Sonic Forces was a mess, in the simplest of terms. The game provided the player with jaw dropping moments of emotion, but also leaving them with a bitter aftertaste of unfinished story and level design. What Forces captures the best is the sense of adventure. Unfortunately, that feeling isn’t caught until it’s too late.
Sonic Forces starts off on the wrong foot by tossing the player in the middle of the game. The tutorial takes place in Green Hill Zone, which has seen better days. Sand is littered through where the waterfalls should be and Dr. Eggman’s robotic army has destroyed the once beautiful landscape. It seemed clear that this is the work of Dr. Eggman, but what reasons drive his plan this time? Right after the stage ends, Sonic is transported to the city where he is met by a mysterious enemy named Infinite. Some of Sonic’s old foes of previous games like Shadow, Chaos and Metal Sonic have also joined the party. Sonic is left defeated after trying to go head to head with Infinite and his gang, leaving the world unprotected and ready for takeover.
It’s after that scene where the story takes a sharp turn and starts to feel unorganized. Text appears on the screen reading, “With Sonic defeated, Eggman’s army quickly took over. Within months, all but a few isolated areas in the world were under their control.” This would be fine if the game didn’t start off like that from the beginning. Sonic Forces allows the player to create his or her own original character. Because Sonic is presumed to be dead, it’s up to the player’s character to save the day.
It is an interesting decision from the Sonic franchise that’s never been done before. It’s executed decently but it’s not used well in terms of story development. The avatar never has a true identity, or lack of any characters in the game for that matter.
The story never feels fluid either because of the world map allowing the player to pick when he or she wants to go to the next stage. So when a epic moments happens in the story, the player is transported out of the cinematic and has to pick the next stage in order to go through the story. It breaks the immersion and connectedness of what a Sonic game should have.
One final problem with the story is there’s too many characters throughout the game. Some only have sparse dialogue and don’t have true roles in the story besides cheering on Sonic. It’s easy to forget about classic Sonic because he’s only in about four stages, making him seem like an afterthought than an actual character in the story. The story never explains in-depth why he’s in modern Sonic’s world other than another time paradox is a float. The only plausible solution is it was made because of marketing and trying to pull in the classic fans once again.
Platforming is suppose to be the main entre in Forces, but it ends up only feeling like an appetizer. The level design is average, making the game seem like a generic platformer without an identity. One of the main reasons behind that is because of how short the stages are. Once the big moment is about to happen, Sonic is already past the finish line. It makes players wonder why the Sonic Team did it in the first place. Why not go further with the idea instead of scratching it into oblivion? The stages average out about 1:30 to 2 minutes each depending on the player's skill level. Few stages took more than 3 minutes to finish, mostly due to clunky design and bad controllers — especially the one water slide level.
Making matters worse, some elements of the avatar or modern stages pull from each other. It makes it seem like the creators copied and pasted elements from different stages and threw them together to seem new. Sonic Forces is only distinct in it’s mechanics with three playable characters having their own playing styles. The game should offer new level designs and platforming for each stage, not just a new character and try to pass it off as something different. It shows the game is ultimately an unfinished product.
There are a few stages in the final moments of the game that do achieve a sense of wonder and amazement. However, that only makes players wonder why they weren’t present in the first place.
Reused stage settings are an annoyance more than ever. It was nice to revisit classic stages in Sonic Generations, but going to Green Hill, Chemical Plant and Death Egg over and over again reinforces the lack of originality. Looking at games like Super Mario Odyssey, which is still bringing originality in its level settings even after 32 years, it’s disappointing to see other platformers can’t do the same.
The controls for the avatar in Sonic Forces are functional, but feel clunky for the most part. There’s logic-breaking moments when a jump should be made on a platform, but instead the avatar will keep on running, causing the avatar to fall to his death. Like the story, it breaks the game's immersion and progression.
The avatar also has weapons called...wait for it...wispons. Wisps have been used in past Sonic games starting with Sonic Colors on the Wii back in 2010. The wispons are a key factor in the replayability of stages because different wispons will allow the avatar to traverse to different parts of the stage. If the avatar has the rocket wisps, he or she will be able to boost up to a higher platform and see a completely new section that wouldn’t of been discovered otherwise. It's a key factor in collecting red medals, but there seems to be no real purpose of collecting them besides unlocking new articles of clothing for the avatar. It is nice though to see the stages having replayability in new ways other than just going on different platforms in the traditional sense.
The drift has been taken away from modern Sonic stages, which if the player has played previous modern Sonic games in the past, this will feel foreign in its design. There will be times when Sonic is blazing through a curved area and he’ll have to take a gradual turn in order to stay on the platform. In previous Sonic games, he would of been able to drift instead of slowing down or taking a sharp turn. Without the drift mechanic, the player has to slow down or either take a sharp turn. It might not be a problem for newcomers of the Sonic franchise, but for veterans, it’s a problem.
Boss fights feel tacked on and don’t provide any challenge when it comes to design or strategies. The rinse and repeat cycle is disappointing to see after the masterpiece that was Sonic Mania’s boss fights. For the fights the main repeated act is, run down a linear hall, boost to the enemy, and hit it three times. There’s no real challenge and it’s mindless to the end. Bringing back old foes from past Sonic games seemed like a good idea on the drawing board, but this was already done in Sonic Generations. Having those characters come back feels more like a headache instead of a nostalgia filled trip, especially when the significance of the fights from previous games don’t have the same impact now because they’ve been beaten countless times.
The visuals are one of the great improvements in Forces from past Sonic games. There are many vibrant colors in the different stages and locations Sonic visits. Each place has it’s own identity and no two worlds look the same. It’s a shame grander set pieces weren’t used to show the true potential of the visual landscapes. Open environments are shown, but never put to use. Tight corridors, or linear 2-D sections, don’t allow the 3-D nature of Forces to be truly explored. It leaves a mystery undone and not solved.
Sonic Forces is unpredictable in what it tries to set itself out to be. There are spare moments of excellence that provide true wonderment and fast paced action. Other times, the game slams to a sluggish speed either because of the lack of originality or buggy platforming sections. Sonic has seen better days, and perhaps more will come in his future instalments. For now, players should join forces and expect more from the blue blur.
Score: 3 / 5