Review

Sonic Unleashed Review (Xbox360)

Spare a thought for poor old Sonic. While Mario’s been going from strength to strength in mind-blowing adventure games like Mario 64 and Mario Galaxy, the blue spiky one has been stuck in an inescapable rut since making the switch to three dimensions back in the bygone Dreamcast days. Between them, Sonic Team and Sega have never quite figured out what to do with their beloved mascot since, meaning that each new Sonic title is doomed to adhere to the same old tired formula, which invariably involves pushing the analog stick in a single direction and rapidly dodging oncoming obstacles. It might be nice to look at, bringing about a bizarre sort of hypnosis as the pretty colours flash by and the trademark azure skies and lush green landscapes roll in and out of view as the blue streak sprints single-mindedly to the stage’s end, but boy is it shallow.

The problem is that the titular hedgehog is all about headache inducing speed and repetitive twitch gameplay as you stab buttons in an effort to race through a level as fast as humanly (hedgehogly?) possible. Sadly this leaves little room for the more refined, slower paced exploratory platforming that has contributed to Ratchet and Clank’s, Jak and Daxter’s and of course Mario’s unbridled success in the platforming stakes. These games have what Sonic can never hope to have – depth. And it’s all because he’s always in such a bloody rush to get from A to B.


Although the gameplay is a little stale, some of the vistas still look stunning at times
In fact, this is probably the best looking Sonic game we've played

Sonic always worked best in 2D because while there were often certain moments of incredible speed where the camera would struggle to keep up, there were also instances where your reactions and platform hopping prowess would be put to the test. There were even light puzzling elements like the block pushing, lava navigating Marble Zone in the original Sonic the Hedgehog. These days however, Sonic is all about making each game a linear race to the finish line, rendering each stage a forgettable blur of beautiful scenery, topsy-turvy loop-the-loops and rail grinds. It’s enough to surmise that the Sonic games have grown more and more irrelevant with each increasingly turgid instalment, so what has Sonic Team done to challenge Mario’s crown as platforming king? Well, not much really. One thing’s certain, the gap between Sonic and Mario’s adventures has grown so unfathomably wide that even a hedgehog faster than the speed of sound has no chance of ever catching up with the rotund, Italian plumber any time soon.

Sonic Unleashed is a bad misnomer too, suggesting that perhaps the developers have attempted to widen the boundaries and open up Sonic’s previously tight and restricted game world. Nope. What they’ve opted to do instead is give Sonic an aggressive alter ego that manifests itself during the nighttime. Enter Sonic the Werehog (groan), a larger, furrier version of Sonic with big, sharp teeth, claws and inexplicably stretchy arms.

Things do initially seem rather promising when you first assume control of Sonic’s nighttime guise, yet playing these sections quickly exposes a hotchpotch of ideas lifted from other more successful games. For instance, the switch pulling and block shifting from games such as Tomb Raider, the swinging acrobatics and pillar climbing shamelessly ripped from Prince Of Persia and the combat and button hammering Quick Time Events that are identical to those found in God Of War, albeit in a somewhat simplified form. But, if you’re going to borrow ideas, why not borrow from the best? As good an idea as this may sound, the Werehog sections grow ever more piss-poor as they wear on, outstaying their welcome with each one lasting well in excess of the 20 minute mark. Throw in an erratic camera that always angles itself to give you the worst possible view, an unreliable double jump, lightweight puzzles, uninspired button mashing combat and you have the perfect recipe for a truly infuriating experience. Nevertheless, as an attempt to inject much needed variety into the proceedings, we should grant Sonic Team some credit for at least trying to mix things up a little, although Sonic the Werehog turns out to be an ill-advised addition to the game.

Still, there’s a good ten hours of gameplay to be enjoyed if you can stomach the shameful Werehog sections. Split into six continents, each featuring several areas divided into night and day stages that are accessed through a hub area amid each area’s capital (more on which later). The daytime missions offer the tried and tested 3D Sonic the Hedgehog action that’s been the series’ staple since Sonic Adventure made its debut on the Dreamcast back in 1999 although what was once fresh and exciting almost ten years ago, is predictably stale and overly familiar today.


Sonic the Werehog has stretchy arms. Why? We have absolutely no idea
Unleashed's nighttime bits sort of remind us of God Of War, although they're no where near as exciting

If you’ve played any of the previous offerings on the DC or Gamecube, you’ll know exactly what to expect here. In this respect, Sonic Team appear unable to break with convention in any form, still slavishly utilising the same story elements from the original Sonic games on the Mega Drive. So, Eggman’s (Dr. Robotnik to you and I) back as the villain, Sonic must restore power to the Chaos Emeralds, collect rings, save the world, yada yada yada. Hell, even the sound effect when you collect rings is still the same.

