Sonic UnleasheddislikePEGI7 Developer SEGA Publisher SEGA Genre Action Platform Xbox 360, Playstation 3 Release Out Now Sonic, once a staple icon of the 90's and beloved mascot of SEGA and their consoles. The only mascot ever able to rival Nintendo's Mario. What was once great, has now become a mere shadow of it's former self. Which brings us to Sonic Unleashed. A game which had a lot riding on it's success as a game after the absolute disgrace that was Sonic the Hedgehog back in 2006. Running on SEGA's new flagship graphics engine; the Hedgehog Engine, Sonic Unleashed promised great things. But does it deliver them?

Sonic Unleashed opens to a great battle and the eternal struggle; Sonic Vs Dr.Eggman. Seems the good Doctor is trying to awaken an ancient and mythical monster which lives, trapped in the Earth's core. In order to set it free, Dr.Eggman has cracked the world open, awakening the slumbering doomsday machine. However, upon doing so, the monster; Dark Gaia broke apart, not powerful enough to sustain it's form and littering the world with evil creatures. An unusual side-effect of the Earth-cracking was that Sonic underwent an beastly transformation, he has become the 'Werehog'. (No, I'm not joking you, that's what they actually called it.) Shortly after all this, Sonic then meets some little flying-rat-thing called Chip who had something very important to do before losing his memory when Sonic landed on him. I think you can see where this is going. It's Sonic and Chip's job to restore the Earth, now shattered into pieces and re-seal Dark Gaia once again. For the most part the story is dull, unimaginative and filled with shallow, un-amusing characters who do everything in their power to bore you.

Sonic re-evaluates his career choice.
The game's actual gameplay gets off to a rather good start. During the day you play as Sonic in his tried-and-true speedy form. You'll race around some well designed, if not short stages which can feel a little frustrating on their first play-through. Stages are filled with little, sometimes hard-to-notice objects which can trip Sonic up, making him loose speed. Other times you'll have objects which damage Sonic, but hardly noticeable when at high speeds and nearly impossible to dodge without knowing that these traps are there. The big gimmick that you'll notice when playing day time stages is undoubtedly the switch between 2D and 3D view-points. During parts of stages, you'll suddenly veer from one view-point or another. It seems a rather natural switch and doesn't really impede gameplay, however it feels like two different gameplay modes stuck together.

2D gameplay is considerably slower than 3D segments, however the name of the game is still the same: Run, run, run. In the event you come across the very rare moving platform to jump on or an object to smash through, you'll have a whole lot of trouble to deal with. The game doesn't quite understand the concept of breaking. Pulling back on the control stick will often just do nothing. Annoying since even early stages have sections which depend on your ability to be slow enough to make a jump, something which doesn't really become apparent in a game which seems all about speed.

3D segments suffer from overall bad controls, although passable in early stages in the game, you'll quickly realise just how bad the controls get the second you try to pound down a switch or line up for a dash across water, which if you slow down just enough you fall through and die. In both modes, the game is perfect when running in a straight line, it's just if you meet corners is where you'll actually come into some difficulty.

A gameplay mechanic most will welcome with open arms is the Dash. A similar mechanic as found in the handheld Sonic games such as Sonic Rush, the Dash makes Sonic 'invincible' and faster than he is usually. I say 'invincible' lightly, however, as you can still be damaged by objects. However, the Dash is only limited to the "Ring Energy" gauge, which, you guessed it; fills up when you collect rings scattered in the stage. There is a pay-off for all this speed, however. The courses and the way they are designed means that if you're speeding through a level for the first time, you're bound to slip up sooner or later leading to an annoying death and return to the last checkpoint. Better camera mechanics then found in previous Sonic games don't quite help the game in this regard, but a better camera is very much welcomed.

Grinding, my new pet hate.
Other gimmicks in the game, include the now utterly pointless grinding mechanic. Grinding was never really fun in Sonic games, but at least in previous Sonic games they found interesting uses for them. Now it seems that their only purpose is to connect two land masses together and have spiky things on them just to make it seem less pointless. On the plus-side, it's controls have been greatly improved. Where as in Sonic's of old: if you wanted to jump from one rail to another to avoid something you had to lean in one direction and jump, hoping that the game interpreted your control correctly, Sonic Unleashed leaves nothing to chance. There's a whole separate set of buttons to use when on the rail for jumping between rails. Also, the game's very lenient on mistakes. If you mess up and hit something, you wont be flying off the rail to your watery doom. Instead, you'll stay on the rail. An amazing leap in Sonic games.

