Review by Brianzilla2004
Sonic the Interactive Cutscene
Sonic Forces is a greater example of a mixed bag than any other video game I’ve ever played. In crafting a technical and artistic marvel, Sonic Team have also created what could be described as the longest interactive cutscene of all time.
After the disastrous Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), Sonic Team turned away from serious stories in favor of more light hearted comedic affairs. Forces matches its way awkwardly back into the darker, grittier style of times past with a story that resembles the old Saturday morning cartoon show by Dic. Sonic is defeated by a bunch of his old rivals, as well as a new villain, Infinite. Our hero is then tortured for several months in a holding cell, kept alive by the evil Dr. Eggman only so that he can see everything he loves crushed by the mad scientist.
In the wake of Sonic’s departure, his friends do their best to fight off an unstoppable army of robots. Tails has lost it, believing Sonic to be dead, and blaming himself for failing to help his friend. For no apparent reason, an alternate reality version of Sonic (modeled after his classic Genesis likeness) gets popped out of a random portal and joins the fight. Then Sonic gets freed a few levels into the campaign, everyone teams up, and it devolves into a series of predictable sabotage missions.
The gameplay ditches the mechanics of the previous major game in the series, Sonic Lost World, in favor of the boost style gameplay of Sonic Rush, Sonic Unleashed, etc. As Sonic, you run along an extraordinarily restricted path with one or two deviations on it while smashing enemies and collecting items to gain energy for your Boost Meter, which allows you to breeze through enemies and obstacles at blinding speeds.
Perhaps he should’ve been slowed down a little, because you'll think you were a speed runner from how brisk your best times are for each stage after just one or two attempts. Without serious effort, I was able to clear 18 of the 30 stages from the story in less than 2 minutes, and 27 of them in under 3 minutes. This is the game’s greatest flaw. There are very few instances that feel like a full package. They give a taste of what’s time come, but then it's over. Just one measly appetizer after another.
Bookending the scraps of gameplay are a combination of ‘boost to win’ and ‘quick time event’ sequences. In the former, you're given a full boost meter and are encouraged to rocket straight ahead as robot explosions and ‘speed marks’ make it nearly impossible to see anything. Don’t worry though, there's a 99% chance that the game will automatically track along a path, making the great heights you're usually running at a lot less threatening. It's just one big rollercoaster, and as long as you don’t do something too reckless you won't lose your head.
You can, however, be as reckless as you want with the quick time events. Unlike other games, including previous Sonic games, you don’t need to pressing different buttons, and you don’t even need to time your input well. Just mash A until the cutscene disguised as gameplay ends. Sure, you get more points for pressing at the optimal time, but the game itself doesn’t care enough to track your high score for the levels on a high score table, so aside from getting an S rank (which is extremely easy), why bother with scoring big points? Even if you don’t press anything, you still continue on, but it might penalize you a few seconds.
Oh, and the boosting and quick time event sequences take up anywhere from 25-50% of Sonic’s levels.
Classic Sonic is featured in levels that more closely resemble a game. His stages feel very similar to the locals he Spin Dashed his way through in Generations. They're not as good, and the music doesn’t feel very Sonic-y, although it does do a fair job of sounding like something off of the Genesis. The physics still don’t feel quite right, especially after Sonic Mania gave us such a fantastic retro experience jus a few months earlier. At least they adopted the Drop Dash from Mania here, which is a welcome ability, considering they removed the ability to rev up a Spin Dash using the X button.
In addition to the Sonics, a new character wielding Wisp (see: Sonic Colors) powered weapons called Wispons (har har) joins the resistance against the Eggman Empire. This character can be customized through a fairly robust character creation system. You can choose between seven species, each with their own racial perks, customize their sex and appearance, and then take them in a fitting room and give them some new threads. It's actually one of the highlights of the game, as Sonic Team have down a great job creating quite a variety of items to unlock and use. Every time you beat a level, get an S rank, beat a level quickly, or do any one of a number of other things, you unlock 3-5 items for your custom hero. It's quite addicting collecting every scrap of clothing you can get your furry avatar fingers on.
