SEGA has been frustratingly quiet about Sonic Forces since they revealed it as Sonic Project 2017 last year. It’s only been in the lead up to E3 that the game’s identity has begun to take shape publicly. While the game features shades of Sonic Generations, to call it an outright sequel (or rehash) isn’t quite right. The Forces demo is both familiar and new, if not also a little awkward.
The modern Sonic game play is essentially just a polished form of what we’ve been getting since Sonic Unleashed. Visuals aside, this game would be right at home in Sonic Generations, and there is zero learning curve for anyone who’s already played that game. The same can also be said for classic Sonic’s boss battle, which starts out as a new (if not exactly inventive) take on Eggman’s swinging ball weapon, replacing the ball with a buzz saw that cuts through platforms.
After that (easy) fight, Eggman hops into his Egg Dragoon, which first appeared in Sonic Unleashed, and starts attacking from the background. He fires a giant chain gun and chucks rocks and metallic boulders, the latter of which can be hit back to damage him. This part takes longer and is more entertaining, though the boss fight on the whole is fairly easy. The first two parts of the demo are as fun and polished as Sonic has ever been, but they do nothing outstanding or new design-wise. If all you want is more Generations (like me) than you’ll be satisfied with what’s on display for these modes in the demo.
So that’s what’s familiar, but what about the new stuff? Well, the visuals of Forces are a nice upgrade from past Sonic games. While some have complained that the new Green Hill stage looks barren compared Generations, this game looks better than any past Sonic game at an objective, technical level. The demo runs at a near silky smooth 60 frames per second, the first non-PC Sonic game to do so (Dreamcast HD ports notwithstanding). Individual blades of grass in Green Hill now move back and forth individually. In terms of pure polygons, this game is clearly pushing way more than any past Sonic game. These are the highest fidelity Sonic models I’ve ever seen.
That said, as with any E3 demo, the visuals aren’t 100 percent polished. At the end of the avatar stage, during a chase scene, the frame rate does get a little janky. But given that E3 demos typically boast notable technical issues due to their incomplete state of development, what I saw in the demo bodes well for the visuals in the final product. And speaking of the avatar stage, this brings me to what will surely be the most controversial part of this game.
I have felt uneasy about the player-made hero character since it was unveiled. While my time with the character does allay those fears somewhat, I do still have some concerns.
First, the positives: the “wispons”, wisp fuelled weapons that can be used for both attacking and traversal, fit surprisingly well with the flow of game play. During my playthrough, I used what was effectively a lightning whip. It let my character lightspeed dash across trails of rings, reverse the direction of my jump in mid-air, briefly boost forward, and attack and destroy horizontal rows of enemies. Overall, the wispon actually positively benefited the flow of play, and didn’t feel nearly as awkward as it looked.
On the negative side, there’s a learning curve to controlling the character. The character cannot roll, jump dash, or perform any of Sonic’s other moves. The way the character jumps feels different, and potentially awkward. I was missing a lot of jumps in my initial play through as a result, but whether this was because I was used to Sonic’s jumping mechanics and need to simply get used to the custom-hero character, or if the character’s controls simply aren’t very good, I can’t say without spending more time with the game.
Sonic Forces doesn’t look like it’ll be a groundbreaking title, but it ought to be a very fun one. While the hero character is a potential chink in the armor, it doesn’t look like the disaster I thought it might be either.
There will be additional game play impressions later this week, as well as a more in-depth impression of how the hero character plays.