Day time Sonic is quite fun at times, however things do get annoying very quickly. The return of 'features-for-features-sake' will make playing the game all the more sour. There's moments where Sonic will command things like a bobsled, not just once in one level, but several times in several levels. Trying to steer this damn thing is near impossible and some of the very questionable jumps you have to make in this sled are infuriating. I was sure SEGA had learnt this lesson by now; stop putting this useless crap in Sonic games. No one even liked these features in the first place.

Swing, swing, swing, fall, die.
As the sun sets over Sonic-World, so the fun goes into hiding. For here cometh, the Werehog. Plain and simple, the Warehog is not Sonic. He's so far away from Sonic it's unreal. The Werehog's game revolves around fighting, button-mashing, combo-gaining, enemy-beating 'fun'. Sadly, the game does the poor Werehog no favours. When buying into Sonic Unleashed, one might have assumed they had bought a "Sonic" game, however you will spend most of the gameplay time as this silly Werehog. He's slow, cumbersome and can't even turn around without fuss or bother. You can swing his two arms independently and make different combinations of attacks, pick up enemies and throw them, there's even a set of areal attacks.

Sadly, the game does nothing quite right. The problem mainly lies in a botched RPG system the game has. By defeating enemies you can pick up EXP 'orbs', which fill up an EXP gauge. This EXP gauge is then used to fill up stat level progress bars at the end of levels or through the pause menu. Fill up the bar so many times and you level up your character's stat. It's a nice idea, however, somewhere along the line, someone thought that by crippling the controls from the get-go and eventually earning the controls they were supposed to be the standard controls, that we would somehow enjoy the experience. They were wrong. You start off with a basic set of combos and thrown into stages which assume you are well-versed in the ways of the 'Hog. Because of the whole EXP issue and the abundance of EXP orbs in the game it obviously leads to some big problems. On your first play, you have no idea where you should be lumping your EXP. You could put all the EXP you earn into Day-time Sonic's stats (oh yes, he's effected too) but doing so will be your undoubtedly biggest mistake. The game insists that the Werehog be powered up constantly to make it through levels, leaving him at slightly elevated stats first time through will lead to a mess of annoying deaths simply because enemies get too strong while you remain weak.

The whole levelling system is a good idea, however it should have been an RPG system where the game forces certain stats to power up, not leaving it to player's discretion. Why? Because the game acts like it should do that anyway. The difficulty curve can only be negated by levelling up and you're not always sure where that difficulty curve is going and what stats you need to boost. Do I shove all the EXP into strength or will I need more health to back it up? For a game you walk into expecting the most taxing thing you'll be doing is jumping over spikes, the whole RPG system will take many by surprise and if any of the intended audience (10 year olds) actually figured out how it worked I'd be impressed. I'd actually be shocked if any actually enjoyed the experience.

Once your character is powered up enough, the game becomes quite durable. What was once a chore becomes fun to a certain extent and with a wide range of combos to get you involved, the game does start entertain. However, by this point you've already had the lion's share of aggravation and simply couldn't care less. The game also has enemies which can attack in close succession and can attack you several times without any 'down time' (time where you take no damage). If you get knocked down, you're still vulnerable to damage, especially annoying since you have to mash buttons to actually make Sonic stand back up again. Also, for reasons seemingly beyond my comprehension, the 'shield' mechanic, which can be a life-saver is put on an obscure button. Rather than being a back trigger, the shield button is on a back button (LB on the 360, L1 on PS3), not exactly what you'd call ideal. You'll also have chances to activate quick time events, a good idea if it weren't for one little complaint. If you mess up that quick time event, probably from holding down the button to activate the quick time event, you'll soon find yourself without a sizeable chunk of health bar (depending on your current stats vs enemy's). Sure, if I mess up I shouldn't be able to damage the enemy for that instance, but why am I hurt for failing? It just makes me want to take my chances with normal attacks, at least there I have a chance of shielding if I screw something up.

