I love Sonic. I really do.
Not in a sexual deviant kind of way, though – that would just be wrong – it’s more like brotherly love. We’ve grown up together, gone on adventures side-by-side and saved the world from Dr. Robotnik (screw Eggman) more times than we care to mention. But now I think it’s time we head our separate ways. It’s a process that’s been occurring for several years now but Sonic has changed, and I just don’t know If I can look at the him the same way that I used to do. *Sob*
There’s two sides to Sonic; the mute, more rotund creature that simply moves from left to right and is generally a joy to be around, and then there’s the lanky, brash egotist that’s mostly a pain in the arse. Sonic Forces, the latest 3D Sonic game which makes the mistake of arriving shortly after the excellent 2D shenanigans of Sonic Mania, contains both of them. And because someone, somewhere, thought that you probably wanted to buy a Sonic game and not play as Sonic, you also get to create your own anthropomorphic monstrosity. And so with three characters at your disposal there’s bound to be some varied fun in store, right? Oh, I wish that was the case.
Sonic Forces, for the most part, is painful to play. Throughout its 30 stage campaign you’ll have the odd moment of fun, but generally you’ll be left slack-jawed by the awfulness of it all while occasionally cursing at the screen. Stages come in four varieties. Those in which you play as classic Sonic are strictly 2D and are therefore the highlight, but they still pale in comparison to Sonic Mania‘s wonderful creations. Then you have 3D levels in which you either play as modern Sonic, your custom avatar, or both, and… well… they range from being passable to truly abysmal.
Playing Sonic Forces is like being on a terrible rollercoaster. All you can ever really do is push forward and hope for the best. Its stages come to an end quickly like a rollercoaster too – usually taking just a couple of minutes to reach the finish line. Sometimes you’ll come up against a literal line of enemies in 2D stages, while in 3D stages they’ll either be arranged like pins at a blowing alley or spawn in around you. Oh, and bear in mind that there’s only about three or four enemy types. However they’re presented to you, dispatching them is rarely fun unless you’re running into them at full-speed with a screen blurring dash.
Maybe letting you create your own avatar was an attempt to inject some variety into the gameplay, but it fails miserably. Your avatar can run just as fast as Sonic but not dash, and while they can’t do homing spin attacks on enemies they can use a grappling hook to charge into them. The only thing that really differentiates your avatar from Sonic is their ability to use guns called Wispons, of which there are many to collect, but it’s a mechanic that feels poorly implemented.
One Wispon allows you to shoot flame, another grants you the use of a lighting whip, and there’s more, but they’re never fun or intuitive to use. Power ups allow you to make use of special Wispon abilities, like a lighting dash through rings, but again, their usage is largely redundant or more trouble than it’s worth. Sonic Forces’ controls and mechanics will frequently fail you, resulting in damage or death, making you grateful that the checkpoint system is lenient and that you have unlimited lives.
I guess you could say ‘inconsistent’ is the word. Everything about Sonic Forces is inconsistent. The controls, the physics, the mechanics. Everything. Moving your character sometimes feels light but then heavy, making accurate motions and jumps feel like an impossible task, and locking onto enemies and objects to perform grapples or dash attacks is wholly unreliable. Meanwhile, Sonic Forces’ cutscenes look remarkably worse than its in-game graphics, and its story is both ill-conceived and tonally all over the place.
If you do somehow find yourself enjoying Sonic Forces then completing the campaign doesn’t have to be the end of your time spent with it. There are secret and extra stages to unlock, time trials to be completed and a long, long list of missions to tackle. Along the way you unlock more avatar customisation items than you can shake a stick at. Most of them are pretty horrendous, admittedly (why would you want to adorn them with Crocs?!), but they’re there.
Sonic Forces is the latest in a long line of 3D Sonic games that have been nothing but a disappointment. Only its melodramatic soundtrack bristling with vocalised tracks deserves any praise. It feels like a game bereft of any clear direction; a mish-mash of ideas poorly glued together in the hope that something will stick. Sonic Forces may not be the worst Sonic game ever made, but it’s close, and I don’t think the speedy blue hedgehog has many more chances to impress before gamers like myself lose all hope of him returning to his former glory.