall art-style is well-designed. It also runs at a framerate of 60 fps (except for the Switch, which runs at 30) making it a smooth gameplay experience. What makes it a mixed bag, however, are the in-game cutscenes. When you’re not moving, you’ll quickly notice the low texture quality and poor lighting effects. It’s also in these scenes that you’ll witness some rather clunky character animations.
When comparing Sonic games, the one thing that most of them have in common is the surprisingly high quality of their soundtracks. Sonic Forces is luckily no exception. It offers a decent collection of techno, dubstep, electronica and other genres of music that fit perfectly with a game themed around speed. Even the edgy Infinite theme sounds pretty good in its own weird way.
Sonic Forces is a good attempt at making a 3D Sonic game that could be enjoyed by everyone. The gameplay is mostly solid, the graphics look great in motion, the music sounds good and the character creator is a fantastic addition to the franchise. However, the short length of the game, the lack of replayability and endgame content combined with the badly written story makes this game difficult to recommend to fans of Sonic Colors and Generations. It’s not a bad game, far from it, but it simply doesn’t offer enough to earn a must-have status for fans or newcomers.