Sonic Forces tries to do plenty of things, but it doesn’t excel at many of them.
Sonic has always been one of the best 2D platforming franchises, with Sonic Mania having delighted everyone with how great it was as recently as a few moths ago, but the Hedgehog’s forays into 3D haven’t always worked so well. Though we have played a few decent 3D Sonic games in the past, the vast majority of them have been quite underwhelming, paling in comparison to the heights reached by their side-scrolling counterparts. With Sonic Forces, developers Team Sonic have taken another stab at a 3D game, with a dash of 2D thrown in as well, and while improvements have definitely been made over some of the more recent entries in the series, the overall package is disappointingly unremarkable.
"With Sonic Forces, developers Team Sonic have taken another stab at a 3D game, with a dash of 2D thrown in as well, and while improvements have definitely been made over some of the more recent entries in the series, the overall package is disappointingly unremarkable."
As far as improvement goes, credit has to be given where it is due. Sonic Forces’ 3D levels have improved massively over what we’ve seen in the past. Of these 3D levels, Sonic Forces features a few types. One type has you controller Modern Sonic, one puts you in the shoes of a custom made avatar, while another has you alternating between both of them. Though that distinction should make for a higher variety of levels across the two different playable characters – at least on paper – that is unfortunately not the case.
Level design itself isn’t spectacular per se, but it’s still solid, with very little moments of frustration where you feel you had no control over the situation due to poor level design. Some of the levels really ramp up the momentum of gameplay, and these fast paced romps are among the highlights of the experience. In addition to that, the unique abilities you possess while playing as the custom made character can often open up new ways to play, which is definitely a bonus. In fact, some of the stages dedicated only to the custom character are the best in the game with a few unique gimmicks and ideas.
Modern Sonic is equipped with all the moves we’ve seen from him in past games, such as sliding, stomping and boosting, as well as his signature homing attack. The custom made character has access to all of that as well, in addition to being equipped Wispon weapons and grapple points. These Wispon weapons can be all manner of weapons, from a flamethrower to an electric whip, and each of them comes with a unique ability that you can use for traversal as well. These moments can allow you to access paths and areas which were previous unaccessible, encouraging experimentation.
"Level design itself isn’t spectacular per se, but it’s still solid, with very little moments of frustration where you feel you had no control over the situation due to poor level design."
That experimentation, sadly enough, hardly ever bears any fruit worth caring about. There is usually not much incentive to explore and find hidden areas besides a few extra rings. Even in levels that have branching paths, it’s hard to care about exploration, and you’ll usually want to blast through at full pace to the finish line. As far as character creation itself goes, there isn’t much scope for customization, with not many options to choose from, and them being cosmetic in nature as well. That comes in with equipping Wispons, but though experimentation with that in gameplay can be mildly enjoyable, you can easily beat the entire game without having done so.
Also disappointing is the fact that the controls themselves in these levels can be quite frustrating. At many moments in my playtime, the controls felt unresponsive and imprecise, which conflicted with the generally fast-paced nature of these 3D levels. It has to be admitted that these controls are an improvement over previous 3D Sonic games, and as such any gripes are much less pronounced than they have been in the past- but they do still exist.
Surprisingly enough, Sonic Forces falters most in its 2D stages. These levels are seriously lacking in the momentum that characterizes much of the 3D sections of the game, and are also marred by level design that is unremarkable and decent at best and uninspired and choppy at worst. What’s worse is that the controls in these sections feel even more slippery and imprecise than they do in the 3D levels, making areas that require precise platforming (of which there are a lot more in the 2D levels) more of a chore than anything else. For a series that has always excelled at 2D side-scrolling level design, and did so quite recently with Sonic Mania as well, it’s surprising to see it struggling with the same here.
"Surprisingly enough, Sonic Forces falters most in its 2D stages."
Another major flaw that lets down Sonic Forces is the fact that the game hardly ever provides a challenge. That, combined with levels that are well built and yet hardly memorable makes for moments that can work just fine while you’re playing them, but don’t really make an attempt to stand out. Not only are the levels unchallenging, they’re all also incredibly short, and you can easily beat the game in a handful of hours. Sadly enough, there’s not much incentive to come back beyond that either. There are admittedly SOS missions that occasionally pop up, but it’s hard to care for them too, since the game doesn’t really give you much of an incentive to go through them.
One area where Sonic Forces has to be commended is the visuals department. 3D levels are ripe with detail and excellent environments, which are complemented by fluid animations. The 2D levels too look quite crisp, with detailed and great looking backgrounds. The fact that the game manages to consistently run at a frame rate of 60 frames per second is also commendable.
Sonic Forces is not the next big step we all hoped the series would take after having taken such a major one so recently with Sonic Mania. Though it looks great and though it makes significant improvements over its predecessors in terms of 3D level design, it surprisingly falters on the 2D side. Additionally, much of what it tries to do is unremarkable and unmemorable at best. If you’re a fan of the series and want to enjoy yet another decent yet flawed experience, Sonic Forces can be recommended to you. Beyond that, your money is best saved for something else.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Significant improvements in 3D level design; Some of the custom character stages are quite enjoyable; Great visuals; Solid performance at a consistently high frame rate.
Level design is unremarkable despite improvements; 2D levels are surprisingly disappointing; Controls feel imprecise; Unchallenging; Not much incentive for exploration or replays.
Sonic Forces is a flawed and unremarkable game, despite occasionally providing moments of decent enjoyment.