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Sonic Team are creatively-bankrupt; It’s time for some new blood to tackle 3D Sonic

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    II Sora II
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    Sonic Forces

    Rating: 1.5 – Bad

    Sonic Team are creatively-bankrupt; It’s time for some new blood to tackle 3D Sonic

    Since Sonic Unleashed in 2008, Sonic has been attempting to re-build it’s brand from the tatters it was left in following the infamous Sonic 06 and Shadow the Hedgehog, the former of which was pretty much unfinished. Sonic Team has garnered a bad reputation over the last decade and half and it’s easy to see why. However, they were capable of producing Colors and Generations during these times, which provided some hope that maybe Sonic can return to form. Unfortunately in the years since, it seems Sonic has lost his way again.

    When Forces was first unveiled, it gave the impression that perhaps Sonic Team had decided a serious approach to the series was the correct direction which immediately caused concern within the fanbase. Advertised as a game from the creators of the most critically acclaimed 3D Sonic games of the current decade, they had hoped this would be enough to get fans excited, despite the gameplay footage showing many of the same problems that have plagued Sonic games for years.

    Visuals

    Sonic games usually look pretty, and I can confidently say this one gets the job done. At 60fps with hardly a dip, it’s pretty passable. There are moments when it’s difficult to see your character as they do blend into the backgrounds sometimes. For example, a dark stage that has a navy background will make Sonic difficult to see when you’re attempting some precision platforming which can cause frustration. Otherwise, the game looks good, but not much more than that. The cutscenes are presented with a border on the top and bottom of the screen which honestly feels unnecessary. Some cutscenes and gameplay segments involving a certain new character will sometimes make the entire screen a reddish-pink, which entirely obstructs the view of the player during gameplay, or makes the cutscene difficult to view.

    Audio

    The OST is interestingly more synth based as opposed to flat out rock you may remember from previous titles. It seems to work well, with the Avatar stages having vocal songs which all sound great. Classic Sonic stages have a very familiar Genesis vibe to them, and Modern Sonic can range from good to great. Overall the soundtrack is very good and possibly the strongest aspect to the game.

    Gameplay

    Unfortunately this is where things appear to falter, as it appears Sonic Team have made no attempts to learn from previous mistakes or implement anything to help prevent the player from feeling frustration at times. Typically, each stage will last between 2-3 minutes, with very few going far beyond that. Included within this running time, are cutscenes that take place during some levels which are un-skippable. For example, there is a scene which takes place at the end of one of Modern Sonic’s stages where he is eaten by a creature and has to find his way out. This scene lasts around 2 seconds with the only input requiring the X button to be tapped repeatedly. Each of these scenes is typically around the same length of time, and cannot be avoided, which is bizarre in a game focused around time attack and leaderboards. They entirely interrupt the flow of the level and take control away from the player for absurd amount of time.

    There are general issues with level design also, most notably occur during the 3D sections of Modern Sonic’s levels. There are a lot of instances of straight forward "boost to win" segments where the character runs in one direction only requiring the boost button to be held. Failing to use the boost button means long sections where the player can either attempt to avoid the stationary enemies or homing attack them, which kills any momentum. I mentioned "attempt", because the controls in this game feel very fixed in that it feels like Sonic is on rails. He accelerates extremely quickly meaning it requires the control stick to be pushed forward in one direction for approximately 1-2 seconds before Sonic reaches full running speed (sans boost). This means that platforming is difficult. During the 3D sections, it feels as if Sonic is unable to move left or right easily and feels like the game is expecting you to just hold the boost button and not add much input of your own. Other concerns include many death pits at the bottom of levels or boost sections which require the player to not fall off the platform they’re running on, despite asking the player to move very quickly forward and have little control of their left or right movement.

    Despite Generations having been released 6 years ago, and since acquiring the team that has put together the various remasters of classic Sonic titles including CD, Sonic 1 and 2 for iOS, and recently Sonic Mania, Sonic Team don’t appeared to have learned or taken advantage of the new talent working on Christian Whitehead’s team to learn how Classic Sonic should function in his gameplay. He is extremely heavy, suffers from the same acceleration problems (albeit not as severely), and has physics which feel like an imitation as opposed to the refined and learned controls discovered in the classic titles. For example, there are areas in levels with half pipes ala Spring Yard Zone in the original Sonic the Hedgehog. However simply rolling up and down these slopes does not provide a thrilling pinball-like experience with Sonic’s momentum carrying him up and down increasing in speed until he reaches a fast maximum, instead Sonic will appear to ‘clip’ parts of these slops bringing him to a stand still losing all momentum. Another issue is bouncing off enemies, which should carry Sonic’s momentum and provide vertical momentum when attacking from a height. But this is not the case here. Classic Sonic feels poorly executed.

    The Avatar gameplay is a mix of good and bad, dependant on what type of Wispon you’re using. Some of them require you to mash the R2 button to despatch enemies, while others will require you to hold the button instead. Being assigned to a trigger despite this being used in platforming sections is an odd decision and it’s clear some players will stick to favourites and never touch the other variations. The Avatar, much like Modern Sonic, also suffers from a lot of automation. Sometimes the Avatar will deploy their grappling hook automatically with no input from the player, but other times the player must time their button press to hit the target. It’s incredibly inconsistent and pretty baffling honestly.

    However despite these issues, the game is playable and can be enjoyed. There are collectables to be found in levels and online leadership boards to help extend play-time.

    Story

    I won’t go into detail here too much to avoid spoiling the story for people, but despite the serious tone set by the world being in peril, honestly there’s not a lot going on here. Cutscenes occur before and after stages, with dialogue being inserted on the World Map screen following each level. Characters from Sonic’s past seem to be inserted in the story with no rhyme or reason, no backstory or development. While Sonic himself is chirpy as always, the game tries hard to put some weight behind some of Eggman’s actions (for example literally torturing Sonic during a 6 month gap following the opening stage of the game). Dramatic music plays during a lot of cutscenes. It is clear that whatever charm was in previous games is gone. The developer wanted the player to take this game’s story very seriously, which comes off very forced. There’s really nothing memorable about the story outside what I have discussed here. The story mode is extremely short, and will last most players around 3-4 hours even on Hard mode.

    In conclusion, Sonic Forces will likely be remembered as the weakest of the boost games. It was a formula that worked for Sonic at one point, but by now it feels dated with no attempts to make the 3D worlds expansive or explorable, and the death pits that have plagued the 3D Sonic games since their inception are here in full force. No longer are there warning signs telling the player when to expect to fall into these pits, instead it’s up to the player to learn they are there through trial, error and frustration.

    Hopefully the future of Sonic is bright, but for now do not expect modern Sonic Team to produce a title with the ambition, scope or charm some of their previous entries had in spades.

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