The release of Sonic Mania heralded a change in the timeline of Sonic titles. The gaming world was treated to a sublime slice of Sonic nostalgia that managed to capitalise on the series’ greatest strengths, whilst modernising it enough to bring it in line with current platformers. With this in mind, it’s fair to say that Sonic Forces has a some big shoes to fill, and unfortunately, Sonic’s wee feet are several sizes too small for those big white and red trainers.
I’m not sure what that shoe analogy was about, but what I’m basically trying to say is that Sonic Forces is not very good. I gingerly approached the stand for the title at EGX, half-expecting to find myself disappointed, and after 5-10 minutes with it - on top of subsequent revisits - my fears were pretty much confirmed.
The first thing that struck me is just how poorly Sonic controls. Where Sonic was reactive, crisp and quick in Mania, Forces feels sluggish and downright unresponsive in comparison. This is important because the biggest selling point in any Sonic game is the feeling of speed and fluidity, two things that help distinguish Sonic from his portly competitor, Mario. Sonic games that have lacked those qualities in the past have often had the worst reception.
Switching between 2D and 3D sections makes a return in Forces, a feature that works well provided it is designed properly. Unfortunately, it’s not implemented well in Sonic Forces at all. There's no difference in how Sonic controls between them, which is disappointing when you consider how different the two types of level are. The level design itself is lacklustre as well; where Sonic Mania encouraged exploration, Forces feels cluttered. There isn't the same sense of speed and flow - a hallmark of the Sonic series.
I found building up speed to be problematic as the game actively worked against me. Whenever I hit an enemy, whether it be an air dash or a sliding tackle, Sonic would instantly grind to a halt and the process of gaining speed would start again. This more methodical approach to defeating enemies feels incredibly out of place in a game that's constantly encouraging players to run.
Custom characters are making their first appearance in Sonic Forces. Labelled ‘Avatars’ in game, the character builder used to create them offered little customisation, although this was only the EGX build so it may be more expansive in the full release. The ability to change your Avatar’s chosen ability was a nice touch, even if it doesn’t affect overall game play that much. Unfortunately, the poor character control overshadowed the feature. Much like Sonic, the Avatar characters aren’t fun to play due to their sluggish controls.
Sonic Forces looks visually similar to Sonic Boom, a cartoonish visual affair more akin to something airing on a children's TV channel than anything else. The game runs well enough though, maintaining a solid frame rate even as the screen fills with enemies and objects.
Audibly, Sonic Forces is less impressive; mediocre voice acting accompanied by a phoned-in soundtrack result in an experience that falls far short of ‘supersonic’. I don’t doubt for a second that there are people out there that love a cheesy soundtrack, and terrible voice acting, but I honestly think Sonic doesn’t need either of them. It’s something that shows Sonic Team’s lack of care when it comes to Sonic projects.
Based on what I played at EGX, Sonic Forces will likely be received as just another mediocre to poor Sonic game that had potential. I think the criticism levelled at the title might be harsher than normal, considering Forces release proximity to Mania. I could be wrong and Forces may release to critical reception and fanfare, at this point though, that’s unlikely.