QCF: Forced

ith platforms like Steam and the new wave of online multiplayer, it's never been easier to find something fun to play with friends. Whether it be facing your comrades or helping them, the videogame industry has provided us with tons of experiences to share with our loved ones. However, there's always room for more, and with the new action/RPG Forced's emphasis on co-op, there's a new option for those looking for new multiplayer adventures.

However, can Forced really stand up to the likes of Magicka and the tons of other co-op experiences offered on Steam? Does it even work as a single player title? The answer unfortunately, may underwhelm you.

In terms of gameplay, the most comparable mechanics to Forced would perhaps be Bastion. Now that's a weighty comparison to make as Bastion combined brilliant action with light RPG elements so seamlessly that it won over the hearts of many gamers, even those averse to the top down perspective. However, where Forced differs from this is that the controls don't mesh together as well as the aforementioned game did. It shares the same combination of a top down action/RPG, (although Forced relies heavily on the RPG side) but it never feels as balanced or smooth. The action can sometimes get irritating because you will be required to grind at points. In addition, the RPG elements can feel useless when the action isn't that deep to begin with. Although you earn more skills, everything just feels like clicking on bad guys. The marriage between these two elements isn't as strong, unfortunately. Maybe the superb Bastion spoiled me on this type of hybrid but at the end of the day, these mechanics are done way better in other genre hybrids.

There is however one other feature that makes this game stand out from the top down crowd, and that is the help you get from a Navi like 'Spirit Mentor' called Balfus. Thankfully, this fairy isn't as annoying as the Zelda companion, and that is a great gift considering that he'll be on screen with you for your journey. You can use Balfus to activate switches and move certain objects. He becomes crucial as using him will be the only way to open up healing stations and solve the occasional puzzle. Balfus can be used by clicking the mouse, and this actually works quite well given your multitasking skills. He reacts fairly quickly, and duel controlling both him and your monster slashing makes for a neat combination of the mouse and keyboard control scheme. He also gives the game a verity of ways to mix up the action, as sometimes you'll be thrown in levels with the condition to stay close to him, or to clear a more puzzle centric challenge. He's a good feature and is defiantly the most interesting part of the gameplay, and a surprising part considering his role as a tutorial guide.

The reason for writing so much about multiplayer in the intro to this review is of course, because the game points you towards that at all turns. The single player campaign for example does exist, but it's design encompasses all the typical aspects of a co-op adventure romp. This is extremely clear when playing by yourself as there doesn't seem to be that much substance when in this mode. This shows when you're confronted with the class system. You have four types of weapons (hammer, bow, blades, and a combat shield) with special abilities to choose from, but they worked all the same so I never saw any reason to mix this up. These would however have added diversity in multiplayer, a fact that doesn't solve the issue when dealing with a single player campaign. This is the major fault of the games core design. While it's possible to play in single player, everything seems to have been devised around the aspect of co-op play. The levels themselves seem a little dry and empty, which would have worked much better with other characters involved. This isn't much of a problem, but it really stands out when you get to the boss fights.

The boss fights are overly tedious and annoying. They repeat the same patterns, but because of their huge health bars, you'll find yourself going through the motions, trying not to die, yet still bored. This doesn't help when they take way too long to kill. This gets extremely irritating as in one case, I thought I had beat a boss, until a cutscene revealed that he had yet another form- one that was identical to the one before. It's obvious that these long boss fights were made for a team, but some balancing in single player would have gone a long way, as these stand out as the worse parts of the game.

The presentation to be fair is fine. The music (while slightly 'generic fantasy') works well and the presentation is very polished. It's art direction isn't insanely good, but while you're playing it's hard to complain as everything fits nicely. It's nothing special but it isn't particularly offensive, which is what I would have to say about the story. The practically non-existent the plot doesn't exactly do Forced any favors. But despite this the game has a slightly fun tone which livens things up. By this, I mean that Balfus will sometimes spout something cute. Again, it's not particularly hilarious, but the dialogue adds some levity and a bit of charm to what otherwise feels like a slightly generic fantasy world. It's not funny but at least it's not offensive. In fact, 'Non-offensive' is definitely the word I would use for the game thus far.

What is offensive however, are the numerous freezes and bugs I encountered. Even at the lowest graphical setting, I would experience an awful amount of slowdown in many sections. I had to reboot the game a couple of times, and this brings an unwelcome tension whenever a loading screen rears it's ugly head. Some menus are even blank, and at one point, my character would simply refuse to move. While Focused wasn't exactly the best game before, these errors do bring the overall quality down, and some of the frustrations with this make it hard to recommend fully. Though if I'm being fair, while numerous, they are far between and don't 'ruin' the core gameplay once you get going in the campaign.

Even though there are a lot of content and extra challenges in it, I doubt you'll be having that much fun to want to 100% it. But it's fun enough. I can imagine having a better time with friends as the gameplay was actually catered towards it, but with better top down co-op experiences like Magicka, and action hybrids like Bastion all on steam, Forced seems a bit weak. However it's a fine, non-offensive experience that might entertain you and your friends while you take a break from more polished co-op adventures. On its own however, you could be playing a lot of better games- games with design actually meant for one person.

So Forced sits in the middle. The glitches really bring it down in some areas, but there aren't too many to get genuinely mad about. Just a little annoyed maybe. But to be fair 'annoyed' may be too strong a word for Forced. It's OK. And while that doesn't make the game a waste of a purchase, it does mean that you won't be getting anything that memorable out of this, just-fun-enough adventure.

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