2017 is the year of the blue blur. As a part of the 25th Anniversary of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sega has given players two unique Sonic experiences, each tailored to a different type of fan. Earlier this year, Sonic Mania splashed onto the gaming scene, delivering an immensely faithful classic Sonic experience for fans of the retro games.
As part two of the anniversary celebration, Sonic Forces is the next installment of the 3D Sonic games. The game received a lot of buzz pre-release because of the Avatar system; finally fans could create their own unique character that tackles Eggman along with Sonic and crew.
Now that Sonic Forces has arrived, is it a notable addition to the franchise?
A New Eggman Order
In Sonic Forces, Dr. Eggman launches a large scale offensive across the globe, and it’s up to Sonic and his friends to stop him. The diabolical doctor has a team of powerful henchmen this time around, including Shadow the Hedgehog, Metal Sonic, Zavok, Chaos, and a new, immensely powerful being named Infinite. Early in the game Sonic attempts to fight Infinite, but is promptly defeated and captured. With his most powerful enemy out of the way, Eggman quickly takes control of the world with his robot army.
The situation is desperate for Tails, Knuckles, and the rest of Sonic’s crew. Thankfully, they meet up with a newcomer who helps turn the tide of the conflict: the Avatar, you. This customizable character is Sonic Forces’ biggest addition, providing Sonic fans around the world with the ability to create their own unique character in the Sonic universe.
The Avatar is created from a base of seven animal species, each with their own unique ability and attributes. For example, choosing a Rabbit character grants longer invincibility time after receiving damage. The character creator is rather limited in choices for head shapes, eye shapes, and other features. But these limitations are quickly forgotten about once you begin to unlock accessories for the Avatar.
By clearing stages, you’ll receive a variety of jackets, shirts, headwear, shoes, bodysuits, and other clothing options to truly make the Avatar your own. There are an absolute ton of them too — at least 700 items. Some are earned by clearing stages, others by completing optional objectives (missions), or by clearing a level with a certain rank. The incentive to unlock more items gives die-hard fans plenty of reasons to return to Sonic Forces, even after they completed it.
Sonic Forces’ cast is expansive and features plenty of familiar faces from other games, including Silver the Hedgehog, The Chaotix Crew, and Rouge the Bat. However, a majority of these characters aren’t seen outside a few cutscenes and speech bubbles.
Despite the game’s story detailing a global-scale conflict between the Eggman and Sonic armies, the nitty-gritty of these events are never directly shown, which leads to some poor pacing and story conveyance.
Rolling Around At the Speed of Sound
Unfortunately, the gameplay of Sonic Forces is where it’s weaknesses are in full display. The game is split between three stage types: Modern Sonic, Classic Sonic, and Avatar stages. Modern Sonic and Avatar stages take place across sprawling 3D environments, while Classic Sonic’s stages are 2D levels with branching paths similar to old school Sonic. Avatar stages take place in 3D environments as well, but the character is equipped with a grappling hook that can be used to scale gaps. The Avatar also can use Wispons, a variety of different weapons that can be used to destroy enemies or traverse obstacles.
While the sense of speed is portrayed well across the 3D environments, the lack of player control during the most intense sections leaves a lot to be desired. Stages last no more than a few minutes, and most can be cleared by simply holding forward and attacking enemies once the green reticle appears on them. There is a lack of branching paths in the 3D stages, with most levels feeling like you’re blazing down a hallway. Enemies serve as little more than roadblocks and provide no real challenge to the player.
In Modern Sonic levels, Sonic can utilize a Boost ability that increases his speeds to supersonic levels and destroys any enemy in his path. While the ability is fun to use, it makes an easy game almost play itself. The Boost meter is easily rechargeable and it’s not uncommon to find yourself clearing a level using Boost the entire way through.
However, the Avatar stages with it’s Wispon system provide players a bit more freedom to tackle the environment and challenges in different ways. Some Wispons include a Flamethrower, a Drill, and Cube that freezes enemies.
Classic Sonic stages focus on the 2.5 side-scrolling stages reminiscent of the Mega Drive era of games, or the retro levels in Sonic Generations. Classic Sonic cannot use moves such as the Homing Attack, Stomp, or Boost maneuvers and instead is limited to the Spin Dash and Drop Dash. These stages play well, but with the overwhelming success and polish of Sonic Mania, it’s hard to look at Classic Sonic stages in Forces as anything that Mania doesn’t do better.
Despite most levels being a forgettable blur, Sonic Forces does feature some well-designed boss encounters. Specifically, fights with Infinite are engaging and feature winding environments and complex attacks that the player must maneuver around before counterattacking. Infinite’s powers include the ability to create lifelike hallucinations — and those powers are utilized a satisfying way within these fights. If a player gets hit by an attack, the screen will tint red and create new obstacles the player must dodge before they can damage Infinite again.
Is Sonic Forces Good?
Sadly, Sonic Forces struggles with the same issues that have plagued 3D Sonic games since Sonic Adventure – portraying an accurate sense of speed to the character while giving players a choice on how to clear obstacles. While the game includes three stage types – all of them are plagued by their own gameplay issues.
Sonic Forces is also on the shorter side, with a full campaign clear taking about 6-7 hours to complete. The Avatar system and its customization options are the game’s strongest suits.
If you are a fan of the Sonic universe, it’s characters, and have been dreaming of creating your own unique character in the games, you will enjoy your time with Sonic Forces. But, it’s difficult to recommend the game to anyone outside of diehard fans.