At the end of last year, Sonic Frontiers was first teased by Sega with a trailer that hinted at putting the Blue Blur into an open-world game. People were naturally curious and concerned at such a prospect. How well would Sonic work in an open-world environment?
Then the first look at the actual gameplay debuted, and folks weren’t happy.
The gameplay itself didn’t strike most as being exciting and most of all, the open world looked blandly “realistic” and similar to the many Unreal Engine tech demos and concept videos we’ve seen over the years.
Some fans even pushed for the game to be delayed so it could be overhauled.
Later, new footage showed more traditional stages we’d expect from a 3D Sonic game.
Sega has stuck firmly to the plan of releasing Sonic Frontiers this year (and the day before one of the biggest games of the year, God of War Ragnarok, no less) and sure seems that isn’t going to change.
Cautiously Having Fun
Various preorder bonuses are being advertised, game cases are on display on store shelves, and Sonic took up most of Sega’s booth at Tokyo Game Show 2022.
I played through the Sonic Frontiers demo twice at TGS 2022, and I still feel more or less the same about the game before I tried it – mixed with a bit of cautious optimism.
The demo plopped Sonic in the open world that yes, still looks like a generic Unreal Engine environment. No doubt that it looks dull with muted colors far from the vibrant palette normally associated with Sonic.
It honestly was depressing to look at. Well, at least there’s plenty of space to go fast.
Moving Sonic around the open world was familiar enough. He could run and jump, of course. Other moves included dash, spin, quick-step, crouch, slide, and air boosting.
Some of those would be more useful when it came time to fight. There were rails to speedily grind on, speed boosters on the ground, and springs to bounce off of.
With the camera positioned farther away, there was a lesser sense of speed when Sonic moved around, but it made it easier to control him and see around the world. I met some enemies – geometric robots – and combat is where things got a little more interesting.
There are the attacks players have come to expect: hitting enemies while curled up in a ball and the homing attack that locks on for hits.
Tapping the square button while not jumping in a ball causes Sonic to fight more barehanded by straight up kicking and punching. When enemies attack, Sonic could dodge using his variety of fast movement abilities. But he can also parry if you time it right.
The biggest addition is the Cyloop ability. While holding the triangle button, Sonic begins to draw a green light trail behind him like he’s a light-cycle from Tron.
Draw a closed shape and the Cyloop deals damage to anything within its borders. Sonic running circles around enemies can now literally hurt them. There were also objects that required you to Cyloop around to open or break them.
Going Back To Basics
After progressing far enough, I reached a structure that transported me to play a more typical Sonic stage. Sega calls these Cyber Space levels.
The camera was positioned closer to Sonic raced through the level, providing that thrilling sense of speed fans love. The stage was an ancient city made of stone, filled with Sonic staples like ramps, platforms, springs, one-hit enemies, and so on.
Not only did it play like a typical Sonic level, it looked more like one. The lighting and color pallet were bright and colorful.
The camera occasionally wasn’t the greatest, leading me to fail the stage and restarting me from the beginning. Nonetheless, here was the 3D Sonic gameplay we all have known up until now.
Wanting To Be Optimistic
The bits of story I saw in cutscenes during my demo were pretty serious in tone, yet didn’t catch my interest too much. It seemed too weighty for Sonic story and gave me Sonic 2006 vibes a little. That being said, it’s early to tell how the plot will unfold.
All in all, I’d say the verdict is still out on Sonic Frontiers. I want to be optimistic as a fan. However, I think many of us are cautious after being burned one too many times. Here’s to hoping the best for the Fastest Thing Alive’s upcoming open-world adventure.
Sonic Frontiers launches on November 8, 2022.
Thank you to Sega for accommodating my request for a PS5 version demo for this preview.