I would rate myself as quite a mellow, mild mannered person, which in gaming terms means I usually take things in my stride. I’m a firm believer of learning to get better if I can’t accomplish the tasks games provide for me, and so I would say that patience is perhaps one of my better qualities. I guess in many games it’s a necessity, although sometimes this resolve is not only teased, but dragged away into the bushes and given a hardcore beating. Figuratively speaking, I’ve been to Hell and back, aged 10 years, lost most of my hair, and have been bitch slapped, told I was useless at gaming thus almost destroying several innocent inanimate objects in the process of playing this game. Perhaps I should seek guidance from the medical profession, or better yet, avoid playing Sonic Unleashed.
Having endured the rather lacklustre Sonic the Hedgehog on Xbox 360, I felt I was ready for anything, another Sonic game perhaps? Eager and a little indifferent towards a Sonic game that should have been an improvement on the first game for the Xbox 360. However, having destroyed the last boss of Sonic Unleashed and now retuned to a calm, cohesive, relaxed state of mind; I ponder my eventful journey with a poignant and somewhat self proclaimed sense of accomplishment. There’s certainly some truth in the game’s title, but be warned, if you’re of a fiery disposition then there’s probably more than Sonic that will be unleashed here.
Sonic is back, and once again Dr Eggman is up to no good as he plans to harness the power of the Dark Gaia which resides dormant beneath the Earth’s crust. Naturally, Sonic is there to throw the proverbial spanners in the works, but this time events pan out unexpected. There’s certainly an abundance of diversionary content contained within the game, and perhaps this diversion from what is expected, will rain down on Sonic fans like oversized hailstones – causing bruises, cuts and headaches to gamer expectation, primarily those weaned on the Sega Genesis or Megadrive versions. The way I envision gamer response is that Sonic Unleashed will drive a hard wedge between those who commend Sonic Team for bringing a new and improved game into the fore, and those who will hold the developers in utter contempt for producing a title that shifts far to readily into territory that they feel has no place in a Sonic game.
Let’s get to the point, there are two sides to Sonic Unleashed and in many regards I feel the developers have been quite clever in how they have incorporated the two elements. During the game’s opening Sonic is caught in the mayhem caused by the maniacal Dr.Eggman and exposed to some sort of power, is then transformed into a werewolf type being (the game uses the term werehog to suit the fact that Sonic is a hedgehog rather than some growling canine). It’s as if his balls have dropped, as his voice lowers in tone, claws appear, sharp teeth protrude and masses of greyish hair become fixtures to the Sonic we’re all used to seeing. For anyone familiar with werewolves this is typical appearance, although to be fair, Sonic still retains a resemblance of his physical characteristics. His loyal sense of duty to be the “good” guy and the desire to put an end to Dr Eggman’s schemes also remain. The look is positively less cute and more shadowy which adds a distinct contrast to the regular Sonic character.
The game offers a night and day scenario where naturally by night the bulky Werehog comes into play, and by day the cute and speedy Sonic is utilized. This lends itself to differing gameplay styles because whilst daytime Sonic is fast and furious, Werehog is slow, cumbersome, yet powerful, also being granted the ability to smash and claw his way through enemies in hand to hand style combat. The player is able to change the time of day at any time on a world map screen, and can also change the time when visiting the various regions of the world. For the most part you’re not able to change at will during missions, unless you use a predetermined point where you can do so. The game structure offers an area filled with local inhabitants based on various races of the real world. It’s here where you’ll be able to interact with the citizens and gain a little more insight into the regions. You’ll also be able to undertake various side quests and activities by talking to the people here – a gameplay mechanic we saw in the last Sonic game. Each region then has a gate area where you can choose which missions to tackle, with more being unlocked as you find hidden Sun and Moon medallions scattered around the levels. The gate areas offer some minor platforming elements which compliment the styles of Sonic and Werehog.
Looking at the Sonic missions, you’ll be treated to 3D versions of typical Sonic gameplay, as you race through the levels at break neck speed. You’ll be jumping, boosting, bashing enemies, avoiding traps, sliding on rails and collecting those infamous golden rings. The game switches perspective quite often in an attempt to remind you that it is fully three dimensional rather than a mere illusion. So although there’s a lot of restriction, during the more racy moments, you’ll find the game suddenly switches and offers a little more freedom of movement beyond the 2D plane. For me, this was somewhat annoying at times, due to breaking up the fine representation of speed on offer but does provide a more traditional platforming element to mix things up.
The Sonic missions adopt a rather aggravating trial and error approach. This means be prepared to reach so far into a mission, get killed and restart the last checkpoint with the knowledge of what lies ahead – thus enabling you to make the correct input. Early on in the game this doesn’t pose too much of a problem, however as you progress there are some rather fiendish moments that can and will probably make your blood reach boiling point, I know mine certainly did. There’s little room for error, in fact it’s often so tight you couldn’t squeeze a needle through. It’s formulaic and utterly testing of character as you die the umpteenth time trying to perfect one jump after the next. However, it’s not all doom and gloom because for the most part you should be able to breeze through the earlier levels quite comfortably. This raises a good point, because early on in the game your impressions could be considered clouded as Sonic mission are actually a veritable feast of the most intense type of fun you can have. Later on, the food begins to turn sour and resentment begins to set in as you’re constantly punished and told by the game that “you suck” (another meaning behind the over familiarization of the Game Over screen).
