"Sonic Forces" is the video game equivalent of a flashy, vapid action movie: a lot of style with very little substance.
Over a surprisingly short run time, players will guide Sonic and friends to victory against Doctor Eggman and his newest attack dog: a mask-wearing, reality-warping Jackal named Infinite. Fans of Sonic the Hedgehog may find a lot to love among the basic level designs and goofy characters, but anyone else interested in the title may want to wait for a sale.
Sega has always had a checkered track record when it comes to its 3-D action titles, and "Sonic Forces" is no different. Even after 2013’s excellent "Sonic Generations," Sonic Team seems to have fallen back on short, lazy level design and a bonkers story involving Sonic’s capture that tends to make very little sense. Even well-designed stages tend to run short and can be completed within a matter of minutes.
This short-level design results in a frustratingly brief story that fails to capitalize on the initial introduction of a few of Sonic’s greatest rivals. Some of them, like Chaos from "Sonic Adventure," totally disappear from the conflict, feeling like a missed opportunity. Even free DLC that makes Shadow the Hedgehog playable provides little goodwill to make up for the game's pitfalls. Despite these critical flaws, the game still manages to compensate for its brevity with excellent characters and a bold new addition to the series: player-created avatars.
Sonic and friends have always been beloved by fans of the series, and the gang’s role in "Forces" is no exception. Each character, especially Knuckles the Echidna and Sonic, is wonderfully voiced and characterized. Each of Sonic's friends is given a chance to shine, and they pop off the screen with their colorful appearances. The villains are handled well, despite their short screen time being confined to a few impressive boss fights. Stages involving rival enemies like Metal Sonic and Infinite showcase the game’s most impressive level designs, which are missed in the moment-to-moment stages.
While most stages adhere to a drab color palette, worlds like the traditional Green Hill Zone and a jungle casino brighten up the proceedings and offer a ton of little details for players to pick out of the backgrounds. Over the game’s 30-plus stages, players will take control of Modern Sonic, Classic Sonic (fresh off his appearance in the wonderful "Sonic Mania") and a player-created avatar character.
Modern Sonic’s stages operate a bit like a roller coaster and challenge players to speed-boost their way through dozens of enemies. Classic Sonic races through stages reminiscent of his classic adventures and moves at a slower pace. Both Sonics are responsive and handle well, but the differences in their momentum take some getting used to. The majority of the game’s stages are tackled by a custom hero avatar, which highlights some of the best and worst of "Sonic Forces."
For years, Sonic the Hedgehog fans have crafted their own Blue Blur-inspired personas (Just search your name, followed by “the Hedgehog,” for an example), and Sega leaned heavily into this concept for "Sonic Forces." At the beginning of the game, players are able to create their own characters based on several animal templates, such as a wolf, cat, hedgehog or even a bear. By completing stages and various missions, clothing and customization objects can be unlocked to further improve your character, who plays a central role in the fight against Eggman and Infinite.
The hero avatar differentiates itself through the use of various weapons, which can provide special abilities in stages. Deciding when to use which gadget can be confusing, but it also provides opportunities to experiment with different paths through the stages. While it’s entertaining to create your own legacy in a Sonic game, it’s almost a shame Sega couldn’t drop the character creator in return for longer Sonic stages and a more detailed story.
There’s a lot to like about "Sonic Forces." When the game focuses on its colorful characters and occasionally impressive level design, it shines. However, a short run time and occasional bad level design weigh Sonic down like a sack of bricks. Sonic fans will likely be entertained thanks to the excellent voice acting, detailed environments and a low price point ("Sonic Forces" is available at a merciful $39.99), but newcomers to the series and those looking for a little more depth and speed will likely feel a little disappointed.
Game: Sonic Forces
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
ESRB Rating: E10+ for fantasy violence