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Old 01-28-2011, 06:14 AM   #46
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Sonic Unleashed – Xbox 360
Also available on Playstation 3

Sonic Unleashed is the follow up to 2006 critically panned Sonic 06. I will say something that will shock many... I didn't hate Sonic 06. Ok it was glitchy, frustrating and Sonic almost had a relationship with a human but I finished the game and actually enjoyed it in places.

Sonic Unleashed tries to rectify the wrongs from the 2006 outing and to a large extent it succeeds! The first thing that hits you about this game is the presentation. The intro movie is long, beautifully directed and more than watchable. You are then thrust into Sonic's opening level and everything just works. The view switches between 2D and 3D and whilst the 2D isn't quite as tight control wise as the 16-bit classics it is very playable. The whole thing moves at lightning pace and never slows up. This is in part due to the Hedgehog Engine which looks sensational in places and its refreshing to not see the Sonic Team using off the shelve graphics technology. Sonic's levels are edge of your seat rollercoaster’s. As you move around the world trying to piece it back together you will speed along the Great Wall of China, walk on water in arctic conditions and traverse jungle in the African themed 'Mazuri'. Plummeting to your death randomly as in Sonic 06 doesn't happen as much anymore and generally the system warns you when you are coming up to a speed stopping obstacle or strategically places an extra life after the check point so you don't run out of lives on a really cheap part of the game. This system isn't perfect, the homing attack will often send you flying somewhere not intended and you will swear a lot as you traverse some of the levels. The 'try and die' feel to the gameplay at times won't suit the Sonic purists but when you do eventually learn the levels and make the split second jumps required it's massively satisfying. Thank goodness in this game there you can also use the right and left shoulder buttons to perform a quick dodge which will keep you moving nicely. You can also boost using the X button but this needs to be performed carefully. Randomly boosting will ultimately result in you overshooting a platform so boosting becomes a skill and works well and doesn’t cheapen the gameplay as in Sonic Rush on the DS. Still many levels are brutal and unforgiving. A special mention must go to the final level ‘Eggmanland’ which had me cursing and swearing a whole lot.

Shortly after Sonic's intro you are plunged into the dark side of the game. Initially it is seemingly awful. Sonic becomes a warehog at night in a 'Twilight Princess' stolen idea that doesn't really work. Whilst the warehog looks ok and has a decent array of moves it's not the tightest control implementation and can feel repetitive. But it isn't terrible and you will become used to its quirkiness. Initially as your warehog is weak and you have to collect sun and moon medals so the first warehog level will really get you down. It takes hours and the complications controlling the warehog really will piss you off. But once you get used to it the levels are just about playable and are somewhat a cross between ‘God Of War’ and ‘Banjo-Kazooie’. A mix of fighting and scavenging for items. On paper this doesn't sound bad but the implementation of this fails to match either of the inspired games and this section f the game is heavily average. Thankfully you should only need to play the warehog levels once as you can get most o the medals on a single playthrough. I actually grew to enjoy the warehog sections towards the end of the game as you gain more experience from playing them than the Sonic day levels and they do break the intensity of the game but it's fair to say these levels fail to live up to the spectacular Sonic levels!

On top of this there is the games hub world. Again, it's not a perfect implementation compared to the sophistication of top adventure games nowadays but you can travel around the world buying items, doing tasks for people, exorcising ghosts, and generally solving people’s social issues. These areas of the game serve as filler and were left out of the Wii edition but generally work quite well. Some of the missions are chronically difficult and require perfect playing of the levels. They range from killing every enemy in a sequence, to collecting ingredients through a level or simply reaching a point in a level in a certain time. They add to the game, the hub world also contains level entrances and it is good that there are a number of levels that are accessible outside of the core set of levels to complete the game. Discovering these later and playing through proved to be good fun and adds to the longevity of the game.

One thing is for sure Sonic Team went to town on the games presentation and production values. There are plenty of hidden extras ranging from artwork, records, literature on the game an characters, profiles of the characters you meet. It's refreshing to see that so much hard work has gone into creating this game. Of course warehog aside there are other issues. You have a companion Chip, think Navi from Zelda. To make him always with Sonic they have made him small and floaty, he is actually annoying and pointless and without ruining the mediocre story he has lost his memory and when he rediscovers it it's almost embarrassing what he is and doesn't work when you see the menacing Dark Gaia. Also, given the high production values it seems strange to me that SEGA has not included a way to select levels to replay once you complete them, instead you nee to go back through the hub world and locate them. A menu that allowed you to play completed levels would enhance replay ability significantly.

Sonic Unleashed is a HUGE step in the right direction for the blue mascot and is easily his best outing since Sonic Adventure 2. Sonic fans will lap this up, and whilst it is far from perfection the Sonic levels and side missions along make this a must have for Sonic fans and the warehog levels are not as bad as everyone makes out. Original 16-bit purists this won't convert you. But everyone else should give this a try. Because Sonic is heading back in the right direction and I sincerely hope they make a follow up that continues this trend if just to use the beautiful hedgehog engine again.

Pros - Superb fast graphics. Day levels are immense fun. High production values.
Cons - Warehog levels are average. Controls could be tighter.

Overall - 80%
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