Sonic Unleashed Review
You know, I'm going to start this review off a bit unconventionally. Last night, on the 19th, I was sitting and playing Sonic Unleashed and taking notes every so often. Some of these notes are critiques related to the game, others were just random thoughts about Sonic and Sega, in general. Eventually, the Werehog stages began to give me a headache, with their annoying and fidgety camera movements. So I turned the game off, went upstairs to get some food and an odd thought ran across my mind...
You see, I am a gear head. In other words, I like cars. A lot. I've been known to bore people with my automotive rambles. But that's just me. Naturally, I've been keeping a close eye on the entire Detroit bailout fiasco, and I'm always telling people how GM, Chrysler, and to a lesser extent, Ford, could get rid of a lot of their problems. So what does any of this have to do with Sega and Sonic? It's simple, really...Sega is essentially the videogame equivalent an American car company, be it GM, Chrysler, or Ford.
Much like the Detroit three, at one point Sega was at the top of their game with the Sonic franchise. Until it all turned sour, they stopped listening to their fanbase, and began shoving a whole bunch of awful game mechanics, game characters, and gimmicks down our throats. Over the past seven years, since the release of Sonic Adventure 2, the gaming press has vehemently expressed their disdain for characters like Shadow, gimmicky gameplay, and anything else that didn't fit the nature of the original Genesis Sonic games, or even the first Sonic Adventure.
Sega didn't listen. Following Sonic Adventure 2, there was the gimmicky Sonic Heroes, then an entire game dedicated to Shadow the Hedgehog, and then the biggest waste of code the Sonic series has ever seen, the next-gen Sonic the Hedgehog. All of the games were terribly flawed, but Sonic the Hedgehog was just an absolute travesty to witness on the PS3 and Xbox 360. And it's just like the American car companies, their products continued to gradually decline in quality, with the occasional diamond in the rough.
Sega admitted that next-gen Sonic was a disaster, and also announced that they've been working on an all new product with an all new, brilliant game engine. So now we've been promised a new Sonic game that takes it back to the old-school fun of the original Genesis games. And everything just seems peachy, right? Well, they were...until we found out about the Werehog. Sigh...Sega, will you ever learn?
So here we have Sonic Unleashed, an all new entry into the series. The story plays out through a series of pre-determined day and night cycles, which have an effect on Sonic being his normal self, or the Werehog. As you can expect, Dr. Robotnik (a.k.a Eggman) is at it again, and conjures yet another plan for world domination. By trapping Sonic, Robotnik steals the Chaos Emeralds and attempts to harness their power. This time around, Robotnik has caused a catastrophy that splits the world into chunks and unleashes a beast in the process. This beast has a direct, mysterious effect on Sonic, as well; so he must embark on a journey to restore the energy of the drained Chaos Emeralds in order to restore the divided world, and to end the mysterious hold over Sonic's body.
As soon as the game begins and you enter the first stage, you find yourself impressed. It feels like an old-school Sonic game; fast, exciting, and brimming with color. But things start turning around sharply for the worse. Suddenly, you're the Werehog and now you have to experience the other side of this game - the dreadful side. Essentially wiping out any form of consistency and momentum this game could possibly have, the Werehog levels are nothing more than generic filler placed in between the amazing Sonic levels in the game.
Sega recently tried to explain that had the Werehog levels not been there, Sonic Unleashed would only last a few hours, simply because Sonic runs at such an extremely fast speed, you'd be able to clear the courses relatively quick. And that didn't bother me. I'd rather have a short great game, than a longer game which is just stuffed with bland mediocrity to fatten it up. It's been a while since I've been this upset in a game review, but I take every failed iteration of this franchise to heart, because I grew up with it and I'm absolutely sick of Sega messing up each and every new Sonic.
Sega should've cut out the Werehog, not only is it a lousy character for Sonic, but it's also a poor gimmick, which makes Unleashed feel more like Shadow the Hedgehog, minus the awful vehicular segments. The Werehog combat is tacked-on, and features the standard upgradable combos and the ability to gain experience points to increase traits. The platforming for the Werehog levels is boring, as is the combat, and worse of all...the Werehog levels are just too damn long. Either that, or they just feel so long because they're so mediocre.
Then there are the faults with the game's presentation. Why does the opening menu song sound nothing like that of a Sonic game? It's more Zelda than Sonic. Give us an updated version of the Sonic 2 theme. Furthermore, why are there barely any moments of nostalgia? So many of these franchise remakes or rebirths are overflowing with nostalgia, and I was hard pressed to find any in Sonic Unleashed.
Next is the lousy implementation of the QTE (Quick Time Events). If you aren't familiar with what QTE is, you've experienced it frequently in the God of War games - they're the timed button presses. In Sonic Unleashed, the game makes copious use of QTEs, particularly during an air-combat segment with Tails. In the air, you have no control of Tails' plane, and can only fire when button icons appear with an approaching object. The problem here is that the images of the buttons are frequently covered/obscured by other button images, preventing you from seeing what else is in store behind another object. So what ends up happening is you're left to guess what button is behind another. Occasionally, the camera also creates a messy situation when it's turned to another direction and obscures your view until the missile or enemy is much closer.
All of this is such a shame, because the proper Sonic levels are truly fantastic and fun. If some sort of stage-select cheat emerges for the game, I'd suggest waiting and picking up a copy of Sonic Unleashed when its a bit cheaper just to experience the Sonic levels. Otherwise, don't bother trying to force yourself to claw through the awful Werehog levels just to enjoy a quick sip of something great only to be forced to suffer again - it's simply not worth it.
Visually, Sonic Unleashed has its ups and downs. It looks good when you're playing the daytime levels and all of the colors are popping, but it looks bland when you're playing the Werehog levels where you're exposed to repetitive stage design. For touting this all new Hedgehog Engine so much, the game could actually run a bit better, considering how long it's been in development. The framerate stutters, which is unusual because Sonic Unleashed isn't a terribly complicated game. Furthermore, the stuttering also happens not when the action is super fast, but in the town hubs. Why? And who in God's name approved the back of the box? It lists 720i as a supported resolution...there is no such thing as 720i! Yes, the immediate changes from 2D to 3D perspectives are cool and the cut-scenes can be nice to look at, but overall, Sonic Unleashed doesn't demonstrate anything spectacular.
The audio is a mixed bag here. Sonic's voice as the Werehog is laughable and very hard on the ears. Then there's Tails, who I swear gets more and more flamboyant with every iteration...I guess it doesn't help the fact that Tails is actually voiced by a female, either. The voice acting as a whole is just third-rate, with a few decent patches here and there. Additionally, the soundtrack is nothing to talk about either, your closest elevator has nothing on the tunes here.
Earlier in the year, I specifically said "if Sega can avoid marring the experience with boring apocalyptic stages, a gimmick, forcing us to play with anyone other than Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles, and avoiding disastrous cut-scenes, then all will be good." It's like Sega did this to spite me or something. They did exactly that, although not so much the apocalyptic stages. Regardless, in this adventure, there is a total of about 60 minutes of quality gameplay. The rest leaves me deeply upset with Sega and the hole they've dug for Sonic.
12/20/2008 Arnold Katayev