Damn you, Sonic Team.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. We knew from the outset that Sonic Forces didn’t stand a chance, this much was clear. It feels a long time ago now that the game was revealed – on the same day as Sonic Mania, no less – and in that time, we’ve wondered. We’ve hoped. We’ve even played the game earlier this year and left delighted that it felt like a real 3D Sonic experience that we could get behind. And we did. Oh boy, did we.
But here we are. In the context of the full game, it would seem the best parts of the game were on display and upon picking up the full game, waiting for it to unlock and then playing through it from beginning to end in *four hours*, Sonic Forces can be thrown atop the now leaning tower of missed opportunities Sonic Team has given the almighty hedgehog. And there is literally nothing more heartbreaking this year than, yet again, watching Sonic fall from grace so quickly after, arguably, his Mania masterpiece.
The issues are precisely what plague 3D Sonic titles forever and always. This game does not answer that age old question of just what Sonic is doing in the 3D space at all. Did the enjoyment of Sonic Generations and Sonic Colors entice us toward an idea that we only had in our heads and could never actually be realised? Generations proved that the 3D/Classic hybrid can work and as such, we could get on board with the mind-bending, stomach churning bewilderment of a 3D Sonic level if it meant we had a balance of old and new along for the ride. There’s no doubt that modern Sonic has an audience, that much is absolutely clear. Speedrunners love a crack at these new levels as soon as they’re available and rightly so. The issue of course is that for everyone else, the enormous mainstream audience who know nothing of ‘speedrunning’, what’s left for them? If we’re able to power through the story in a single sitting, is there much of an end-game? Every level can be replayed and there are ‘SOS’ missions, which allows you play previous levels with different characters and being able to jump back in to collect the Red Star Rings, there’s a lot of replaying levels, not so much extra content.
There’s been an argument surrounding Sonic Forces ever since it was revealed that it’s all a bit dark, a bit intense. The average younger viewer of Sonic Boom is going to find scenes of Sonic getting battered around like a ping pong ball between enemies and hearing Knuckles and Amy talk about how he has been tortured for six months by Eggman? Yeah, that’s not what I’m here for. I would much prefer a far lighter story, similar to Generations, where paths collide and adventures were had with familiar faces, rather than the full scale destruction of earth and the off-screen torture of one of my most cherished mascots. Tonally, it all seems very out of place and out of sync with the joy of being around Sonic and Tails. I’m not sure if this is an unpopular opinion or not but whenever I find myself watching Sonic Boom I can certainly laugh my way through an episode. The writing is witty and fan focused, something Forces certainly is not. A combination of the two would have made for a far more entertaining experience. The Sonic Boom games certainly weren’t good enough to balance out the writing.
OK, so then. What we liked about Sonic Forces isn’t enough to save it, but it does ensure the whole shebang isn’t completely wasted. As with a variety of ‘modern Sonic’ experiences, when you find your rhythm, it can be a hell of a thrill getting that S Rank on a level that you’re sure you crushed. Timing and precision is absolutely crucial and when you pull it off, it looks and feels great. Of course, this is hindered by obstacles or enemies seemingly appearing from nowhere to halt your progress when you didn’t see them a split second beforehand. This can be frustrating but it’s more about memorising where these areas are for next time to ensure you either take a different route to the end or kick your reflexes into gear.
One of the biggest draws of Sonic Forces to any hardcore Sonic fanatic will be the avatar creation modes, where you can finally create your own character to fight alongside Sonic. It’s here where you realise what Sonic Forces is meant to be and yet, you get the feeling that if the game was just your own avatar tearing it through then perhaps the game as a whole wouldn’t feel so tacked together. As you progress through the game, your avatar – of which you unlock a myriad of clothes for throughout, though my Super Monkey Ball / Jet Set Radio hybrid monster below rarely changed – can handle different weapons known as ‘Wispons’, all of which add different skill sets to your creation and as such, they become especially handy throughout, with abilities ranging from being able to move at lightning fast speeds near rows of rings or enemies – never too far away -, granting temporary invincibility, digging through the ground and creating platforms.