In regards to the above, you’d think that the Werehog missions offer a reprieve from the battering your gaming prowess suffers, and for the most part you’d be right. The Werehog allows you to let rip with a variety of hand to hand moves against foes that are pretty mindless fodder. Some will block in an attempt to urinate on your parade, but not really offering much challenge once you figure out a few moves. Actually it’s possible to spam the X and Y buttons with gay abandon and comfortably survive most encounters. For me anyways, this seems like missing the point, because Werehog is granted a fair selection of attack moves – with more being unlocked as you level up the character using the games minor RPG influence. You can begin to add some flamboyancy and individual flair to your hammering of opponents, and once mastered, does offer a lot more reward than using the same dull combos over and over. I guess it’s neat having the choice to be simple or complex when attacking. Some of the later enemies do become more challenging, requiring a little more tactics, but these encounters border on the frustrating side of things more than a natural progression of enemy skill.
Other than the combat, the Werehog levels utilize traditional platforming elements where some minor puzzle solving is required alongside some twisted level navigation. It’s here where you’re most likely to scream blue murder at the TV, alarming anyone in close proximity and beyond. Whist perhaps clever in their design, the execution leaves little to be desired. This is due to the fact that the controls are way too sensitive or not responsive enough for the moments where you’re required to tread extremely carefully or make perilous leaps. Combine this with a camera that has a mind of its own and can’t decide whether it wants you to control it or its fine on its own, and you have a concoction of disaster. Sonic Team really need to reassess how they incorporate camera angles into their Sonic games, because frankly at present they are obnoxiously incorporated to the detriment of gameplay. I would go as far as saying that the camera is probably more of an enemy than any of the opponents on offer. This really does detract from some genuinely unique and absorbing level design, which is a shame.
For me I have a love/hate opinion of the Werehog levels, because on one hand I can applaud the progression Sonic Team have tried to accomplish, by adding a secondary layer to merely speeding through the levels as Sonic. Yet by the same token, the exasperating implementation has caused me to unleash an inner demon that is frankly shocking by my standards of how I see and conduct myself. I’m sure I won’t be alone in this and for many gamers, they’ll either throw the disc out the window, alongside the case and their Xbox 360, or they’ll endure the gaming equivalent of extreme mental torture. Maybe I’m being a little melodramatic, but I can assure you, that once you reach particular points in the game you’ll know exactly where I coming from; that’s not to say that these feelings are unique to the Werehog moments, because Sonic has a fair few of these testing times as well.
The worlds of Sonic and Werehog have been brought to life in the most colourful of ways. There’s no denying that Sonic Team have done a splendid job of creating a vibrant and tantalizing playing space. There is an air of simplicity to the levels, but this lends itself to the nature of Sonic and his design. Each of the locales has its own theme, from icy wastelands, glorious waterfronts, coastal towns to sprawling cities. It’s all covered here and offers a diverse playing field.
The characters are simple yet effective, and almost have a plastic sheen to them, like toy models. There’s not really much to say about the animations per se, but the sense of movement is captured very well both as Sonic and Werehog.
There’s not really much else to gripe about the graphics other than the aforementioned camera and controls. There were few moments of slowdown during some intense fighting, and on occasion the screen became awash with so much activity it was hard to distinguish where Sonic actually was. These are minor gripes in terms of the over look of the game, as the positive far outweigh any negatives in this department.
I was pleasantly surprised of the music on offer here. It has been well produced and provides a sublime aural colouring to an already bright and delightful looking game. The music for the Sonic levels is spot on in terms of driving the speedy character through the fast-paced moments you encounter. The music changes pace as you change pace using the Werehog and it’s really impressive hearing the same theme remixed with a different tempo to suit each character. The voices are as you would expect and provide enough sparkle to the on-screen action. It’s not an overly complex plot, and so the dialog is well suited to compliment this simplicity. I did enjoy hearing the joyful sounds of Sonic as he performed the coolest of jumps and rail slides.
Sonic Unleashed is a solitary experience and one that you’ll either stick with and try and get better at, even if this does sacrifice your sanity. Or you’ll play for an hour and realize that it’s just not for you and worth losing your grip on reality over. Me, I stuck it out and felt suitably rewarded for doing so (often cheering and applauding when successfully beating a level). There’s a real sense of accomplishment as you beat the seemingly impossible. In this regard, the game offers plenty of replay value if you can stomach it. Overall, there’s quite a lot on offer which will take the most determined of gamers way over the average amount of hours to best. You’ll certainly get your money’s worth from this game, and I guess it plays on the desire to not be beaten – where the one more attempt is a crucial factor in its longevity.
Don’t be fooled by the cute and cartoon looking game presented here. Because beneath the surface there’s some intricate and clever design that will test even the most ardent of fans and gamers. The question is, do you have the patience and determination to finish what you started? It’s easy to begin the journey, yet rather epic to conclude, and in this regard makes the game highly inaccessible to the casual masses. You could buy the game and gain suitable enjoyment from the easier offerings at the start, but you’ll be hard pushed to make it through the last third of the game with the same sense of well-being. Sonic Unleashed is a step in the right direction for the series, but still needs a lot of tweaking to make it the ultimate Sonic game for our current generation. Whether you like the Werehog levels or not, I think you have to acknowledge and perhaps appreciate that some progression of the series’ trademark gameplay is required, and Sonic Team have tried to reinvent here albeit partially unsuccessfully. As I said, there’s certainly a love/hate underlying theme to this game, but also a huge level of self-gratifying reward, so in this regard I’ve come away with a distorted respect. Thank the heavens for Achievements, as these will prove to anyone that’s interested that you endured and beat one of the most painfully frustrating games on Xbox 360, but as a gamer and in retrospect you wouldn’t have it any other way.