What could have been a brilliant Sonic game let down by poor load times and control/camera issues that spoil the fun.
After playing some way through Sonic and a through a few Silver levels there are are few MAJOR flaws in this game.
The first impressions of the controls are that they are AWEFUL. Tails being the most obvious where instead of being able to adjust your hovering height by tapping the A button, now he seems to just shoot straight upwards at an alarming rate on the second press of A making it hard to see where you are going. Likewise, Silver can also hover for a limited period (he has a gague to show you how much power he has left) but some of the city missions are HUGELY unforgiving so that if you do not time your jump EXACTLY right he will run out of steam JUST as you are about to reach your target. The major problems with the controls however often stem from the camera, as your controls are always in relation to where the camera is pointing. The problem here is that in some stages the camera switches from behind Sonic to in front of him and so the direction you were pressing a millisecond before is suddenly reversed resulting in you veering off to the side and falling off the edge. However those particular fast-paced stages you are just as likely to do that without the camera changing because it seems almost impossible to get Sonic to go straight once you have pushed left or right. The controls are FAR too sensitive (which I had hoped was fixed from the demo) which can result in having to redo certain stages frequently purely because you lost control of the character.
As if that isnt bad enough the controls are also inconsistent. For example when you are on a snowboard you have to keep pushing forwards to gain speed. However on some levels when you are running through a level at speed you do NOT need to push forwards, and in fact pushing forwards merely results in you mis-steering Sonic so that he missing a platform or rail he was supposed to land on. As Sonic there are often parts of levels where you literally just have to sit back and let the game do its thing because it was designed so that he would land on the right platforms, springs, boosters and if you so much as make even a tiny adjustment to his course he will miss a platform and die. Whats frustrating about this is not only that you might as well be watching a cut-scene, but that it also will then suddenly switch back to a section where you HAVE to take control or he will fall off the edge and die. You arent given any warning so the ONLY way to complete these courses is to die each time and remember where each of these points are in the level. Contrary to what Sonic Team seem to think, dying through no fault of our own is NOT cool.
Another puzzling change to the controls is that there is no option to switch rails with a button press when grinding like in Sonic Heroes. This seems an odd decision when one of the big complaints of Sonic Adventure 2 was the difficulty of landing on rails correctly when grinding and just as in Sonic Adventure 2 were ARE rings and other pickups on the other rails making it obvious you are supposed to jump between them. I have to correct my previous statement about this, if you do the lock-on attack (A to jump then A again) and push in the right direction for the rail you DO lock onto that rail and I have had fairly good success at doing that. However it seems to be one of those things you REALLY have to get used to the game before it slips into place.
The camera has always been a sore point for some people in 3D Sonic games, in fact all 3D platformers suffer camera problems due to the nature of how it has to cope with the players movement. However the camera in this game is the worst I have yet to encounter. It doesnt stay focused on where you want to go, it often is looking down on your character so you cannot see what is ahead properly especially annoying when you are trying to attack enemies and fighting with the camera to try and make it so you can actually see them. Sonic Team havent helped matters with some of the levels on this game either. On a recent level I was running away from large snowballs and the camera kept flipping from behind sonic, to in front, to behind. This is obviously meant to keep the pace and make it harder but theres one fatal flaw - each time the camera moves so does the direction your pad is related to. You just about got away with this on Sonic Adventure 2 but due to the super sensitivity of the controls on this game it often results in Sonic suddenly trying to run uphill instead of down or veering off the edge to his death. Speaking of, it seems EVERY level on this game has somewhere you can fall off and die, just to make things that little bit more frustrating. So several times it was facing towards then suddenly flipped to facing Sonic and the sudden change in direction caused Sonic to run off the edge of the platform before I had time to compensate. Or he would just stop dead because instead of pushing down hill im suddenly pushing up hill, which results in being killed by the snow.
One of the most frequent glitches though is the camera just not knowing what to do with itself. On a regular basis, especially when you have other characters tagging along with you, the camera would judder. What I mean by that is your character is stood in a certain position that the game cannot decide exactly what pixel you are on so the camera moves back and forth many times per second. The camera getting confused is nothing new for 3D Sonic games but this is by far the worst effect I have ever seen especially as the only fix is to move your character, something you dont necessarily want to do in a hurry if you are carefully walking across a rooftop and sometimes it takes several attempts for it to settle down.
You'd better get used to seeing that message because it shows up A LOT. Its flabbergasting especially on the optional city missions. You start a mission, it loads for about 15 seconds, you are told what to do on that mission, it loads again for about 10 seconds. As is often the case though you mess up and fail the mission quite quickly. What do you get for your troubles? It loads again, tells you that you failed, loads again, THEN you have to go through it all again to retry the mission because it doesnt ask you if you want to retry. Thanks to how unforgiving some of the city missions are you can literally spend as much if not more time looking at the loading screen than actually playing the mission itself and sadly im NOT exaggerating.
