Sonic Unleashed is Sega's latest stab at getting Sonic the Hedgehog up to speed on the current generation of platforms. The company's mascot has seen some rough roads over the years with a broad array of titles that haven't really worked to his strengths. At Sega's recent press event we were given a look at Sonic Unleashed, which is an attempt to go back to the hedgehog's speedy platforming roots. The demo of the 360 game showed off two levels and gave us a good idea of where the game is going.
Sonic Team is again handling the development on the title, but the Unleashed team is being led by Yoshihisa Hashimoto, a veteran member of Sonic Team who was on Sonic Adventure 1 and 2. The remainder of his group is pulled from various areas of Sonic Team and have all worked on different entries in the series over the years, ensuring a respectable amount of collective hedgehog experience. The game's story finds Sonic racing around collecting chaos emeralds to repair the shattered Earth, which the nefarious Dr. Eggman has sliced up with a new evil device. While this game appears to be thankfully free of a human love interest, Sonic will still mingle with people.
The two levels we saw were both set in Europe, the first being in Greece--the isle of Mykonos, to be exact. The levels were essentially long playgrounds for Sonic to run through with various side paths to zip along. We saw the standard running, rail riding, and enemy bopping, courtesy of Sonic's homing attack. New to the mix were button prompts during certain action sequences and more acrobatic moments, and a new ring energy meter. The ring energy is a new mechanic that is set to encourage players to haul tail and collect rings as quickly as possible. The faster you collect rings the faster it charges. Once the meter is full you can trigger a powerful speed boost. It looks as though the boost and button prompt actions will tie in to gaining access to different routes through levels. The action also included the use of water spouts to bounce along in certain routes as well. Our demoer also noted that Sonic will gain abilities much in the same way he did in the adventure games, but didn't offer much in the way of details as to how.
The visuals in the game are running on Sega's proprietary "hedgehog" engine, which has been developed specifically for Sonic titles with emphasis on speed. What we saw was a promising start with some stretches of impressive speed and camera shifts from third-person to more traditional 2D perspectives. The environments were tightly designed with a mix of enclosed spaces and more open ones with alternate paths. There were also a fair number of breakable items and the like on the paths that would shatter dramatically when Sonic turned on the speed. The incomplete game obviously had some issues with its frame rate, which fluctuated, and some of the camera angles, but those were to be expected given its early status.
Based on what we saw we're cautiously optimistic about Sonic Unleashed. Our hunger for a really good update of Sonic remains unsated, and it sounds as though the team understands that 2006's franchise reboot didn't do anyone any favors. We like the sense of speed the team is going for and the emphasis on just plowing through levels while bopping enemies and doing crazy leaps. We're intrigued by the difference in gameplay between day and night, so we're curious to see how that works out. Most importantly, we like the talk about Sonic only being the main character you play as. Some Tails or Knuckles action might be nice, at the most, but we're hoping the game stays focused on our blue hedgehog for the most part and doesn't boast a soccer team's worth of extra playable characters. Sonic Unleashed is set to ship later this year for the PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, and Xbox 360. The game will differ between the two groups of consoles with the PS3 and X360 offering crisper visuals and slightly different content, while the PS2 and Wii games will purportedly each boast their own unique touches.