|Series||Sonic the Hedgehog|
Sonic Forces[a] is a platform game developed by Sonic Team and published by Sega. Produced in commemoration of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise's twenty-fifth anniversary, it was released for Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in November 2017. The story sees Sonic the Hedgehog joining a resistance force to stop Doctor Eggman. It features three gameplay modes: "Classic", side-scrolling gameplay similar to the original Sega Genesis Sonic games; "Modern", 3D gameplay similar to Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colors; and a mode featuring the "Avatar", the player's custom character.
The game was primarily developed by staff who had worked on Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations, using an updated version of the Hedgehog Engine, used in Sonic Unleashed and Generations. Development began after the release of Sonic Lost World in 2013. The game was intended to have a darker tone compared to previous entries in the franchise, and the character creation system was inspired by Sonic fan art the developers had come across over the years. It was announced at the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con under the working title of Project Sonic 2017.
Sonic Forces received mixed reviews from critics. They praised its presentation, character creation system, and Modern Sonic gameplay, but criticized the level design and noted technical problems. Many critics felt that the game lacked ambition, and called it a disappointment in the wake of the positively received Sonic Mania, released earlier that year.
Sonic Forces is an action-adventure platform game similar in gameplay and style to prior Sonic the Hedgehog games. The player's goal is to defeat Doctor Eggman and his robot army. The game features three playable characters: two variants of Sonic the Hedgehog ("Classic" and "Modern"), and the "Avatar" (the player's custom character). Each has unique abilities and attributes: Classic Sonic is restricted to side-scrolling gameplay reminiscent of the Sega Genesis Sonic games and can perform a spin dash on the ground and a drop dash in mid-air to gain speed. Modern Sonic's gameplay follows a similar style to Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colors: he can double jump, perform a homing attack on enemies, springs, and grappling hooks, and a speed boost by collecting White Wisps. The Avatar is created from a base of seven animal types, which each possess a unique ability; they also wield a grappling hook and can equip weapons known as Wispons, including flamethrowers, whips, and hammers. Depending on the Wispon, Avatars can use temporary abilities by collecting a corresponding Wisp type. Certain parts see players controlling both Modern Sonic and the Avatar, switching between them as necessary, similar to Sonic Heroes.
The game is split into several themed levels, some of which are based on locations from past games, such as Green Hill Zone. Players must complete each level while fighting waves of enemies, and (with the exception of Classic Sonic) seamlessly shift from side-scrolling to third-person perspectives. Stages are filled with features such as spring boards, rails, and boost pads, and obstacles such as spikes, bottomless pits, and robots. Scattered around levels are golden rings, which serve as a form of health: rings protect players from damage caused by robots or other hazards, though they lose their rings upon being hit; being hit with no rings kills the player. The game does not use a traditional life system, instead deducting from the player's score depending on the number of deaths. Players are given a grade dependent on their performance; an "S" rank is the best and a "C" is the worst. Certain levels feature a boss, which must be defeated in order to proceed. Bonus levels can be unlocked by collecting Red Rings hidden in most stages and players may occasionally receive SOS Missions, tasking them with replaying levels with a specific objective.
Doctor Eggman attacks a city, and Sonic sets out to stop him. However, upon arriving, he is attacked by Infinite, a mercenary transformed by the power of the Phantom Ruby from Sonic Mania. Infinite defeats Sonic, and he is taken prisoner aboard the Death Egg. Without Sonic, the land is left without a defender, and Eggman, with the help of his robots, Infinite, Shadow the Hedgehog, Chaos, Zavok, and Metal Sonic, manages to conquer the world within six months. Knuckles the Echidna forms a resistance force with Tails, the Chaotix, Amy Rose, Silver the Hedgehog, Rouge the Bat and a survivor of Eggman's attack whom they nickname the Rookie. Knuckles discovers Sonic's whereabouts, and the Rookie steals a space shuttle, breaks into the Death Egg, and rescues Sonic. Back in the city, Tails is attacked by Chaos, but is saved by Classic Sonic (also from Sonic Mania). The two set out to spy on Eggman, learning of the Phantom Ruby and that Eggman has a plan to completely destroy the Resistance which will take effect in three days.
