By Phil Schipper / December 17th, 2013
Release Date: October 24, 2013
Platforms: PC, Wii U
Age Rating: N/A
For hundreds of years, your tribe has served the gods. Every newborn baby is marked with a calling. Yours was to train and become a gladiator. Today, you have come of age, and descend into the pit to fight for your life. Nobody knows what to expect because none have returned–but you have no choice. Welcome to FORCED.
As the journey begins you’ll meet Balfus, a floating spirit who will advise you on the ways of being a gladiator. While you make your way through The Selection, a short tutorial area, you’ll learn how to use him effectively. You can call him to the point where you’re standing at any time, so, in order to make him go over walls and pass the special shrines that only he can activate, you’ll have to drop him on one side and often maneuver cleverly to make it work. This is the root of all the puzzles you’ll face in the game.
You wouldn’t be a gladiator, though, if you didn’t have to fight and kill. During The Selection, you’ll also be asked to choose one of the game’s four weapons, each of which has its own play style. Still, they work on the same basic principles. Normal attacks put “Marks” on enemies they hit, up to five. Special skills, which are unlocked and assigned to slots as the game goes on, can “spend” these Marks in order to be more effective–extra damage, knockback and the like. It’s a simple formula, but you’ll need to change up the rhythm for every one of the game’s increasingly difficult scenarios.
After The Selection comes the Hall of Trials, which comprises the bulk of the gameplay in FORCED. Each Trial may consist of any number of challenges, from lighting torches to defeating hordes of enemies to merely reaching the end point alive. To add to the difficulty later on, these may be punctuated by poison mist, lasers that kill you instantly, or barriers that Balfus can’t pass through, just to name a few.
Once you’ve gotten past most of the Trials in a section of the Hall, you’ll unlock a fight with one of the Guardians. These are, of course, the toughest Trials of all. You’ll have to dodge almost all of their attacks in order to even hope for a shot at beating them, and with tricks like shockwaves, runes that damage you continuously, and pinning attacks, nowhere is safe. They all have hordes of normal enemies backing them up too, meaning you have to divide your attention on top of everything.
The first time I fought one of these Guardians, I seriously began to believe this game was going to be impossible. I was playing the single player version, and couldn’t get through even a fraction of the first Guardian’s health before dying. Luckily, the next morning the developers released an update that threw a bone to us solo players: the ability to revive after death, once every 30 seconds. Now that may sound like a ridiculously cheap trick–and sometimes it is. But that’s only if you can succeed in scrambling away from whatever killed you in the first place, and actually last that long. In this game, 30 seconds is a very long time, especially when you’re surrounded by unending waves of difficult enemies and all your means of escape are on cooldown.
The only way to make a lot of the later stages beatable is by unlocking more of your character’s more advanced skills, passive abilities and slots in which to put them. You do this by building up your collection of crystals. Every Trial you complete successfully gains you one crystal automatically. In order to get more, though, you’ll have to go back to them and complete the special challenges given, or beat them within the crazy-hard time limits. Here’s the kicker: in single player, even if you beat a challenge or time limit, you won’t be awarded a crystal if you died even once.
That’s the single player mode, at least, which was amazing enough by itself. But multiplayer makes things even more fun and challenging. FORCED offers both local and online multiplayer–or a mix of the two. It’s simple to hook up a controller to the PC and play alongside someone who’s on the mouse and keyboard (both of which are slightly different, but equally useful control options, though I can’t speak for the Wii U version’s controls). I personally prefer it to online play, which offers text chat but doesn’t quite give you the same ability to strategize on the fly. Working together with your allies and positioning yourselves quickly is important, especially when trying to solve a puzzle in a time limit or dealing with the double-tough enemy swarms. All the puzzles, challenges and enemies are scaled up massively for team play. The upside is that after dying, you can resurrect after 30 seconds–if at least one teammate survives that long.
I’ve seen this game compared to the Gauntlet series (especially by Josh Speer, who was a fan of this game on first sight.) There’s some truth to that. Yes, you have a top-down cooperative game full of swarms of enemies. The Hall of Trials does also resemble the structure of the Eight Realms in the Gauntlet games. But whereas Gauntlet’s different characters merely have varying stats and some occasionally-usable unique attacks, FORCED makes every weapon into a truly unique class with different basic attacks and skill sets. And frankly, the Balfus mechanic feels like nothing I’ve ever played before.
One other cool feature is a main-menu option to stream the game directly to Twitch. It’s pretty simple to set up. Of course, trying to do that obviously cranks up the processing power significantly–to the point where I could barely play the game anymore on my computer. But I still tried it out while playing through the Selection at the beginning of the game, and you can find the stream’s recording here.
The game looks great even on the lowest “Ugly, but fast” graphics setting. The textures have a sort of dark, realistic fantasy quality to them, and most enemies sport this creepy undead look. The music that backs it up is mostly atmospheric through the Trials, though it picks up in the Guardian fights. The game’s few characters–Balfus, the Guardians, and the Master of the gladiators–are all well- and fully-voiced, and they speak often as you progress.
The game’s campaign mode, though it has little in the way of plot twists, is about 25 hours, but between challenges for crystals, the endless survival modes and leaderboards for every Trial, there’s tons more gameplay to enjoy beyond that. I also found it fun to go through the story using a different weapon than the first time, or tackling it both in single- and multiplayer. The campaign is essentially the same, but these variations make it much more interesting to play again and again.
For a $15 price tag, FORCED is an amazing game. Formed from simple concepts to give an endless variety for play, it delivers one of the best experiences I’ve had with a new game in quite some time.
Review copy supplied by publisher. Based on PC version of the game.