Sonic Unleashed Review
Written : Thursday, December 04, 2008
By: Dan Webb (GT: Webb x360a)
Team Sonic - it’s actually Sonic Team but it doesn’t quite have the same flow - will be the first to admit that they’ve really struggled with the transition from classic 2D to 3D to keep their beloved blue hedgehog up with the times. Their last outing on the 360 was pretty disastrous and they’ll be the first to put their hands up to that; in fact, they did. Here we are though with a fairly clean slate and the promise of some old skool 2D Sonic action thrown in for good measure. Are we naïve in thinking that Sonic can again be up there with Mario or is it a real possibility?
Sonic at his best this century!
Sonic Unleashed (what’s the deal with everything being Unleashed this year?) is only the second next generation Sonic title on the Xbox 360 and again, Doctor Robotnik, or Dr Eggman as they like to call him, is up to his same own tricks. This time, he has formulated a crazy invention that has split the earth into pieces as he hopes to harness the world’s Gaia, so he can turn it in to Eggman Land. Typical Sonic the Hedgehog stuff really; so it’s up to Sonic and friends to restore the continents to their original place and rid the world of Eggman ... again. While it’s not the most engaging plot, the storyline is fairly entertaining and credit to Team Sonic as the FMVs are as impressive as a Pixar movie.
In fact, it’s hard to knock any part of the visual aspect of the game with the diverse environments and bright colours which are sure to be a hit amongst fans. Other than the impressive FMVs though, the game won’t really dazzle you, which is the same with the audio aspect. The whole soundtrack is quirky with stereotypical, playful tunes to accompany the respective environments which fits perfectly with the Sonic attitude. The voice acting of Sonic and friends is typical Sonic and as usual won’t astound you in any way, shape or form.
Let us start off by pointing out that this isn’t just your stereotypical Sonic game; for some reason – we’ll call it insanity for now – Sonic now has a platforming element to it in the form of Sonic the Werehog who has stretchy arms ... No seriously, April is a long way off. In some bizarre twist at the beginning of the game, Sonic gets zapped and when the sun sets, Sonic’s alter ego comes out to play so now you have two ends of the scale to contend with; speed & agility and patience & brawn.
Sonic at his worst this century!
The 2D and 3D speed sections of Sonic, certainly are the title’s shining light with them in some ways recapturing the old form that our little blue friend once had. They’re not perfect though and the controls at times seem a bit finicky but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. The action is fast, intense but sometimes you get the feeling that you’re just on auto-pilot, taking a backseat while your momentum does the hard work. The camera isn’t far enough back either in some instances meaning that sometimes on the 2D sections it’ll be physically impossible to react to an upcoming danger.
The whole speed stage aspect does have its level design issues and whilst the transition between 2D and 3D on the whole is seamless; suddenly dropping a slow jump stage in to the mix ultimately means that you’ll almost certainly be sacrificing one of those lives. I must say, it’s weird having these slow paced jump sections in the speed levels when Team Sonic opted to have a platforming aspect as well; they unnecessarily break up the gameplay when it truly isn’t warranted. All in all though, I suppose the biggest problem with the speed stages, is that they have to end to make way for the platforming stages. *sigh*
The platforming aspect of Sonic Unleashed is a slow, agonising and painstaking affair and is such a come down after the thrills of the speed levels. It wouldn’t be so bad if the platforming sections were impressive either but they’re not. You’ll spend your time fighting the same old enemies with the same old button mashing combos, or performing frustrating jumps and such where the camera doesn’t want to play ball. It truly lacks some sort of fluidity and instead challenges you with mundane puzzles rather than the high octane action we’re used to ... It’s just not Sonic. This new platforming aspect is meant to make up about 50% of the game, but truth be told, the fact that you spend 30 minutes on one platforming level, to 5 minutes on a speed level, means that isn’t the case ... It’s more like 70-20 with the other 10 spent searching the village world.
The village aspect of Sonic has you talking to villagers and maybe doing the odd side quest which consists of ghoul bashing side missions, quizzes or errand missions. This is Sonic the Hedgehog who is the fastest thing on the planet; since when did the franchise want to become Animal Crossing? They even have those annoying read-the-conversations-then press-X elements ... Why aren’t these banned from gaming already? Both this and the platforming aspect shows clear intentions of the Sonic Team trying to appeal to another audience but who that audience is, we’re yet to comprehend.
Sonic even has an RPG aspect this year with you earning experience and spending it to upgrade Sonic’s skills where you see fit. When you’re not upgrading Sonic, you’ll spend time back tracking over previously tread levels to pick up Sun & Moon medals to open up the newer aspects of the world to progress which is hugely frustrating and a really downer on the whole experience. It seems to me that Team Sonic didn’t know what to do from the outset so they took aspects from every genre on the planet and threw them in to the blender.
Go, go, gadget arms.
The achievements are pretty bad as well, and simply requiring you to collect 200 medals – some of which are in tricky places on the speed stages – is frankly unforgiveable. It seems like every week I bring this issue up ... Are developers just getting lazy? Who knows? I do know though that if you do want 1000 out of this game; 50 hours is by no means an over the top suggestion because you’ll be collecting 200 medals, 40+ souvenirs, performing time trials and collecting hotdogs as well as eating one of every food item in the game. Possibly the worst list I’ve seen this year ... Too much collecting, not enough imagination.
The game does offer plenty of gameplay making it good value for money in some respects but chances are, you won’t be able to stomach it past 15 hours ... I truly couldn’t. It really is hard to put your finger on how good a game Sonic really is; one could liken it to, throwing a bucket of paint over the Mona Lisa. On the face of it, it’s just one hell of a mess but underneath it all, through the gaps, you can see the tiny glimpses of magic. Sonic Unleashed is a step in the right direction but it’s a marathon off being classed as a good game. We can’t help but think that the sooner the dev team realise that the classic 2D action is part of the franchise’s heritage, the better. Until then we’ll see a lot more games try and fail like this one.
The game is blessed (or should that read cursed) with quirky tunes to suitably accompany each environment. The voice acting is particularly grind-your-teeth worthy but it is Sonic after all and he's never been blessed with that much character and charisma.
The environments are colourful, playful and of typical Sonic standards but nothing really "wows" you ... except the FMVs of course which are pretty impressive.
Two ends of the spectrum here; at the one end you have a free flowing speedy Sonic that almost encapsulates the trademark tone of the Sonic series, but at the other end you have a slow paced, monotonous platformer that doesn't control as fluently as its other half.
Too much talking, too many slow paced moments, too much randomness and not enough Sonic.
Collect this, collect that; complete these time trials, max out all your stats; blah blah. The list is by far one of the worst lists of the year showing very little imagination and originality.
It's such a shame that the Sonic series has fallen by the wayside the past few years and whilst it's definitely an improvement over the 360's first taste of Sonic; it's still not right. If you can stomach the layers of non-Sonic-esque hogwash, you'll experience some of Sonic's best moments this decade. Until the Sonic Team realise what the Sonic fans want which is fast speeds with high octane action, then this franchise could almost be dead in the water.