If there’s one thing we can applaud BetaDwarf for it’s being honest in the naming of its newest release. This so-called “Slightly Better Edition” of 2013 co-op brawler, FORCED, is just that – a mildly refined transplant onto new hardware. However, judging by how the game plays, this is one console port that needed more than a touch of arbitrary tweaking.
Your journey begins as a bedraggled slave, captured and forced to kill in order to survive. As you progress through a series of increasingly tough challenges, you’ll begin to cement yourself as an esteemed gladiator, building a repertoire of destructive powers and strategies. Although there are hints of a story being formed, it is largely superceded by the action on-screen.
The game is split into five regions, each of which has its own network of stages or trials. These are self-contained battles that often come tagged with one or two objectives besides killing everything in sight. Although these side tasks provide a nice distraction, they do very little to break up the constant flow of each trial.
Monsters will continue to appear in waves, frequently joined by tougher variants. Where some have larger health reserves, others will be quicker, or may even have ranged attacks. The key to winning each battle is by reading your opponents, each one having their own patterns and tells.
What’s even more crucial is having a team of four comrades all working in tandem. Although certainly viable as a singleplayer game, realistically you can only get so far on your own before having to throw in the towel. This is mainly due to the number of enemies that come pouring onto the screen as well as some finicky advanced mechanics.
Throughout FORCED you’ll be accompanied by a magical wisp, Balfus, who serves as your guide and mentor. Aside from being perhaps the most important character in-game, you can also guide him over certain objects to receive buffs and open new pathways. On paper, it sounds like a decent concept yet fails to embed itself as an enjoyable game mechanic.
Given that Balfus can only follow the player in a straight line, you’ll need to constantly move between checkpoints while also juggling hordes of enemies. It’s frustratingly counter-intuitive though it’s made less so when in the presence of other players.
Before diving into an arena, you and your companions are given a choice of four unique weapons. These include the bow, maul, shield, and daggers, with only one of each allowed in a team. The weapon you take into battle will effectively dictate your play-style, as will the abilities you assign to each of the shoulder buttons. The shield, for instance, is best used to draw aggro and protect teammates whereas the bow quite naturally suits a long-range, evasive approach.
The four archetypes will level up simultaneously as you amass gems. These trinkets are earned through completing stages as well as time trials and other bonus challenges. In other words, they’re a much simpler substitute for experience points, allowing players to access a wider pool of abilities the more they collect.
Still, despite there being some unique and rewarding systems at play, the overall execution doesn’t quite cut it. With only a handful of basic actions, combat gets repetitive within minutes of your first arena. Solo play is another area desperately lacking options. Sure, FORCED has been built from the ground up as a co-op brawler but for the developer to offer such a poor singleplayer option is a let down. In short, it feels like a complete afterthought, bolted on in order for the Danish studio to tick another box.
If you can muster a dedicated group to play FORCED then, chances are, you’ll have a good time of it. Although the core gameplay isn’t robust enough for most tastes, there’s fun to be had in co-ordinating a team of powerful gladiators, cleaving through wave after wave of enemies. Lacking a progressive sense of dynamism, however, this fun factor soon deteriorates while never manifesting at all if you happen to be playing on your own.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4