As for playing as the avatar hero, it's nothing too impressive. Slower Sonic without the boost and with some gimmicky guns to defeat enemies with. Each Wispon has a second ability, with some allowing you to shoot yourself upward to reach extra goodies up high, others being completely useless, and the Yellow Drill which effectively allows you to cheat through most of the level. There are also a few instances where modern Sonic and the avatar team up, allowing you to boost with Sonic and shoot weapons with the avatar. Nothing terribly interesting about them.
The story, which I laid out earlier, is a mess. Imagine every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie ever made, and that’s the tone of Sonic Forces. Sonic has been tortured for six months, but he’s still easily musters up the will to be snarky against his monster that’s about to put him through another round of torture. Tails blames himself for what he thinks is Sonic’s death, but he doesn’t seem too upset, despite other characters saying what an emotional mess he is. The new villain, Infinite, has no character development (unless you delve into the Episode Shadow DLC, and then you'll wish you knew less about Infinite), and there isn't an ounce of charm to him. He's just an edgy prick. Who cares? Shadow the Hedgehog once filled a similar role, but 16 years ago Sonic Team knew how to tell a story, plot holes and cheesy dialogue aside, that left an impression. I grew to like the characters more from Sonic Adventure to Sonic Adventure 2. It's nice that they're trying to tell an ambitious action adventure story again, but having high stakes doesn’t mean much if the characters themselves don’t seem to mind.
As a side note, the Chaos Emeralds and the Master Emerald aren't mentioned once throughout the game. Couldn’t they come up with a quick line of dialogue to explain why they're not a viable option to combat Eggman? Knuckles, the guardian of the Master Emerald, is commanding the resistance army, and we couldn’t get any information on why he's there? If his home had been destroyed and the Master Emerald lost, that could've added an extra layer to the echidna. Yet for heroes fighting in the greatest war the world has ever seen, on the losing side no less, none of the supporting cast seems to have lost anything.
As a second side note, one of the returning villains is Chaos, the God of Destruction from Adventure. He’s also the only villain that’s not featured as a boss anywhere in the game. They could’ve put any character in instead. What a waste of a cool character with limitless potential as a boss battle.
The war torn setting is nice for some of the stages, at least. Visually, the game is gorgeous, with vibrant, colorful environments and lots going on in the background. It's worth taking a moment and just watching the stuff going on in the distance. In the city levels, for example, there are gigantic Eggman robots stomping and smashing the burning ruins of the city with gunfire pelting them from the ground. There are also numerous tremendous set pieces, which is something the Sonic series has always delivered the goods on.
Musically, there's some fantastic orchestral scoring here. The modern Sonic and avatar levels have some electronic dance inspired tunes playing throughout, with the avatar levels also featuring vocals. The female vocalist has a nice voice, but the lyrics are a bit too topical and cheesy, and make this ‘serious’ game a little harder to take, well, seriously. The retro style music for the retro style Sonic is definitely a step up from Sonic the Hedgehog 4, but it's nothing too memorable.
The game has plenty for you to do in it. After you complete the story, you can go back and find five “Red Star Rings” in any non-boss stage. Then you can collecting “Number Rings,” and once you get those grab the “Silver Moon Rings.” Get a better rank, clear the daily mission (usually something minor lie changing your avatar’s appearance), and so on. If you like this game, there’s tons to keep you busy for at least 20-25 hours. The game is also cheap, being released for $39.99 on all consoles.
Sonic Forces is definitely the most disappointing game from the main series of Sonic games. Everything functions pretty much perfectly. It's just the level design and the execution of the story that hold this game back from being great. With more adequate people filling those roles, this could've easily been a 9 or a 10, but oh well. I can always go back to Generations.
Product Release: Sonic Forces (US, 11/07/17)
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