Sonic Forces (PlayStation 4 Review)
“I’m an optimist… but I’m also a realist”; that line of dialogue from Silver in Sonic Forces was very much my sentiment towards the title prior to its release. Could Sega manage the seemingly impossible release two great Sonic titles in the same year? Three months after the Blue-Blur’s grand return, Sonic Forces unfortunately drags the star back to mediocrity.
Sonic Forces’s story hypes itself to be a more serious one than that of Sonic Mania. Sonic is ambushed by Dr. Eggman and beaten by the sudden appearance of his rogue’s gallery, which includes the resident villain of the month; Infinite. The aforementioned edge-lord draws his power from the Phantom Ruby, a MacGuffin which also appeared in Sonic Mania. Sonic is absent for a six-month period, which was enough time for Eggman to take over the entire world. A small resistance, led by Knuckles, inducts another new character on a mission to help suppress Eggman’s reign; a customisable avatar. Also, the Sonic from Mania’s timeline appears due to the warping effects of the Phantom Ruby, but not long before the modern-day Sonic escapes imprisonment. The two Sonics and our avatar then team up together to find a way to take down both Eggman and Infinite.
Both Sonics draw heavily from the mechanics of Sonic Generations. Modern Sonic can boost to run even faster, steamroll through enemies with sufficient gauge, and smash downwards while jumping to destroy crates. Classic Sonic can spin-dash as par for the course. While the return to Generations’ style of gameplay is welcome, the problem is there are almost no new bells and whistles added. They’ve even managed to mess with the controls of both Sonics to a point where it feels worse than Generations. Both feel slippy to handle with their momentum going from first to fifth gear and jumping is bizarrely short at times. Modern Sonic can somewhat mitigate this with his homing attack, and additional double jump. But Classic Sonic struggles the most with precise platforming, and is the worst of the three characters to play. His addition as a whole seems unnecessary with Sonic Mania’s existence, as well as his minimal involvement in the plot and the game. In fact Classic Sonic only makes up for about 20 percent of all of Force’s levels.
That leaves the matter of the Avatar character which, despite representing a maligned sub-section aspects of the Sonic fanbase, is the most interesting and well-realised character in Sonic Forces. The avatar has access to a grapple gun, functioning similarly to Modern Sonic’s homing attack, and a Wispon; a gun that has access to different powers based on the Wisps from Sonic Colours. As you progress through Forces, you’ll unlock different types of Wispons, such as the Hover Wisp which functions as a widespread shotgun. You can also get a temporary power-up to your Wispon by collecting a Wisp of the same type. This temporary boost will help you platform to collecting more rings or give you the edge against dangerous hazards.
Completing levels as any of three of the characters will unlock more customisable items for your avatar. There are a myriad of these to collect, and you’ll inevitably find the perfect avatar. Even the selection of your avatar’s species will give it an unique perk; for example, the wolf is able to draw rings in from a bit further away, the bird can double jump, etc. Some stages will have modern Sonic and the avatar teamed up where they are played simultaneously, and can also perform the “Double Boost” which allows them to pulverise enemies even more so than before.
Whichever character you play as, their gameplay features can’t mask the problems of Forces level design. Sonic Forces commits the cardinal sin of being totally forgettable. There is a lack of ingenuity in any of the level gimmicks. Even staples like exploring alternate pathways and outside thinking to bridge gaps are amiss. Some of the levels are based on zones already featured both in Generations and Mania (Green Hill and Chemical Plant), and it’s getting pretty stale at this point. Worst of all, Sonic Forces’ levels are dreadfully short, usually taking around only 3 minutes to complete. Game overs are not a feature at all, with rings only being used for health and improving your score. The main campaign could flash before your eyes with a completion time of roughly 4 hours. The addition of SOS, Secret, and Extra missions don’t add much more playtime and really only serve as a means to get more customisable gear for your avatar. Even considering the reduced price-tag, it’s still difficult to recommend Forces as a worthwhile investment.
In other aspects Forces is good you’d expect it to be. Visually, it is very polished and runs smoothly even in during the most high-octane environments. The voice acting is generally commendable, whether its Roger Craig Smith’s sharp wisecracking as Sonic or Liam O’ Brien’s brilliantly hammy “bad guy” interpretation of Infinite. The soundtrack is not quite up there with Mania or Colours, but still provides a solid balance of heavy rock, orchestral and even dubstep tunes to accompany the set pieces competently, one of my favourites being “Sunset Heights”.
Sonic Forces is by no means a career-killing disaster like Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric or Shadow the Hedgehog were, but it still a disappointment after all the wonderous hours of fun Mania offered. Will it be another 5-6 years before another great Sonic title appears again? Too slow, if you ask me.