I could open this with some snarky putdown of the Sonic franchise, but let’s face it—that’s old hat at this point, and a bit untrue considering almost all the mainline Sonic games post-2006 were varying degrees of good. Sonic Unleashed, Colors, and Generations were the best of that bunch, though, so it stands to reason that the Sonic Team following that formula again is a safe bet. What’s interesting, however, is that Sonic Forces doesn’t seem content to just repeat itself for low-risk, high-reward gains. From my time with the game, Sonic Team is making some tweaks and introducing new mechanics that make it a bit more than a retread.

Kicking off my demo was a section with Modern Sonic, and people who have played a post-Unleashed 3D Sonic game should know exactly what to expect here for the most part. Blistering speed, rapid-press homing attacks, an emphasis on grinding rails, and using ziplines to gain higher ground. Sonic has a bit of the signature squirreliness that’s become kind of a hallmark for this generation of 3D Sonic, but it never impeded gameplay—it mainly made me focus on precision over just going in a straight line, which I appreciated.

That being said, there were some tweaks that I noticed have been made to how Sonic controls, and they’re welcome changes as far as I’m concerned. The post-Unleashed titles have introduced mechanics that see Sonic controlling more like a car, with things like MPH and drifting being shoehorned in. During my sprint through a burning, exploding husk of a city, none of that chicanery was present—just running, jumping and smashing badniks. It felt very intuitive, with no dumb gimmicks shoehorned in and all of it running smoothly at a crisp frame rate.

I also was able to get my hands on one of the customizable avatars, and surprisingly, it ended up possibly being my favourite part of the demo. While I did love playing as Sonic himself, there was something about the avatar that felt refreshing. It was a blend of that zippy, tight platforming that I’ve come to love from the franchise mixed up with new weapon mechanics. My weapon of choice was a flamethrower, which has two main functions—crowd control and navigation. Players can fire off a generous plume of fire to incinerate a whole crowd of badniks, which is a useful feature we’ve never really seen in a Sonic title. In terms of navigation, the flamethrower can be detonated repeatedly in midair to fling the avatar higher and higher through the air. This ability is finite, though, and has to be replenished through collected red capsules.

Sonic Forces E3 Preview - The Next Era of 3D Sonic 1

What I played of Sonic Forces felt great, and what I saw of the story—a dark yarn of scrappy rebellion in the vein of the old Sonic the Hedgehog comic series—seemed like it was on the right track. After the debacle of Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, it’s refreshing to see what feels like a continuation of where the series was heading before that misstep. There’s a consistency there that I think the series needs, considering some entries’ inclination to tear everything down and start from scratch.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the whole package turns out when Sonic Forces hits stores this fall. And hey, seeing Shadow the Hedgehog in a major role again is going to be some edgy fun.