Welcome, one and all, to another MDM video game review. This time around, we’re looking at a title with a lot to live up to. Hot on the heels of incredibly well received retro platformer Sonic Mania, the cool blue hedgehog is back in the 3D realm with Sonic Forces!
Much as I did with the aforementioned throwback to the 16bit generation, I pre-ordered this one for the Xbox One. While my experiences with the Sonic’s modern games have been generally more positive than many, I am in no way going to deny that his modern outings have ranged from poorly received to just plain divisive. That all being said, the early footage gave plenty of glimpses at things to be excited about. The question is, did the game do for modern Sonic what Mania did for those craving a retro experience? Well, that will depend on what you want from the game. Before we get into that though, let’s start with some history.
Sonic Forces first began development way back after the release of Sonic Lost World in 2013. The game was built using Hedgehog Engine 2, which is a modified version of the engine used in Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Generations. Franchise producer Takashi Iizuka handed control of the project over to Sonic Team, who had previously worked on Sonic Colours and Sonic Generations. Meanwhile, the music was handled by franchise veteran Tomoya Ohtani, with a guest appearance by Doug Robb, vocalist of Hoobastank.
So, one the one hand, you have a list of names that are well acquainted with the series. Ordinarily, that would be enough to give people hope for a game. The problem is, like I said before, Sonic’s reputation has been damaged by recent outings. That being said, both Generations and Unleashed had reviews that leant more towards the positive end of the scale, and unlike Sonic 2006, neither Lost World nor Colours was panned. The reason I mention all this is because I can fully understand why people were worried, especially after Mania seemingly did everything right. It makes sense to therefore start with a core element that many often criticise in modern Sonic games: the gameplay.
The levels are played out in two different ways: 3D levels, viewed from behind the character, and 2D levels, played retro style but with modern graphical stylings. At times, these two game styles cross-over, with the 3D levels segueing into side-scrolling sections before launching right back into the behind the character view. Now, I should point out here that I enjoyed both Unleashed and Generations, and thought that the 3D levels therein played well, but occasionally felt like the control didn’t quite work the way they should. The modified Hedgehog Engine 2 feels a lot smoother to me. It’s rare that the lock-on attacks don’t work – and that’s certainly more to do with my timing than the game itself – and the control are simple-but intuitive. Whether playing as modern Sonic, Shadow, or the Avatar (who we’ll get to later), things hurtle along at a remarkable speed, but it never feels like you’re about to lose control. There are a few levels where you play as both modern Sonic and the Avatar at the same time, but these are essentially the same as any other level. There’s no ability to switch between who you’re playing as, it just changes who’s doing what at different times automatically. In a way, that’s a shame, but it works fine, so I can’t complain too much. The double boost you can do in these levels are fun too.
The dedicated 2D levels, I found to be a bit more mixed. Again, the controls are simple enough, and they certainly work. In truth, I even found Sonic’s Drop Dash to be more useful here than I did in Sonic Mania. Unfortunately, the levels were marred for me by a sense of everything being oversensitive. A light tap would send Sonic far further on than anticipated, and there almost felt like there was a delay when you put the brakes on and released the control stick. In a way, this felt like a step back after the balance of Generations. There’s also the issue that when you move from the hybrid levels into these, the change is slightly jarring due to the loss of the lock-on attacks. That is, of course, a matter of personal taste though.
Speaking of the levels, these have had a very mixed reception. Personally, I really enjoyed them. While not as polished feeling as Mania, the 2D levels do create a retro feel in how they’re set out. It’s the modern levels that really shine for me though, as they create a lot of opportunities to essentially be what I always felt a modern sonic game should be: fast. Speed ramps, long runs at enemies that you boost through, rail grinding, springboards, mid-air combo attacks; they’re all there in plentiful amounts. I do totally understand why people are criticising this though. The sheer number of grinds and so on mean that large sections of the game are carried out with little or no input from the player. For many, this takes them out of the experience. Honestly, this isn’t an issue for me though. I actually really like the long sections where the control input is minimal as it allows me to maintain that previously mentioned speed (along with a bit of flash in the mid-air stuff) without having to worrying about precision stick action.
