Sonic Unleashed PlayStation 2
Published by: SEGA
Developed by: Sonic Team
Whilst Mario made the transition from 2D to 3D in glorious fashion, Sonic the Hedgehog has gone from one mediocre title to the next with only a few games actually being worth it. The once proud SEGA mascot has had quite a fall from grace and it's been really sad to see various Sonic games fail to live up to expectations. The games have struggled with frame rate issues and camera problems and even though the series made the move to 3D quite a while ago now, there still isn't a 3D Sonic game anywhere near as good as the original side-scrolling 2D titles. Could Sonic Unleashed finally be the game we've all been waiting for?
It all starts off so well with the brilliant opening movie of Sonic sticking it to Dr. Eggman before he lets his guard down and falls into Eggman's trap. Dr. Eggman took the Chaos Emeralds, released their polarity and used the dark energy from them as a beam to rip a planet into seven continents and release a beast known as Dark Gaia. There was a side effect of this dastardly scheme however. Sonic was within close proximity to the Chaos Emeralds as the energy was extracted and it transformed him into a rather gruesome looking Werehog. This didn't bother Eggman who disposed of both Sonic and the spent Chaos Emeralds ejecting them both in the direction of the ripped open planet. Sonic, in his Werehog form arrives on the plant to find a small creature who has no memory of who he is or what he's doing there. Sonic teams up with this creature, who he dubs "Chip," and they set off to discover his identity. Sonic also makes a discovery. The sunlight changes Sonic back to his normal form but when night comes he once again transforms back to being a Werehog.
Sonic Unleashed is essentially, a game of two halves. When Sonic is his usual self the game is a familiar Sonic the Hedgehog experience and to be completely honest these moments are certainly the best part of the game. When Sonic becomes the Werehog however, the game deviates from the Sonic formula and becomes an uncomfortable mishmash of button-bashing brawler and slow paced platform game that's simply horrid. It's an uncomfortable mix to be sure and one that requires you to put up with a game that's half rubbish and half enjoyable. To make matters worse, you seem to be playing as the Werehog for longer than you play as Sonic, probably due to the speed with which Sonic's levels speed by and how tedious the Werehog levels are.
Playing as the Werehog was for me, without a doubt, the most disappointing moments I've ever had with a Sonic the Hedgehog experience. The Werehog is slow (even his dash is nowhere near the pace of Sonic's normal speed) and has incredibly stretchy arms with which he can grab on to poles and ledges. He can also pick up boxes and throw them at his enemies too. He defeats his opponents by brawling. He can do combos and as his abilities improve, by gaining Dark Gaia Force, he'll gain extra attacks. Unfortunately the combat is as clumsy as it is tedious and you'll be desperate for these sections of the game to be over as quickly as possible.
The sections of the game where Sonic is himself are far more enjoyable and it sees a return to the classic Sonic the Hedgehog formula, albeit with a few tweaks here and there. There are times when you'll play with the camera placed right behind Sonic and times when the camera is side-on, creating an almost 2D-like experience similar to the Sonic games of old. Whilst the 3D viewpoint isn't bad, I do wish they had gone with, or at least offered, the option of playing Sonic's sections from the 2D-like view exclusively. From the 2D-like view it feels like the classic Sonic the Hedgehog games and if Sonic Unleashed shows me anything it's that Sonic Team still have the ability to give us a great game, even if it means giving up on 3D and taking Sonic back to the world of 2D (or at least a faux 2D).
Graphically the game is quite good. There are some camera problems, particularly when playing as the Werehog that are irritating and sometimes problematic. The frame rate certainly seems to be fine for most of the game and the sensation of speed when you're controlling Sonic is pretty impressive. There's a nice contrast between the bright and cheerful levels where you'll play as Sonic and the dark, night time levels when you'll play as the Werehog. The character portraits used in the game, when you're speaking to the locals between levels, have been kept fairly simply but they do have charm.
Sonic Unleashed is subtitled and the subtitles are automatically enabled. Some dialogue is not subtitled, such as when Sonic says "Sweet" when you've completed a challenge, but all the essential dialogue is and there are absolutely no problems for deaf gamers. When you're talking with the locals you'll see both character portraits and names placed alongside the dialogue. In the game's cutscenes there are no character names or portraits placed alongside the dialogue but this doesn't cause any problems. All tutorial information is subtitled too, so you'll have no difficulties in getting to grips with the game. Time limits are always displayed and you're always notified when you've collected any items.
No other game this year has left me with mixed feelings like Sonic Unleashed. I really enjoyed it when you were playing as Sonic and the general feel of the game isn't bad, if you ignore the moments when you're playing as the Werehog. Unfortunately you play as the Werehog for at least half of the game and these sections of the game are regrettable. You have to take the rough with the smooth (or quality with the dross to be more exact) however and what could have been a memorable Sonic title becomes a game that Sonic fans will only enjoy half of.