GC 2008: Sonic Unleashed Preview
Written Wednesday, September 17, 2008 By Dan WebbView author's profile
The Sonic franchise is a lot like the band Oasis in my eyes. You know, the obnoxious but supremely talented British indie band. Both almost peeked too early and have been dependent on their former glories for way too long. For Oasis, it was “Definitely Maybe” and “What’s the Story Morning Glory” which were classics in their own right and for our blue friend Sonic, it has been the 2D adventures from the 90’s. The Sonic team has almost tried to do much since and have unnecessarily over complicated the series. After their last horrendous outing on the 360, they are back and they claim to have gone back to its roots... Well kind of.
In the SEGA stand situated in the middle of the Business Centre at the Games Convention, group after group of journalists and like-minded press folk gathered around a HD TV to see whether Sonic was truly going to be a hit again and many, like myself, left not knowing what we’d just seen. Many reports circulated the internet before any concrete details were released and a lot were way off. Sonic Unleashed is NOT purely 2D classic gameplay action, hell, half of it is Sonic as we’ve never seen him before.
The game is split up in to two core sections. The one core gameplay section is the speedy, blue Sonic that we’ve all come to know, love and then loathe, who in the day time is faster than a speeding bullet... Oh wait, that’s superman, but anyway, he’s fast. This half of the game was made up of both 2D and 3D elements, from what I could tell of one of the opening levels, it was about 50-50. Then we have the second gameplay element which is entirely new to the series, namely Sonic the werehog who takes over for the night-times. This gameplay mechanic is Sonic as we’ve never seen him before and it takes the game from being more about speed to attempting to be a more traditional platformer.
The day time levels we got to see and get our hands on with were largely based around Europe going by the architecture in the level; Greece we’re told for the one, but we did also get to see one loosely based on China as well. Both environments were bright, vibrant and looked great, something that you’d truly expect from a Sonic title. The rings are back, but that was to be expected and fundamentally the gameplay is traditional Sonic; get from point A to point B as quick as possible. The game however offered you different paths at some points allowing you to take different routes and add to the replayability of the game.
The 2D aspects of the game felt truly great, you had to stop and pinch yourself at times it was that good. Even the 3D sections seemed totally revamped with the camera no longer being an issue. The focus on the 3D sections seemed to be, go fast as possible forward but move left and right slightly to avoid objects and take different paths. So it wasn’t overly complicated. Sure, you could stop and look around if you like, but with the speed being part of Sonic, I never had the impulse to stop once.
Day Sonic is blessed with a few new moves being the “quick step” and the “speed drift” and the main purpose of these is to allow you to change your line without moving the analogue stick too much. Ultimately, the point of the new moves is so you can move freely without having to sacrifice any speed.
Moving from day to night, Sonic makes a transition from this fast, agile hedgehog, to this brutish, powerful werehog. The physics of the game totally change here and it just didn’t feel like Sonic as you were thrown in to levels that you’d kind of expect to see in Banjo Kazooie. Night-time Sonic is compensated with strength instead of speed and can use his long arms to attack enemies, grab them, throw them and even use them to grab on to higher ledges. We were told the whole point of these sections was to give your eyes a rest and offer you more of a challenge on another level. The underlying aim of these sections was exploration... and fighting. It at least gives you a chance to absorb the detailed environments and soak up the gameplay but this isn’t Sonic surely?
I left the presentation and hands on session with mixed feelings. On the one hand, seeing the 2D gameplay in a 3D setting brought back so many memories of years gone by and playing it felt like Sonic was due to make a triumphant return. Even the 3D aspects of those levels were fun. Then on the other hand, we were presented with this new gameplay mechanic that we’d never seen before and just aren’t used to. It’s definitely a gamble adding this new aspect in to the Sonic franchise and we won’t truly know whether or not it helps or hinders the series until we get our hands on the final product at the end of the year.
Sonic Unleashed will be available in November for the Xbox 360, PS3, PS2 and Wii.