Six years after the release of Sonic Generations (and just shortly after the 2D Sonic Mania), Sonic the Hedgehog is finally back on Xbox in a fully 3D game: Sonic Forces. Customizable characters are the big new feature, but how does the rest of this long-awaited sequel hold up?
Joining the freedom fighters
Sonic Forces takes place after Sonic Generations (as evidenced by Tails recognizing Classic Sonic), but Sega doesn't consider it a sequel to Generations. That's probably because Forces has an unusually dark story for the Sonic series. The game begins with Dr. Eggman having taken over Sonic's world. A seemingly unstoppable new ally called Infinite has even allowed Eggman to capture and imprison Sonic, leaving his friends high and dry.
Still, the remaining heroes (including side characters like the Knuckles Chaotix team) have continued to fight on in Sonic's absence. They've even taken on a new recruit, the player's avatar. While your avatar teams up with the main band of freedom fighters, Tails and Classic Sonic meet up and try to help from their end.
The dire state of the world (complete with lots of ruined stages), Eggman's genuine villainy and explicit desire to kill Sonic, and even references to Sonic enduring torture while in prison all make this the darkest Sonic game yet. Still, don't think it's all doom and gloom. Sonic still kicks plenty of badnik butts and expresses his admiration for chili dogs. This one is just more in line with the) Sonic SatAM) TV series) and Archie Comics than previous games.
Triple trouble: Three styles of stages
Whereas Sonic Generations featured two distinct types of stages, Forces ups the ante with three different level types. Each of these types also has several boss levels. The bosses are much better designed than those of Generations, by the way. With 39 stages in total (counting the free Episode Shadow levels), that's a lot of fast-paced gameplay for your buck.
3D Sonic stages
These feature Modern Sonic and play just like the 3D stages in Generations. While these are 3D, they often shift to a 2.5D perspective during portions of a level. Sonic attacks enemies by boosting on the ground and homing attacks in the air. Those homing attacks could benefit from better aiming. The boost move keeps you moving at super speeds, as long as you can kill enough enemies or collect items to keep your meter filled.
Sonic also gets an aerial stomp move that smashes through breakable floors and objects. Other than being able to fall off of ledges and rails too easily as always, these stages are fast-paced fun.
2D Sonic stages
The stubby and silent Classic Sonic plays through 2.5D Generations-style stages. Sonic can attack enemies by jumping, initiating a spin dash (the input involves rapidly jamming on the jump button, annoyingly), and performing an instant spin dash from the air. While I appreciate the simplicity of the 2D stages, there's no denying that the recently released Sonic Mania has vastly superior stage design and tighter gameplay.
3D Avatar stages
Play as your custom avatar in these 3D Sonic-esque stages, which also have 2.5D sections. Each avatar has a grappling hook with which to attack enemies and swing from objects, as well as a changeable weapon called a Wispon.
The avatar stages have been designed to accommodate the seven species-specific avatar abilities as well as seven different Wispon-related abilities. The end result is these aren't the best-paced stages in the game, made more so by the avatar's lack of a rush move. Completionists might resent having to replay stages with different Wispons equipped – it would be much more convenient if we could swap between the Wispon types mid-stage.
Avatar: the last ring-bender
Sonic Forces is the first 3D Sonic game to feature customizable animal characters. At the start, you'll create a single character who'll stick with you and level up over the course of the game. Completing the game will unlock additional avatar slots, at which point you can really go crazy with making your own characters.
The main choice in avatars is their species. Forces features seven different species to choose from, though notable side character races like echidna and bat are unavailable. Each species has a unique ability that affects gameplay, such as double jumping, longer invincibility after hits, and respawning with rings after dying. My first avatar is the official Windows Central wolf, Wincent.
Your avatar starts out naked and plain. But beating stages, S-ranking stages, and completing missions will soon unlock a vast assortment of clothing, accessories, and hair with which to decorate the character. Players who buy into the character creation will have a blast dressing up and tweaking their avatars between stages.
You can also rent other players' avatars upon starting a level, selecting from a random assortment of nine characters. They might be equipped with better Wispons than your own avatar, making the stage easier. It's a shame we can't view and rent our friends' avatars, because that would make the sharing feature even better.
I love a game with a good metagame/unlocking structure, and Forces has possibly the best in the series. After completing a few stages, you'll unlock access to missions, which add a ton of replay value. There are two basic types: daily and challenges.
Daily missions (such as equipping an avatar item or clearing a specific type of stage) reward you with an XP multiplier for 30 minutes. The brief timed nature of the bonus sort of moots its utility – I wish we could choose when to initiate the multiplier.
Challenges are far more robust, offering dozens of optional objectives like clearing stages within a certain time or with a certain type of Wispon equipped. Every time you complete a challenge, you'll unlock multiple avatar items, so they're a lot of fun to knock out.
Every few stages, an SOS signal will appear on a complete stage on the world map. These are one-chance only missions that usually require you to use a different avatar than your own. SOS missions, unfortunately, don't offer special rewards individually, but you'll complete a few challenge missions by clearing enough of them.
Xbox One X enhancements
Sonic Forces is a great-looking game on just about any hardware thanks to excellent art direction and abundant colors. But playing on the regular Xbox One, the game runs at only 720p (compared to the PlayStation 4 version's 1080p). You don't often see significant resolution differences between Xbox and PlayStation anymore, so that's a shame.
Thankfully, Forces is enhanced for Microsoft's latest hardware. When playing on Xbox One X, the game runs at either 1080p or ~1800p, according to Digital Foundry. Certainly, Forces could be further improved to take advantage of the extra horsepower, but it still looks and performs excellently on the Xbox One X in my experience.
Six years is a long time to wait for a proper sequel to Sonic Generations (we won't count the ill-advised Nintendo-exclusive games that came and went). Now Forces is here, and instead of nostalgia, it banks on the joy of customizing your own Sonic character and seeing him or her fight alongside Sonic himself. The famous weaknesses of the 3D Sonics are still present, but the sheer wealth and variety of stages and missions largely makes up for them in my eyes.
Sonic Mania is undoubtedly a tighter, more exceptional experience; Sega should really allow that team to design the levels for the next 3D release! But if you missed the 3D Sonic experience and can tolerate some bland level design and roughness, Forces is certainly a worthwhile follow-up to Generations – especially for the reduced asking price.
- Create your own custom Sonic character and deck it out with tons of clothing items!
- The mission structure adds lots of replay value.
- A genuinely memorable soundtrack, especially in the levels with lyrical songs.
- Regular Xbox One version runs at a relatively low 720p resolution.
- Level design is occasionally very plain, especially in the avatar levels.
- Players should be able to switch weapons on the fly during avatar levels in order to fully explore them in one go.
Sonic Forces costs $39.99 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Steam, and Nintendo Switch. If buying the physical game from Amazon, be sure to get the Bonus Edition (which includes a controller skin and DLC) while supplies last.
- See on the Xbox Store (opens in new tab)
- See Sonic Forces Standard Edition on Amazon (opens in new tab)
- See Sonic Forces Bonus Edition on Amazon (opens in new tab)
- See on Steam
Xbox One review copy provided by the publisher.