Ever since Sonic Mania launched to critical acclaim, Sonic Forces has been looking ever so slightly overshadowed. That in itself is not the fault of Sonic Team’s effort, seen as a companion piece by continuing the story arc of the Phantom Ruby, and I was hoping beyond all hope though that Sonic Team would build on this positive momentum to create a worthy entry to the series after a string of sub-par 3D efforts. What we got is certainly better than some recent titles, but Sonic Forces still has fundamental problems.
For starters, it has a hook that’s somewhat out of the ordinary, with Sonic’s friends forming a resistance in the wake of Sonic’s defeat to Eggman’s latest creation – Infinite, a being who has the power of the Phantom Ruby and thus can create illusions. Those wondering if the plot has anywhere near the depth that the Sonic SATAM cartoon series had will be left ultimately disappointed, mostly because it’s got that awkward mix of the light-hearted modern Sonic mixed in and as such just doesn’t work as well.
If the game doesn’t have a good base to be built on, there’s little chance of success. Thankfully, the Hedgehog Engine 2.0 makes Sonic Forces probably the most polished looking of the 3D Sonic games to date. Smooth animations and far-off details make it a marvel to look at, consistently running at 60FPS on the base PlayStation 4. It’s most clear during the 3D portions of the Sonic or Avatar stages, though there are some nice touches in the backgrounds when the game transfers to a 2D style.
Sound design however is where Sonic Forces falters slightly. The voice acting is more than serviceable and I did chuckle at one or two of Sonic’s quips, but the music was at best forgettable. It’s the Classic Sonic level music design that’s the worst offender here, especially since Sonic Mania proved that catchy melodies were what made Sonic music memorable, rather than 16-bit musical effects. It was almost like playing Sonic 4 again.
One common theme you’ll notice is that every single complaint I have with Sonic Forces boils down to Sonic Team trying to do too much. This is apparent with the fact there are four types of stages – Modern Sonic, Classic Sonic, the Avatar character, and levels where Sonic and the Avatar character team up.
Across 30 main stages, they doesn’t last overly long either – two to three minutes if casually running through them – meaning none of the levels left all that much of a lasting impression. Combined with the free three stage Episode Shadow DLC, where the levels are remixed versions of Modern Sonic’s levels, and a handful of bonus levels unlocked as you progress, the entire game can be beaten in a few hours.
It’s far easier to break down the game by the level types it offers and while it’s nowhere near the misguided variety the Sonic Adventure series had – I still have nightmares about fishing and searching for pieces of the Master Emerald, there are some stumbling blocks along the way that need to be addressed.
Let’s begin with the Classic Sonic levels, which in my eyes are the most “game-like”. Things begin rather tame with almost straight sprints from left-to-right, but do transition to set pieces more akin to a traditional platformer. They were where I had the most fun, even if I wasn’t dazzled as much by the presentation.
That said, while the inclusion of Sonic Mania’s Drop Dash is welcome, the momentum problems that Sonic Generations had are still present. Also, Sonic Team have committed a cardinal sin with one level in that they included an auto-scrolling stage – something not seen since Bridge Zone Act 2 in the original Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Master System. It wasn’t good then and it sure isn’t good now.
Modern Sonic’s levels, and really we can lump the levels where Sonic and the Avatar character team up here, are far faster in pace. They control slightly better, though not perfectly. My problem with both these level types is that unless you are specifically hunting for the Red Rings, there’s very little challenge to them until right at the end of the game. As such, I didn’t find a single level to be memorable, despite obvious nods to Green Hill and Chemical Plant.
Perhaps the bulk of the game this time around surrounds your Avatar character. This can be one of six species and geared with unlockable garments as you complete levels and missions. They can also be equipped with special weapons that have both a basic attack and a Burst attack which allows for different types of mobility. It’s entirely possible to run through the entire game without using any unlockable weapons, though it’s worth switching to take advantage of some bonus perks.
The majority of these stages are more memorable than Sonic’s levels and it’s usually because of a gimmick. One where the scenery is constantly shifting gravity thanks to interference from Infinite was where the level design was turned up a notch. Sadly it’s still inconsistent, with the jumping frequently a problem that I had to wrestle with throughout the short stages.
There are certainly quite a few optional extras, such as SOS missions that pop up on occasion. The trouble is that there’s no obvious incentive to take on these challenges beyond the challenge itself as I couldn’t find any evidence of the Chaos Emeralds – a sign that usually indicates some kind of hidden boss. They’re certainly curious in their absence.
The saying “Too many cooks spoil the broth” certainly rings true with Sonic Forces. It’s a game where despite it’s many level types none of them quite leave a lasting impression. As a result, it comes off as merely average in all departments with the sole exception being the visual design. Sonic Forces is far from the train wreck that Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric was, but it doesn’t come close to reigniting the series’ magic in the way Sonic Mania did.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4