The actual acts (the main story missions) arent as bad to get started thankfully as you have your normal quota of lives so you dont have to do the whole reload thing each time but do not let that fool you into thinking they do not have issues too. The worst so far is CRISIS CITY in Sonics story. As I already covered above the main problem here is the controls are so sensitive and the camera changing I was constantly falling off the platforms into the fire below. What makes this worse however is that you are speeding along thinking "ah well, at least THIS is what Sonic is all about, SPEED" and then suddenly without warning "NOW LOADING". It feels like when you are happily watching a trailer online and suddenly as it gets to the exciting bit it all stops and "buffering". However it gets worse, not content with doing that once during this level it has to load THREE TIMES spoiling the whole sense of speed that this level is all about. There were also several times where I died on this level due to having to jump over a gap where the controls just werent responding correctly possibly as during those moments there was some fairly nastly slowdown. It seems this particular level they went a bit overboard with effects resulting in boughts of slowdown that was dissapointing as the rest of the time the framerate is amazingly smooth.
SO WHAT'S GOOD ABOUT THIS GAME?
Right, now if you are still reading (and if you are an avid Sonic fan you probably are because like me, you do not blindly take other peoples opinions as fact) let me take this opportunity to point out something you will not have understood from what I have said so far. THIS GAME GOOD! Despite all the above flaws im enjoying this game every bit as much as Sonic Adventure 1 & 2 and much MUCH more than Sonic Heroes (Shadow the Hedgehog doesnt count as it really wasnt a Sonic game and I hated it).
Apart from the music in the firt part of the city you have access to as Sonic sounding frighteningly similar to the Mario Sunshine music, the game basically plays out similar to Sonic Adventure where you have to navigate the city to find out where to go next. Yes I know a lot of people didnt like that in SA but personally I did, it breaks up the tedium of doing level after level and makes the game feel MUCH bigger. However this time around it IS much bigger and some of the fighting you do of eggmans robots are in the city area not just seperate missions, a nice touch to make the whole navigating the city seem more of the game rather than a 3D level select. Another reason for the city is there are tasks you can perform for some of the inhabitants, kinda mini missions to gain medals. What part the medals play in the game is unclear at this point and they may in fact just be for the achievements which has one for collecting all silver medals and one for all gold. Silver are scattered around the city and mission (acts) levels, gold are earned for completing the main story acts with any rating and another for getting an S (Superb?) rating when completing an act.
The main acts themselves are similar to Sonic Adventure 2 in that you choose a story to follow and what acts you then play then tell the story from that characters perspective. The story modes are Sonic, Silver and Shadow with the latter two opening up as you encounter them in Sonics story. There is a little repetition in the bosses you fight and the levels you actually play on but its FAR more varied than Sonic Heroes. No longer are you forced to just play a longer/shorter version of a level you have already done. There is naturally a certain amount of repitition in levels but you never play them the same way twice. For example in "White Acropolis" when you play as Sonic you are snowboarding through the level at speed whereas as Shadow its a normal level where you are destroying robots and generally working your way through the level much slower. This works really well to the point where at first I didnt recognise it as the same level because there were far more things going on with Shadow than when speeding past as Sonic. Even though you end up fighting the same boss sometimes that you already faced as Sonic an effort has been made to make it a unique experience instead of just redoing the same levels again. I noticed an increase in the difficulty fighting EGG-CERBERUS as Shadow compared to beating it with Sonic. The actual environment I faught in was totally different too being a snowy outdoor environment whereas it was an indoor desert tomb-like environment as Sonic.
Depending on which story you selected you will be introducted to the city in a different way. Sonic for example starts in the Castle City at the beach whereas Silver starts in the woods.
Nomatter which characters story you follow though its mostly Sonic gameplay just like Sonic Heroes. So far the only searching for "keys" that has been done was in Shadows story where Rouge had to find keys to open a door for Shadow. This was a pure treasure hunt sequence with NO radar, but due to the sheer number of robots and plenty of distructable scenery it was easy to see where you had already been so finding the keys wasnt too much of a chore. If you like the treasure hunt gameplay theres some of that in the optional city missions too although it doesnt work very well there because you CANT tell where you have already been. While we are speaking of the optional missions im sad to say that similar flaws apply to other city missions too. One mission as Silver he has to run though rings (large hoops, kinda NiGHTS style) however some of them you have to use his powers to hover through. The problem is that the timing on these seems to be a bit too exact leading to running out of power just too early to do it and also no way to continue from that point, it basically meant I failed the mission. This would be fine of course except THEN you have the "loading, you failed, loading, select mission again, loading, this is what you have to do, loading" procedure again which just takes all the fun out of it. I found myself skipping the mission not because I didnt want to do it but simply because I couldnt stand that it was spending more time loading than I was actually playing the level.
This IS the best Sonic game since Sonic Adventure 1 & 2. None of the missions so far have been quite as much fun as the first level of Sonic Adventure 2 or perhaps even the first level of Sonic Heroes, but overall its a much more engrossing game and im still only scratching the surface at less than 50% way through Sonic of which it reached 20% really quick and is going up much slower now, so theres no telling how much more there really is. The side-missions in the city, of which there are 53 total, are a welcome addition making it a longer game than previous ones. Its a shame they are let down by the aweful double-loading every time you start one of those missions and no way to quickly retry when you fail. However no doubt if you have finished the game the city missions give you something else to do.
Overall its a really good game let down by flaws that should never have gotten past the alpha never mind the beta testing. If you like Sonic, you might just be able to see past the problems and have some fun out of it. Im certainly addicted dispite the amount of swearing it induces. You better have good anger management though as sometimes it really has you wanting the throw the pad at the TV and breaking that HDTV aint a good idea.