A few months back, at the same event that we previewed Sonic Mania, we also got a hands-off demonstration of Sonic Forces, the latest Sonic game previously only known as Sonic 2017. While we were there Sega's product manager Jim Dyer ran us through what the game is, and Sega's approach to the title and we came away with some answers, but also quite a few questions.
Dyer explained to us, firstly, that Sega is certainly aware of the Sonic series' reputation in recent years, especially in terms of 3D games, which haven't always hit the mark, and said that this new entry is really trying to deliver something different. While this was fervently assured to us by Dyer, in practice we didn't see it as a marked change from previous entries in the series. For example, the art style, while a bit darker than what we've seen in other games, still sees Sonic looking much the same as he always has done, so it didn't seem like a visual revamp. Although we were shown reflections in water, and ripple effects as we walked over puddles, an added layer of polish and visual detail that really impressed.
What we saw of the gameplay felt like pretty standard Sonic as well, a mixture of classic and newer ideas, as you're either positioned behind sonic with his back to the camera (as we've seen in previous 3D Sonic games) or side-on like the classic 2D platforms, the shift happening naturally in different sections of the level.
Many of Sonic's abilities from previous entries return as well, including the ability to press jump multiple times and hit enemies in mid air, bouncing off of them to get to higher places while rolled up in a ball. There are some new abilities as well, such as special attacks which can be used to devastating effect, as well as to reach new areas, and fans of the series will be pleased to see Wisps return as well, granting new powers to Sonic and his friends.
We didn't get a whole lot of story from the bit we were given, but from what we can tell (as evidenced by the initial trailer), Dr. Robotnik is destroying a city, and in this demo, Sonic had to navigate through the burning city and take down Robotnik's minions.
The centrepiece of the demo, however, was the new character creation feature, allowing you to create your own "Hero Character" to join Sonic and his friends on their adventure. This character will then appear in-game and in cutscenes and will use gadgets called Wispons. According to Sega these are an evolution of the Color Powers from Sonic Colors, and can be used in combat and for traversal. Also helping the little blue hedgehog's new friend about is a grappling hook.
Dyer showed us a number of customisation options, as well as different types of play-styles (some can be slower, with different attacks, and not all play like Sonic), but when pressed about details, such as whether there will be upgradable elements like you'd see in an RPG, he said that Sega wasn't willing to reveal anything about that. Either way, this adds a layer of customisation so far missing from Sonic, and the number of appearance options seems to be pretty impressive too. There are the seven base animal types that players will be able to use when creating their characters, with descriptions coming from Sega:
Wolf - Automatically draws in rings when near them
Rabbit - Has longer invincible time after receiving damage
Cat - Keeps one ring after being hit
Dog - Restarts with five rings after the player dies
Bear - Blows away enemies with a homing attack
Bird - Flies high with double jump abilities
Hedgehog - Collects rings when getting damaged
Overall, the demo we saw of Sonic Forces was very short, and while there wasn't anything mindblowing in there that made us think the series is being revamped in a major way, this also wasn't simply more of the same. Subtle tweaks in terms of visuals and gameplay had it looking polished, refreshed, and it'll be interesting to see how elements like the character customisation develop, and whether they'll add anything meaningful to the Sonic experience. It's also good to hear that Sega is well aware of the reception Sonic games have had in the past, but only time will tell if this means a big change in Sonic Forces.