Sonic Mania brought the SEGA mascot back into the limelight with a game as good as the Mega Drive titles. He answered the question whether Sonic’s 2D gameplay can stand the test of time with a resounding ‘yes’! and it was refreshing. Games like Generations were good, but the vast majority of Sonic 3D games disappointed. Sonic Forces left high hopes.

The end result is not up to expectations, but the game has good features. Forces is a beautiful game with a fantastic soundtrack. From the first level, we soon realize that we have the latest version of the Hedgehog Engine. Truth be told, it’s not far from Generations on PC, but it does offer good looks on current consoles.

The Hedgehog Engine offers support for pre-designed global lighting, advanced post-processing and higher levels. The engine’s ability to create huge levels is critical to the design, due to the speed at which Sonic moves.

Sonic Forces complies with technology. The lighting is excellent, the levels extend over a distance, the pop-in is minimal and there are great new effects like reflections in the water and amazing shaders. The only thing that leaves something to be desired is the removal of motion blur seen in Generations, which has been replaced by a weaker effect.

We have no complaints about the visuals – at least in the quality of the assets themselves. However, Forces is available on several platforms such as PS4, Xbox One and Switch – with refined versions for Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro. There is also the PC version, which we unfortunately did not have access to.

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As you would expect, the engine’s ability to adapt to different configurations is crucial, but we can say that the PlayStation 4 base is the sweet spot for Forces. The conversion and benefits for X and Pro are limited. Switch to the Xbox One base or Switch and lose a lot. The base PS4 offers native 1080p, just like the Pro. Placing the two side by side reveals that it is extremely difficult to find differences. Sonic Forces may have ‘support’ Pro, but it does not mean tangible improvements.

This game is reminiscent of Prey – the box refers to PS4 Pro improvements, but the game itself does not offer major improvements. Even 1440p would have been a big leap for the game as image quality is not its forte. Things get dramatically worse on Xbox One, where it runs at 720p, taking us back to the dark days of the console launch. Dramatically lower image quality is the result, even if the same level of detail and texture is used.

On Xbox One X we have a noticeable improvement over Xbox One and both PlayStation versions, but the improvement is not as consistent as you’d expect. Xbox One X chooses a fixed resolution per level, meaning that at best, some levels run at 3200×1800, while others run at 1080p as on PS4 and Pro. Unfortunately, these full HD levels are poorly adapted, resulting in a worse presentation than in two PlayStation consoles. To be honest, it is confusing – we hope it is a mistake to correct. How difficult can 1080p downscaling be? Without forgetting that jumping between 1080p and 1800p is strange – it adds an unwanted inconsistency.

Digital Foundry – Sonic Forces focuses on PS4 and has clear problems with other systemsDigital Foundry – Sonic Forces focuses on PS4 and has clear problems with other systemsDigital Foundry – Sonic Forces focuses on PS4 and has clear problems with other systemsDigital Foundry – Sonic Forces focuses on PS4 and has clear problems with other systemsThis image highlights many of the differences. Xbox One and Switch run at 720p with lower lighting and geometry on the Switch. The Xbox One X exhibits uncertain picture quality at 1080p levels like this.Digital Foundry – Sonic Forces focuses on PS4 and has clear problems with other systemsDigital Foundry – Sonic Forces focuses on PS4 and has clear problems with other systemsDigital Foundry – Sonic Forces focuses on PS4 and has clear problems with other systemsDigital Foundry – Sonic Forces focuses on PS4 and has clear problems with other systemsThis image demonstrates the absence of differences between PS4 and Pro – they are basically the same. On the other hand, the Switch does not present much of the detail in the background. The quality of the shadows is also inferior.Digital Foundry – Sonic Forces focuses on PS4 and has clear problems with other systemsDigital Foundry – Sonic Forces focuses on PS4 and has clear problems with other systemsDigital Foundry – Sonic Forces focuses on PS4 and has clear problems with other systemsDigital Foundry – Sonic Forces focuses on PS4 and has clear problems with other systemsDown-sampling to 1080p on Xbox One X at certain levels allows for a huge improvement in image quality over other versions. Switch is left behind – the reduction in lighting quality is evident here.Digital Foundry – Sonic Forces focuses on PS4 and has clear problems with other systemsDigital Foundry – Sonic Forces focuses on PS4 and has clear problems with other systemsDigital Foundry – Sonic Forces focuses on PS4 and has clear problems with other systemsDigital Foundry – Sonic Forces focuses on PS4 and has clear problems with other systemsThis image demonstrates the improvements to the texture filter on Xbox One X at higher resolution levels. The image quality is excellent. The Switch here features lower quality textures, geometry and lighting despite running at half the frame rate.