Meanwhile, Sonic encounters Shadow, who reveals that the Shadow following Eggman is a fake virtual reality copy created by Infinite, as are the other villains serving him. Tails infiltrates Eggman's computer network and finds the Phantom Ruby's weakness: it is directly powered by the Death Egg's core, and without a power source it is useless. While the Rookie stages a diversion, Sonic and Classic Sonic destroy the Death Egg. Believing they have the upper hand, the Resistance attacks Eggman's capital Metropolis. However, Eggman has a hidden backup power source under Metropolis, and he makes Infinite create a massive sun over the planet so that it will crash down and destroy the entire Resistance. Thinking fast, the Rookie uses a prototype Phantom Ruby they had recovered to dispel the virtual sun, saving everybody. Sonic and the Rookie then battle Infinite and defeat him. Eggman unveils yet another backup plan, moving the Phantom Ruby into one of his Death Egg Robots and fighting Sonic and his friends directly. Working together, Sonic, Classic Sonic, and the Rookie destroy Eggman's robot and defeat him. With the Phantom Ruby neutralized, all the copies serving Eggman's army vanish, Classic Sonic returns home, the Resistance disbands, and Sonic and his friends set out to rebuild the world while the Rookie leaves to find his own way.
Development and release
Development of Sonic Forces began shortly after Sonic Lost World was completed in 2013 under the codename Project Sonic 2017, and was developed alongside Sonic Mania. It was developed by Sonic Team; the majority of the staff had previously developed Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations (which followed a similar premise). The game was directed by Morio Kishimoto, who previously directed the Wii version of Sonic Colors and the Wii U version of Sonic Lost World. The game was produced in commemoration of the series' twenty-fifth anniversary, and the title was chosen to signify its themes of power, teamwork, and armies.
The game was intended to give a darker perspective to the world of Sonic, in contrast to the fantasy-based themes of previous entries, and expand upon the modern-style gameplay from Unleashed and Colors. To create this, the developers designed levels to seem desolate and more realistic. In programming the game, the development team used the Hedgehog Engine 2, an updated version of the game engine used in Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Generations. The gameplay was mostly modeled off Unleashed's, with elements from Colors and Generations. With the updated software, the first locations designed were the urban levels, which served as a reference for other stages. Sonic Team sought to make the levels unique and contrasting, and various level ideas were suggested during development; one example was a prison in Green Hill. At one point in development, the series' traditional ring-based health system was abandoned to balance the game's difficulty, and for designing the Classic levels, the team looked to Generations and Mania as a reference.
Sonic Team head Takashi Iizuka explained that for years, he had seen many fan-made characters and wanted to give players the opportunity to play as their own. The team was given freedom to create the animal and customization mechanics. According to producer Shun Nakamura, the system was intended to modify existing characters rather than use the complex mechanics of series such as Fallout, so the characters would still feel like a part of the Sonic universe. While Sonic Forces began development years before Sonic Mania, the latter's production affected Forces; the games have a connected plot, and Mania was envisioned to excite fans for Forces.
Recurring series writers Ken Pontac and Warren Graff contributed to the English script. The soundtrack was primarily composed by series sound director Tomoya Ohtani, with additional music from Naofumi Hataya, Kenichi Tokoi, and Takahito Eguchi. The theme song, "Fist Bump", was written by Ohtani and features lyrics written and performed by Doug Robb of the American rock band Hoobastank. Ohtani also wrote Infinite's theme, which was performed by Tyler Smyth and Andy Bane of the band DangerKids. Arrangements of tracks from Sonic CD, Sonic Adventure 2, and Shadow the Hedgehog were also used. A three-disc official soundtrack, Sonic Forces Original Soundtrack - A Hero Will Rise, was released in Japan by Sega's music label Wave Master on December 13, 2017.