Despite, the variety in the gameplay, which can prove distracting enough to compel you to play on just to see what’s coming next, none of the events featured in the game are interesting enough to really motivate you to endure the entire story, let alone revisit levels for time trials and challenges (sadists need only apply). The narrative is the most hackneyed and tiresome tripe ever, introducing even more new annoying characters into Sonic’s growing roster of irritating sidekicks. This time round it’s Chip, who can only be described as a red rodent thingy with insect wings whose sole purpose is to chime in with obvious statements and stupid, pratfalling slapstick.

Following you around as you roam around each town’s capital, Chip isn’t the only thing that begins to grate over time. These sections walking around the town’s streets fast become a thankless chore as you’re made to interact with ugly looking, honking characters that bring nothing to Sonic’s world. You’ll find yourself wandering aimlessly looking for a way out of these godawful segments, which are unfortunately a compulsory part of progression. We really hated everything about them. They’re totally devoid of charm, interest, fun or any degree of enjoyment on any level. After you’ve been forced to explore the third capital and chat to another charmless, bleating imbecile, you’re about ready to throw in the towel and stick Fable II on instead (for some proper RPG interaction).


The 2D sections are pretty cool and remind us of the good old days
Recognise this from any other games? Hmm...I wonder

Sonic Unleashed simply tries to do too much and ultimately falls at every hurdle. There are some genuine attempts to improve depth in the gaining of EXP points to level up your character, and although they’re fast becoming stale, some of the daytime Sonic sections manage to integrate a few clever touches into the on-rails drudgery. Running along water, along a whale’s back and controlling an errant bobsleigh are particular highlights worthy of mention.


As a child, I loved Sonic, which is why I’m so upset when desperate gimmicks are shoehorned into the formula to try and spin out a few more years for the ailing franchise. Sonic the Werehog is quite possibly one of the worst we’ve seen thus far and a sure sign that a once cherished childhood idol is beginning to tread water. My Sonic cuddly toy glares at me accusingly as I write this, but Sonic Unleashed is a shamefully average game. It may be only slightly better than most recent Sonic outings, but this is faint praise indeed. Unleashed is too formulaic and flawed for adults, too difficult for the sprogs and is a game that ultimately proves a little too hard to love, as much as we want to.

Top game moment:
The first time you manage to seamlessly conquer a daytime stage at full speed is a fleeting seat-of-the-pants thrill.

Videos

Comments

By nobuargaoda (SI Core Veteran) on Dec 10, 2008
nobuargaoda
Nice review, and the game looks good! Sonic's adventure always impress me, considering it's my favorite cartoon when i was 5 years old. And the gameplay is classical, reminds us the truth about sonic adventure.... he goes in no time!
By devel (SI Elite) on Dec 10, 2008
devel
Great review, the game looks fantastic, but why do the arms stretch? Why? Werewolfs don't have huge arms, they don't even go as fast as Sonic! Guess i have to try out a demo to see Why the hell is arms stretch.
By nobuargaoda (SI Core Veteran) on Dec 11, 2008
nobuargaoda
Maybe it's just one of the power-ups in the game. Mind if you tell me after you tried the demo, Devel?
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Dec 11, 2008
Wowerine
Nah. He becomes that ugly thing only at night. No power-up.:D
By devel (SI Elite) on Dec 11, 2008
devel
Sure nobuargaoda, if there is a demo! But being only at night is a cool thing, because imagine that have to catch a bunny in some mission, and you are a Werehog! Mission failed! dun dun dunnn.
By BoneArc (SI Elite) on Mar 10, 2009
BoneArc
Lol Talking about the Demo , on the PS3 i played it and did anyoen else play it? i am asking cause are all the levels like a arcade game? :D i am just joking its a nice game and Wowerine did you play the Full game?!
By BoneArc (SI Elite) on Mar 10, 2009
BoneArc
o wait your posts are way too old :\
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Mar 10, 2009
Wowerine
I played the full game. I'd say it's good, but it has to much Crash Bandicot inside it. The classic Sonic perished somewhere... I liked the whole speedy thing about this game, the blur and stuff. And even after the transformation at nighttime it gets interesting, even when slowed down. :)