Arena-based games have grown in popularity lately, mainly due to the rise of the MOBA. Back in 2013 BetaDwarf released Forced, an arena-based action RPG with a slight puzzle mechanic. Two years later, the “Slightly Better Edition” release hits PS4 and, quite frankly, it begs the question of how bad the original version was if this is supposed to be better.
You begin as a practically naked bald man, with the story telling us he was branded at birth and that means he had to climb down a pit in order to fight monsters for…you know what? It doesn’t matter. The story is paper-thin and barely even justifies the game’s existence. Billed as an action RPG, Forced doesn’t really offer any roleplaying whatsoever, but that doesn’t mean it offers no customisation.
Your standard, unimaginatively designed character does have four classes to choose from, each with their own look, and you can switch between them in the hub world. If you’re struggling with the slow barbarian’s hammer, try some ranged combat with the bow instead, you’re not tied down to any one choice. Each of the four classes (the other two contain a disc that can be thrown, and a pair of fast blades) have their own unique abilities that are unlocked as you level up, and can be assigned to the other shoulder buttons. The game encourages you to experiment with the different classes but there’s very little to differentiate them, even their special moves offer similar effects in battle.
The combat itself is standard hack and slash fare, only with twin-stick shooter controls giving you the ability to strike in any direction, no matter which direction you’re moving. It’s incredibly clunky though, with slow animation and poor hit detection, made worse by the enemies often overwhelming you – usually as a result of poor design rather than a fault of the player.
The game essentially tells you at the beginning that playing alone will result in you dying a lot, which makes you wonder why it even gives you the option to play single player at all. Dark Souls warned you that you would die, but its clever design gave you the tools to learn the game and eventually overcome its challenge, and it never felt unfair or badly designed. Forced is essentially the opposite of that, locking its helpful tools behind higher levels, and its basic design offers no aid whatsoever. It just feels lazy.
Forced does offer something a little different by way of your orb companion, at least. Pressing square will move the orb to your location, which is essential for the puzzles as they usually involve moving the orb over a specific trigger to open a door or destroy certain objects. Used with more imagination, this mechanic could have improved the game a huge amount, but its puzzles become repetitive after only a couple of levels. The camera is a huge obstacle during these puzzles, as the top-down view refuses to zoom out enough for you to move the orb and character around properly whilst keeping them both in view – when enemies are thrown into the mix you often find yourself being attacked by creatures you can’t even see, due to the struggling camera.
Even the visual design is painfully average. The various areas offer very little beyond the change from grass to sand, and the levels themselves have no imagination as their architecture (what little there is of it) consists almost entirely of squares, with walls only ever set at ninety degree angles. There are no circular towers or the remains of ruined buildings strewn haphazardly around the environment, it’s all so pedestrian. This extends to the enemies too, with the same few creatures seen throughout the entire game and only the odd special monsters arriving now and again. Bosses are just as unimaginative, usually following set patterns until they get bored and throw waves of enemies at you as well, nothing more than a transparent attempt at artificially increasing the difficulty instead of using clever tricks to add variety to each fight.
Forced: Slightly Better Edition isn’t a bad-looking game, the graphics are vibrant and colourful, but it feels like the two-year old game it is.
Forced: Slightly Better Edition is a game that genuinely had potential. With a better camera and more variety in its puzzles – and its design – it could have been a unique experience, offering a challenging series of battles interspersed with intriguing puzzles. It could even have had a half-decent story or offered a greater breadth of character classes.
But, quite simply, potential does not equal a good game.
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