Eyes-on / Sonic Unleashed

I would love to tell you that from what I saw of Sonic Unleashed that I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this was going to be the game that brought back Sonic from the hellish hole he’s been digging himself into ever since Sonic Adventure 2. I’d love to do that but I just can’t, because from what I saw the game looks like it could be totally amazing or an even lower level of suck than Sonic has ever hit before. The level demonstrated for the press was a Grecian city (all the levels will be loosely based on actual world locations) that didn’t have name yet and we got to see both gameplay modes the game will feature: day and night.

During the day it’s Sonic as you know him – fast and speedy and looking better than ever. SEGA says this is because of the new graphical engine they’ve developed over at SEGA Japan called the Hedgehog Engine. The engine has the ability to stream textures and geography very quickly, meaning Sonic can run faster than ever without a hiccup (a virtual 300 miles an hour was the exact claim). I believe it, I’ve never seen Sonic run faster and with a greater sense of speed in such good looking levels.

The day time level ran fast and furious with much of the “classic” 2D Sonic gameplay you’re use to in the series, but now with the added 2.5D gameplay that SEGA is pushing so hard. Basically that means classic sidescrolling Sonic speed in 3D environments. The camera dynamically shifts between being behind Sonic and shooting him from the side as you play. It appeared that this didn’t cause to much confusion for the guy playing, but then again he was one of the developers so who knows if the shift really works. From what I saw it looked like a combination between old school Sonic and new school Sonic, but that the levels were designed far better and with less moments of simply letting Sonic run forward without much control. In fact, the guys at SEGA said that this was one of their goals after listening to the fans complaints. They say they’ve added in a lot more precision platforming action that might slow Sonic down but plays way more like the classic games of yore. The Grecian level had a few examples of this and I must admit it did look like it was playing like retro Sonic.

Still, something rang a bit off about the speedy blue hedgehog’s running levels, despite how much fun they looked. I couldn’t tell from the brief daytime part of the demo we saw if they were actually diverging from the recent practices of Sonic Team or just masking them with flashy graphics. Even more of a concern is the night sections of the game. According to the plot, Dr. Eggman has harnessed the power of the Choas Emeralds to cause, well, chaos. The chaos being this time that the power of the emeralds cause Sonic to turn into a Werehog. Basically this is a buffed up version of Sonic that looks like a werewolf and has stretchy arms.

I know, I know. Stretchy arms and a werewolf. This does sound like the Sonic Team we’ve all come to hate. The night levels, which take place in the same locations as the day levels but with different maps, will feature brawling action with a slowed down Sonic who will beat up on enemies using a variety of special moves that feature his stretching arms and powerful fists. Sonic will also be able to climb along walls and save himself from falling by using his arms. It basically looks like a platformer/brawler but with Sonic put in. If we here at TVGB know one thing, it’s that Sonic crammed into a game format he isn’t supposed to be in almost never works out.

But still, there is hope. Sonic Team is promising to make the night levels just as fun and action packed as the day time levels, and from what I saw the brawling didn’t look half bad. Of course, I wasn’t playing so who knows how easy or difficult it is or how well it actually works, but I’m willing to once again give SEGA the benefit of the doubt and dive head in. They’ve given me enough here to hope once again that Sonic will be a relevant and worthwhile mascot in the years to come. Now, if we could just do something about that sword.

[See also: Sonic Unleashed gallery]