The Switch version (we used the Japanese demo for testing) is curious. It runs at the same 720p as Xbox One, but the level of detail is reduced dramatically with less texture quality, simpler lighting and reduced geometric detail. There is also a cut in the frame rate: the other versions run at 60fps, while the Switch runs at 30fps. It is a disappointment to see this after Sonic Team achieved 60fps in Sonic: Lost World on Wii U.

With visuals downgraded on the Switch, Forces doesn’t look any better than Lost World on Wii U and runs at half the frame rate. Of course, Lost World was built from the ground up for Wii U while Forces is a multi-platform project designed primarily for the PS4, starting to make more sense, but it is still a disappointment.

The other versions have their specificities. Xbox One operates at 60fps and manages to maintain that performance most of the time, but there is one catch – screen-tearing. Forces uses an adaptive v-sync and when the frame time exceeds 16.7ms and goes down again, you have momentary screen-tear. This allows the game to stay very close to 60fps most of the time and the game has a better response than the PS4 version with triple-buffer and the Switch version at 30fps.

Unfortunately, cutscenes at 30fps suffer from a lot of tearing all the time and it seems to be a problem with adaptive v-sync. It is especially noticeable in pre-rendered cinematics. On Xbox One X, it’s basically the same but slightly improved. 1080p levels run smoothly and offer completely stable 60fps with no broken frames. It looks and feels fantastic in these moments.

However, levels at 1800p can exhibit noticeable slowdowns and tearing in specific circumstances. Most of the time it is minimal but it is noticeable when it occurs. Performance on Xbox One X is excellent, but the overall improvements compared to the base PS4 experience leave something to be desired. PS4 and Pro show some interesting things. Not only are they basically the same as if you use the rest mode and return to the game after some time, problems start to appear in both, resulting in a degraded performance. Ending the game is not enough – you need to restart the console.

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Looking at the three versions, we can say that each one has its own problems, but PS4 and Xbox One X offer the best experience in terms of frame-rate and visual features. You can find a hiccup on PS4 or tearing on X, but the overall feeling is good. The Switch version is fine for what it is, but honestly, it’s hard to get back to 30fps after playing it at 60fps.

Whatever the version, the presentation is the strongest but the game itself lacks. Regardless of their quality, we like the post-2006 Sonic 3D games. Everyone has their criticisms, but we like Unleashed, Generations, Colors and Lost World. We really expected Forces to be the deserved sequel to Generations. Instead, it feels like a weak effort. The mechanics are wool and the best, the feeling is good, but we don’t like the design of levels and rhythm.

Most levels are small, take one to two minutes, and most focus on simple mechanics. You will rarely have to navigate challenging levels – Forces is afraid to challenge you. In addition, most of the levels appear to be built with simple blocks – almost as if it were a Sonic Maker instead of a platform game. The elegance of Generations has disappeared.

Although Xbox One X is the best version at the moment, it is obvious that PS4 is the main version – the one that deserved more efforts from Sega. Although Xbox One X is slightly better due to the selective increase in resolution, you certainly don’t see the 6 TFlops GPU used for real. The Xbox One and Switch leave something to be desired – just thinking that the Xbox One has a 720 version four years after launch is amazing.

After the magnificent Sonic Mania, hopes were high for this one. Sonic Forces is not bad, but whether in the game itself or in the cross-platform implementation, it should be much better.

Digital Foundry – Sonic Forces focuses on PS4 and has clear problems with other systems
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