Sonic Forces was announced alongside Sonic Mania under its codename during a twenty-fifth series anniversary event held by Sega at the San Diego Comic-Con on July 22, 2016. The presence of both Classic and Modern Sonic in the initial teaser trailer led some journalists to believe it was a sequel to Sonic Generations, but Iizuka clarified that it was a separate game. The game was released worldwide on Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in November 2017. Prior to the game's launch, Sega released a four-part prequel comic written and drawn by Ian Flynn and Adam Bryce Thomas, who previously worked on Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog series. A bonus edition was also released containing controller skins and downloadable clothing items for the Avatar based on other Sega games, such as Jet Set Radio, Puyo Puyo, and Persona 5. A tie-in racing game for iOS and Android devices, Sonic Forces: Speed Battle, was released in select regions in September 2017. After the game's release, several updates featuring new content were released, such as an in-game shirt for the Avatar featuring "Sanic", an internet meme of a poorly drawn Sonic, and the ability to transform into Super Sonic. The Super Sonic DLC was released for free, but was initially planned as paid DLC.
Episode Shadow is free downloadable content (DLC) for Sonic Forces that launched alongside the game. The story acts as a prequel, focuses on Shadow the Hedgehog and his friends Rouge the Bat and E-123 Omega, and also explores the origins of Infinite. Players control Shadow, who handles similarly to Modern Sonic but has unique abilities such as the ability to perform a chain of homing attacks in rapid succession. The pack adds three original levels to the game, and the ability to play as Shadow in most of Modern Sonic's stages. According to Nakamura, Sonic Team created Episode Shadow to appeal to fans of older games in the series, such as Sonic Adventure (1998). It was the first time that Shadow was a playable character in a mainline Sonic game for several years, with some critics writing that it was much more difficult than the main game.
Sonic Forces received "mixed or average" reviews, according to review aggregator Metacritic. In the United Kingdom, the game debuted in fifth place on their all-formats chart. Sega stated in a financial report in February 2018 that the game "performed strongly".
Writing for Polygon, Jeremy Parish praised the game's visuals and character customization, but criticized its repetitive boss fights and argued the game did not advance the series' design. Parish disliked the ranking system, which rewards players for completing stages quickly rather than exploring them for collectibles, and dismissed the tag team sections as "under-developed" because players would prefer to use Modern Sonic whenever the Avatar was not required. The four reviewers of Famitsu were more positive, praising the character creation system, story, and soundtrack. Heidi Kemps, reviewing Forces for IGN, faulted elements of the game's level design, indicating that "unfair-feeling traps" recurred intermittently and that the levels were relatively short and underdeveloped. In contrast to Parish, Kemps enjoyed the "quite strong" bosses, particularly one fought "among the winding coils of a giant snake," although she wished they were more plentiful. Kemps cited the game's "goofy charm" as preventing her from being "too disappointed" by it.
Kotaku's Heather Alexandra wrote that Modern Sonic's gameplay was "visually dynamic" and "the most fun", but heavily automated and shallow, whereas Classic Sonic delivered a solid but unremarkable platforming experience that compared unfavorably to the more inventive Sonic Mania. Alexandra panned the Avatar stages as "disjointed and confused" due to a lack of flow and an excessive reliance on trial and error. Overall, she described Forces as fun despite a lack of polish and complimented its "infectious energy and excitement". Game Informer's Brian Shea similarly regarded the game as a "fun adventure" and considered its controls and level design to be the best of any 3D Sonic entry, but concluded: "3D Sonic games still aren't to where they should be after such a long time of iteration and experimentation". Shea called Classic Sonic the worst of the three playable characters due to poor physics that failed to emulate those of the original 2D Sonic games. Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw of The Escapist panned it for not exploring the potential of its ideas and lambasted the story for its attempt at a more mature tone. He later ranked it the second worst game of 2017. Several critics considered Sonic Forces a disappointment in the wake of the positively received Mania.
John Linneman of Eurogamer found that Forces was well-optimized for PlayStation 4, with no noticeable improvement when played on a PlayStation 4 Pro, whereas the Xbox One version was "slightly more responsive" but marred by screen tearing and inferior resolution. He felt that playing on Xbox One X provided the best overall experience, albeit with some "unwelcome inconsistency" caused by occasional changes in resolution, but that the Switch version had worse technical performance than Sonic Lost World (2013) on Wii U, which featured graphics of similar quality running at twice the framerate. The Windows version received criticism for problems related to its uneven performance and frequent crashes; Sega released a patch on launch day that fixed some of the problems.
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