Monday, January 19, 2009
Several months ago, there were rumors of an incredible Sonic game being developed. It would be mostly 2-D, and it would return to the series roots of fast-paced platforming. Soon after these rumors, a trailer was leaked that showed gameplay that seemingly validated the gossip. Sonic fans from the Genesis days were overjoyed by the footage, as it looked like the first true Sonic game since Sonic & Knuckles. After years and years of horrible 3-D adventures and spinoff games, it looked like Sega finally remembered what made Sonic great. Unfortunately, doubt set in before gamers could get too excited. The second that pictures of "Sonic the Werehog" were released, you could hear a collective "uh-oh" from all of those fans of the series. We all worried that the game would lean heavily on underdeveloped "werehog" segments (rather than focus on fast-paced 2D platforming), and our fears are fully realized with the release of Sonic Unleashed.
Sega seems hell-bent on turning the Sonic franchise into something it's not. The series is famous because of the Genesis games, and every game in the series released since then has seemed to forget the formula made famous by those classics. While Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast had some fun moments, there was plenty of evidence of ADD on the development side of things. You played as tons of different characters, and there was a lot of walking around hub worlds and talking to people. In short, some of it felt like a Sonic game while a lot of it really didn't. Most every title since then has featured more of the latter.
Sonic Unleashed is an entirely frustrating experience for any fan of the series. For every moment that makes you go "this feels like a Sonic game", there are 20 that will disappoint you. You'll have to walk around hub worlds, talk to tons of NPCs, and spend most of your time as the werehog (the worst offender of all). Stages are broken into day and night versions. Sonic blazes through the day stages in ways reminiscent of the old games - you'll bounce off springs, fly through the air, run through loops, and collect hundreds of rings. They can be fun at times, but they're almost all short-lived. The werehog levels, on the other hand, are slow-paced, repetitive, and combat-heavy. In short, it feels nothing like a Sonic game.
The werehog levels are like a plodding, awful God of War clone. The control scheme is almost identical, but you'll find none of the visceral thrills of Sony's series here. Rather, the game just throws generic enemy after generic enemy at you as you mash the attack buttons. You can level up your abilities and moves at the end of levels, but the combat is never satisfying. Quicktime events do little to spice up the gameplay, and some even pop up in the hedgehog levels. They're confusing at times - why do I have to press RB, X, Y in the middle of a jump?
I can't fathom why Sega insists on destroying a once-great franchise. No other series in the last two decades of gaming has seen such a drastic drop in quality as the Sonic series, and it's about time that Sega sees what made the Genesis games great and try to recreate that feeling. Sonic Unleashed seemed like a good idea when that first gameplay trailer leaked, but it all went to hell once they decided to focus more on generic combat than fast-paced platforming.
First Play: 6.0
Replay Value: 5.0