If that all sounds like the modern levels are probably a bit easy … well, they are. Playing on normal difficulty, I actually finished both the normal game and the Episode Shadow DLC in around three hours. That was purely concentrating on the story missions though. I will be going back to clear the non-story side missions and aiming for S ranks on the levels that I didn’t already get this on. And don’t forget the collectables! There are 120 red star rings to find. Get them, and you’ll unlock 120 sun medallions, which must be collected in reverse numerical order in each level. After that, there’s 120 moon medallions, which are time limited in each level. Throw in the other challenges like getting full honours as all avatar animals, speed trials, move based stuff, and the world rankings, and there’s a lot to do. In that regard, the game compensates for the low difficulty level with some hefty replayability. That’s not a bad trade-off in my eyes.
Now, let’s talk about one of the game’s main advertised selling-points: The Avatar. Early in the game, you are prompted to create a character. That’s right, you can have your very own Sonic OC in the game! Yes, it’s a bit gimmicky, but don’t let that fool you: this is a really well-done part of the game. First, you choose between multiple different animals, all of whom have different natural abilities (such as ring attraction, and increased invulnerability time), pick their gender, and modify their base appearance. Then the fun begins. The initial number of costumes you can pick is quite small, even if you got the pre-order bonus pack with the Persona 5 and Sega Nights outfits, but this grows quickly. Every mission you clear unlocks multiple items, and getting an S ranking on a mission gives you even more. Given that you’re modifying multiple levels of headwear, two layers of body suits, gloves, and boots, I’m sure you can imagine how many options can be unlocked! Then there are the weapons. You start with a flame thrower that utilises red Wisps to burn enemies and give you a boosted jump. As time goes on though, you can unlock others, such as an electric whip or a mighty hammer!
Okay, so until you complete the game, you’re stuck with the same Avatar (after that, you can save up to nine different ones), but you can still change their clothes and weaponry as you go along. And the best bit? No matter what you put them in, they will appear in the cut scenes dressed in the exact way that they are when playing as them! Throw in the sheer amount of fun that you can have using the Avatar exclusive grappling hook to swing through parts of the levels like Spider-Man, and you have a winner here!
Music wise, we’re back to having vocal tracks during levels. And boy are there some good ones! OK, so some Crush 40 would have been nice, but there’s still plenty to enjoy. Highlights for me include the following: The main theme, Fist Bump, is the Doug Robb track, and suits the Avatar well. The game features multiple versions of this song, depending on mood. Infinite, the new villain, also has a decent rap/rock theme. My favourite though is the slightly more dance oriented theme for the Imperial Tower mission, with lyrics that directly reference Doctor Eggman’s scheme at the time.
Which just leaves us with the story. Now, this is pretty standard fare on a base level. Eggman is evil, and he wants to take over the world. Sonic and his pals are good guys, and want to stop him. It’s the padding that makes us step into the more modern Sonic realms. Eggman’s plan itself, Infinite and his crazy powers, and the emergence of multiple old villains makes things feel a little more complicated than the older games in the series. That’s okay though, as they’re are all tied together by some nice-looking cut-scenes that feature some better-than-normal voice acting for the franchise. Oh, and I really like Infinite. He’s malicious, creepy, and has a cool design. Of course, if you believe that Sonic should be kept really simple a la the days of old, then this is all for nought, and you’ll not enjoy this aspect at all.
My final verdict: As with pretty much every modern Sonic game, Sonic Forces is not without flaws, and certainly does plenty to garner mixed reactions. From a personal standpoint though, I found it to be the most polished modern Sonic game to date. The Avatar is great fun, the sheer speed that you can achieve is impressive, and the game looks and sounds great. In all, if this can be built upon in the next game, the future of the Modern Blue Blur looks bright!
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5 (If you disliked Sonic Generations, or want something with a longer main story though, it’s probably closer to 3.5)