Big monsters. Another new pet hate.
Level design is overall poor for the Werehog stages. The formula never changes, you start off in one place, walk into an area, fight some enemies, solve a puzzle, do some platforming, fight more enemies, do some platforming, fight enemies, solve puzzle, repeat. Puzzles are mindless. It usually involves pulling levers, pushing boxes, pressing switches and in some cases, pulling off a certain attack combo to hit marker-switches very quickly. Once you work out what you have to do, it's actually just a monotonous task of completing some long-winded puzzle to continue. Platforming is a nightmare, since the Warehog has it's own turning circle, you dread just trying to move on a small platform or ledge. The Werehog seems to clip and catch on scenery at the most inopportune time, early on I was pressed against a wall with some spinning blades moving up and down a rail, I had to wait for the blade to go below where I wanted to go and jump across to the other edge. Simple. However, as I jumped to the next edge, I got caught on the rail which the blade spins on. I had to exaggerate the jump away from the wall, praying I had judged the near impossible-to-judge jump correctly. Just to top everything off, the camera used in the Werehog stages is utter rubbish. It likes to stick behind the Werehog, but not strictly. Moving the camera manually only really works when the Werehog is not moving which it does very slowly, else it just adjusts the angle at the current position of the camera. Trying to adjust the camera during battle is impossible without taking damage.

In between the Werehog and Sonic stages, you'll be playing what is essentially a mini-game. You'll fly between two continents using Tails' (oh yes, the tag-alongs are back, ready to make your ears bleed with poor voice acting and horrible dialogue) plane; The Tornado. You'll be disappointed to find out, however, all this basically boils down to is mashing buttons as prompted on-screen. These scenes last far too long, aren't much fun and anyone without basic knowledge of the layout of the control pad at hand will be utterly lost. There's also a huge difficulty curve, well, I joke, it's actually just a straight line from "easy" to "what the--" on the difficulty scale. And while I'm sure SEGA didn't want people to just mash down on the control pad's buttons to complete these segments, it would have been whole-heartedly welcomed in this instance. The length and difficulty of these segments, coupled with the absolute tedium and boredom makes these segments by far the least enjoyable parts of the game. And what's more; the most pointless.

To get into stages, Sonic Unleashed uses "World Hubs" (formally called "Adventure fields" and "Town stages") which Sonic can jog about and talk to people. Of course, talking to people is pointless most the time. Sometimes the game will ask you to go talk to people, which can be annoying to try and find the right person to speak to. Other than this, the stage is basically used to hide Sun or Moon medals which are used to unlock stages. Yes, unlock stages. Not 'unlock hidden stages'. Normal stages. Need to progress through the game. These medals are found in stages, most the time hidden. If this was a silly attempt to boost overall game time or if they genuinely thought this was a valid gameplay mechanic, there's just nothing right with having to effectively buy stages in games in order to progress. The number of medals you have does not signify and skill level, it just means you collected medals. The game doesn't ever inform you of the importance of these medals until you suddenly don't have enough to get into a stage.

The game does look rather pretty, however. The Hedgehog Engine is a very powerful engine capable of producing very clean cartoon-styled visuals. Motion blur effects and texture quality in the game was very good. However, frame rate is a real issue. During Werehog stages the game does drag down on the frames per second once enemies start spawning thick and fast. It's rare you find Hedgehog stages slow down, however there are the odd occasion. The overall presentation of the game is very good.

Audio continues the trend of generic music in recent Sonic games which, although some tracks are catchy and well fitting, a lot of the soundtrack is bland. It also doesn't quite understand what it wants to be. Some tracks in the game, such as the 'stage clear' jingle, the title screen music and some instrumental scores during story scenes strike me of Super Mario Galaxy. Then the game backs out and reverts to recent Sonic game-like music.

Overall then, Sonic Unleashed is a very poor game. Over time, you may enjoy the game. It has some varied worlds and better presentation than any other Sonic game to date, however, with Werehog stages lasting sometimes three times as long as Hedgehog stages, you'll be mistaken for thinking you're buying into a Sonic game. Sonic Unleashed isn't fun, it isn't imaginative, it isn't good. There's very little to redeem this game, it's a mess of poor gameplay mechanics, ill conceived level design for the Werehog and nothing but filler at every turn. Avoid this game. Or pay in sanity.