What happens if you take the combat mechanics of Diablo III, mix in the aesthetics of Torchlight II, remove the loot, introduce some puzzles, and ramp up the difficulty to 11? You end up with a game like FORCED, a brutally challenging, tactical ARPG arena title. While it aims to learn from the best of the genre, it falls just a bit short of living up to its true potential, leaving us with something that alternates between being a game that keeps calling you back and, well, a game that simply feels forced.
I’m going to preface this review with a confession: I did not finish FORCED. We have a longstanding rule regarding video game reviews here in the WGTC bunker that states we must finish every game we review, or at least play enough of it to constitute completion in a game without a set end, but I am breaking that rule here. FORCED is a game that is absolutely punishing at times, which in and of itself is not a bad thing, but it does become detrimental when you’re playing against a deadline.
Certain stages require puzzles or combat to be completed before hazards simply overtake and destroy you, and the difficulty spikes here can’t be ignored. Playing through the game in 2 player co-op with a friend of mine, we were able to ace some levels on the first try, while others took upwards of 20 tries before we could squeeze by. Granted, each of these tries only lasted a few minutes, and the par times for most of these levels were under three minutes, so dedicated gamers will be able to speed through the game fairly quickly with enough practice. Still, getting to that level of expertise is a bit draining. I fully intend on returning to FORCED with my partner to quell the beast in front of us, but this is a marathon in the making.
The story here is a bit uninspired. You play as a gladiator, chosen from birth to represent your tribe in the arena beneath the Earth. You’re tasked with taking down each of the chamber guardians to prove your worth, and appease them before they decide to “replace” your tribe with a people who can offer better sport. The characters and story are well written, but there’s nothing here that separates this game from other fantasy adventures you may have encountered. It felt like something that would have made for a fantastic film in the 80’s, and that’s a good thing all in all. It’s entertaining enough to keep the game moving along, but there’s nothing here that you’ll be blown away by.
Your character will be able to choose from one of four classes, each with their own weapon and skillset. You’re never locked into these as you can change before each level, so you’re free to experiment and see what feels more natural to you. I was naturally drawn to the dual sword wielding class filled with skills to take advantage of a nimble “stick and move” approach to combat, while my partner picked the bruiser, complete with a massive maul and powerful attacks. There is also a long range archer as well as a shield bearing character to provide some defence. It’s important to note that there can only be one of each class in your party, so it would behoove you to be serviceable with more than just your main in case you’re paired up with a group who already has the tank position covered.
The classes themselves are pretty solid, and the techniques you unlock as you progress are consistently cool. My nimble little avatar began to resemble my old assassin from Diablo II more and more as I was able to attack faster and faster as the battle raged on before flying to the other side of the map when I needed a break, a move that saved my ass more than a few times. Techniques are unlocked by completing levels and their optional objectives in order to earn gems. As you collect more and more gems, you’ll automatically unlock more abilities. I feel like this would have been improved with the inclusion of a loot system, but that might just be the result of me being a curmudgeon with a set idea of how ARPGs should play.
FORCED’s main addition to the formula comes in your spiritual guardian Balfus, a floating orb that you can call from anywhere on the map by using your space bar. By having him float over shrines, Balfus can unlock routes, give off a healing aura, or even set off traps to destroy your foes. This really shines when playing co-op as you and your partner have to co-ordinate calling him in order to quickly pull him into the right positions on the fly. It can be a bit frustrating trying to communicate with a partner through chat on the best way to do this, but the moments where it comes together perfectly are fairly spectacular.
I did say communicate by chat simply because, to the best of my ability, I was unable to find any sort of VOIP system in FORCED. That’s a fairly glaring oversight and at this point is inexcusable in any game that prides itself on being a co-op adventure. The splash screen does state that there are network improvements on the way, and while it doesn’t specifically state anything about VOIP, I have to imagine it’s on the short list of things to be included. I ended up running Skype in the background to communicate with my partner since trying to do some of the more intricate moves while communicating by chat would have been almost impossible.
Honestly, I really don’t understand this move at all. The developers included the ability to stream directly to my Twitch.tv account from the main menu, and somehow felt that was more important than instantaneous communication with my partners. This is in no way a make or break factor for the game, but it is a massive black eye and is something that any would be developer should take note of as the “wrong” way to prioritize features.
The voice acting in the game ranges from serviceable to lacklustre, depending on the character. I don’t blame the actors here, most of them did a fairly good job conveying their character all in all, but they weren’t given the best material to work with it seems. After fighting a massive battle in which one of the enemies told us repeatedly that he learned from Balfus, Balfus decided to admit that he had trained said enemy before. While this was supposed to be a pivotal moment in storytelling, in actuality it was the “duh” heard round the world.
As you progress through the story, you’ll be presented with a new challenge in every chamber, be it a new mechanic being introduced or a new enemy to combat. As I stated earlier, this isn’t balanced perfectly and leads to some difficulty spikes that are incredibly rage inducing, yet keep the game fresh. You don’t necessarily need to complete all the levels in each chamber in order, so you can always double back if you need a break from a certain level. This method of introduction is also a great way to teach gamers how to play the FORCED and handle these new hurdles.
If you need a break from the story, you can tackle the survival mode. Survival mode plays out as your standard horde mode where your screen will be gradually flooded with enemies as you struggle to keep the amount of onscreen baddies to under 20 without dying. It’s a nice little distraction from the main story and with the right friends by your side could be a lot of fun.
Overall, FORCED isn’t a bad game, not by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just a game that didn’t live up to its full potential. There are still a few rough spots that need to be ironed out, a story that isn’t all that memorable and spikes in difficulty that could scare off some players and lead to a few broken keyboards. That being said, developers betaDwarf are promising continued support for the title on the splash screen, and have offered a serviceable product that takes the ARPG formula (which has admittedly grown a bit stale) and done something fresh with it.
Even with its shortcomings, it was hard pulling myself away so I could write this review. I kept finding myself turning it on “just for a moment” so I could “check a feature” or “get a screenshot” and then losing another chunk of time to it. It’s not going to be a game for everyone, but the people who will enjoy FORCED will probably find it to a fantastic addition to the genre.
If you’re craving a co-op isometric arena game that will push your multitasking ability to its limits, you would be hard pressed to find a better offering to scratch that itch. For those of you looking for a more traditional ARPG experience, are put off by a brutal difficulty curve, or simply have a tendency to rage at games, you may be best watching a few games on Twitch.TV before hitting that purchase button.
This review is based on a game that was given to us for review purposes.
FORCED is a game I thoroughly enjoyed, but it is fundamentally flawed. The difficulty spikes are borderline unfair and the story is largely forgettable. If you have a few friends willing to play with you, you'll get more than your money's worth here, but those of you who like to play alone can safely skip this one.