E3 2008: Sonic Unleashed Impressions

We watch Sonic run through sunny levels and change into a werehog during the night.

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Sonic has always been at his best when he's running like his blue tail is on fire, and that surreal sense of speed is on full display in Sonic Unleashed. The game is broken down into daytime and nighttime levels, so longtime fans of the franchise will feel right at home when the sun is up. The nauseating speed is combined with a smart camera that makes sure you never quite outrun its view, making the platforming as fast and stylish as ever. When night falls, you'll encounter a pretty different spin on the classic gameplay, but from what we were able to see in a demonstration today, fans of Sonic Adventure should be able to look forward to another capable platformer.

We were just shown the X360 version today, but the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions are completely different from the Wii and PlayStation 2 builds. The daylight levels focus on running as fast as possible to the end. While running, you can unleash leaping homing attacks that, if performed correctly, let you dispatch enemies without ever breaking stride. You'll also have to perform quick-time events to successfully traverse the terrain. Certain jumps require you to quickly press certain button combinations; success means you jump to a higher level, while failure pushes you to a lower path.

Rings are more than just your energy this time. By collecting them, you build up your boost bar, which lets you sprint through the levels even faster. You can use this technique to run on the water in certain levels. The camera alternates behind an over-the-shoulder view and a side view reminiscent of classic Sonic the Hedgehog games.

Visually, Sonic Unleashed is colorful and lush. There is motion blur everywhere, adding to the sense of speed. Unfortunately, in this early build, the game would slow down at times, making some of the sprints and loops look choppy. Hopefully this quirk will be ironed out in the final version.

The twist in this adventure comes in the form of nighttime levels that completely change the traditional gameplay. In these levels, you play as a mutated form of Sonic known as a werehog. These levels are much slower than the Sonic levels and center on combat. You have 30 different moves in your arsenal, so battles should offer a lot of variety. Because you can't just quickly dispose of foes as you fly by, you'll find yourself surrounded by evil beings. These resemble the creatures from the Twilight Realm from Zelda, and you can toss them around or just punch them until they give up.

Though the werehog isn't blessed with insane speed, he does have stretchy arms. You can grab foes from far away or sling your slinky arm up to a ledge if you miss your jump. Because of this ability, these levels are constructed in a more vertical manner than the standard Sonic levels.

Sonic Unleashed does look like a lot of fun for fans eager to fly through vibrant levels again. The werehog levels are certainly a twist on the classic formula, so it will be interesting to see how they play out in the final game. We'll find out how Sonic deals with his dark side this fall.

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