If you get a chance you’re going to want to take a look around as the backgrounds of each level are bristling with character and you’ll find yourself noticing little nods to Sonic history. Tearing it through war torn cities as Sonic may be a little jarring at first, though as the game goes on you’ll find yourself in slightly breezier locations, and classic Sonic’s Chemical Plant reboot is a standout amongst the various indoor courses, of which there are many and besides the aforementioned Chemical Plant, I’m struggling to remember them and I only put the game down a couple of hours ago.
What the backgrounds do though is add a sense of scale and you see first hand the sheer vastness of Eggman’s destruction and there’s nothing to really argue against the visuals being really rather terrific. Everything, as it should, moves at a hell of a pace with no sign of slowdown or framerate issues, which is pretty remarkable considering how fast everything is moving and all that’s going on in the backgrounds of the levels. The voice acting is solid with Mr. Roger Craig Smith once again throwing everything at his Sonic performance, with Mike Pollock’s Eggman being another highlight. Gotta love the ‘evil British man’ villainous stylings of main antagonist Infinite, also. Kudos to Liam O’Brian – who was also Zazz in Sonic Lost World but…er, yeah-. It’s a shame they didn’t have a narrative worthy of their talents to get stuck into, really.
I guess that’s one of the more disappointing aspects of Sonic Forces; it feels so close. At every juncture it seems like there’s a good, even great, Sonic game waiting to be played in this kind of setting, but Sonic Team just threw everything at the wall and didn’t let anything fall to the floor. It’s like it has no idea what kind of Sonic game it wants to be, so it tries to be three or four all at the same time. If you’re not tearing through courses as Modern Sonic, you’re Classic Sonic moving at a somewhat slower pace with lesser powers in a 2D setting, but not the same 2D settings that Modern Sonic has. If you’re not doing that, you’re back in the 3D space, but not the same 3D settings as Modern Sonic because you can’t move at the same pace with your avatar, instead you’re grappling through levels trying to keep up. There are levels where you play as both Modern Sonic and your avatar, and in those they can move at the same pace. It’s bewildering how this is all juggled and it doesn’t feel cohesive, it feels like a mini-game collection.
So as I sit here, utterly coincidentally in a Sonic t-shirt, staring at my Sonic Mania Collectors Edition Statue, I can’t help but wonder if this is it. Perhaps it’s time for me to stop believing that one of my childhood heroes is ever going to return to the majesty of what he once was. It was only a few months ago I gave Sonic Mania a ten out of ten, how I couldn’t take the grin off my face all the way through and how it was an absolute goldmine of pitch perfect Sonic mechanics, delightful fan service and a beacon of what the future of Sonic could look like. The irony is, Sonic hasn’t ever gotten any better than he was when I first completed Sonic 2 on my Mega Drive and with Mania carrying that torch, perhaps that’s the only one he should be using to light his future in the industry.
As I’ve mentioned above, Sonic Forces isn’t a complete disaster. There are moments which I certainly enjoyed, but they were moments. Fleeting. There needed to be more than what’s been provided. I wanted to play through more levels with my avatar. I wanted the story to be slightly more light-hearted. I wanted Sonic Team to knock it out of the park. There was too little in Forces that made me smile, even if there were sections that did but nowhere near enough to fully recommend the game to any discerning Sonic fan, even though I’m all but certain you’re going to pick this one up anyway, if you haven’t done so already.
Sonic Team promised us. They promised us they would deliver with Forces, they said they’re taking Sonic back and will remind us of what makes him so great. I was so ready to get on board. Ugh, I was so ready.
Damn you, Sonic Team.
Sonic Forces is available now on PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Switch and PC.
Developer: Sonic Team
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we purchased a digital PS4 retail version of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.