About two months ago, Dayna Eileen previewed Sonic Frontiers at Summer Game Fest and was left underwhelmed. Sadly, with just a bit to go until the game’s November 8th release, I am also here to report that it is not likely that this will be the game that Sonic fans expect, much less so deserve.
The 30-minute demo I got to play was from about eight hours into the campaign and featured Ares Island, the open desert zone that follows Kronos Island—which the first preview covered. Sonic’s goal on Ares Island is to find the Chaos Emerald and get Knuckles out of a stasis induced by the latter’s presence in Cyberspace, a dimension where you’d find 2D levels more in line with ones found in previous Sonic games.
In fact, these Cyberspace levels seem to actively emulate what came before, with one of the two I played being somewhat of a mirror of Sonic Generations’ Green Hill Zone stages. The problem here is that these ‘classic’ levels feel repetitive, bland, uninspired and not at all as electrifying as some Sonic levels from the past. Sadly, this is true with what Sonic Frontiers brings to the table as well.
Now, what sets Sonic Frontiers apart from the other Sonic games and, indeed, what it brings new to the table is that it lets players finally control Sonic in an open environment—something which has for a long time been the dream of many Sonic fans, like myself, and has been the focal point of the numerous fan games made throughout the years.
“When I came in for my appointment, I brought along hopes that Sonic Frontiers would be a much-needed win for the entire franchise. At the end of my time with the demo at gamescom 2022, I sadly left the SEGA booth with none of those hopes intact.”
However, despite Sonic Team’s attempts, Sonic Frontiers is unfortunately nowhere close to being the dream open-zone Sonic game. This is because despite the plethora of things to do, collectibles to chase and enemies to defeat, the open zone still somehow seems barren and empty. Overall, during my limited time with the game, I felt like the world merely distracted me instead of actively engaging me.
Take, for example, the open zone’s boss battles. A while into the demo, I ran across a corrupted sand shark creature of sorts which I had to defeat by using Sonic’s homing attacks and by hanging onto it by correctly executing a series of simplistic quick-time events. After I did this two times, and with the beast low on health, I had expected that the game would shake the formula up a bit and throw something else at me.
Instead, I eventually defeated the shark and the encounter was never involved nor did it evolve in a meaningful way. This is very much true of my second boss encounter too, as I had to guide Sonic to repeatedly grind three sets of rails in order to leave a trail of blue that would then make it possible to charge in for a direct attack. I can tell that there is an attempt to make these fights interesting by making use of some unique mechanics and circumstances, but Sonic Frontiers overplays them to the extent that they get old incredibly quickly.
It also didn’t help that Sonic Frontiers did not perform well and was dropping frames almost all the way through: I would not have been surprised if, at any moment, the game crumbled under its own weight and crashed. I also saw one too many low-quality textures and encountered the odd graphical glitch. Granted, there is still some time to go until release and this might all get patched out, but I am worried that the game is still in this state, especially since I played a PC build.
When I came in for my appointment, I brought along hopes that Sonic Frontiers would be a much-needed win for the entire franchise. At the end of my time with the demo at gamescom 2022, I sadly left the SEGA booth with none of those hopes intact. Don’t get me wrong, though: it is nice to see Sonic Team attempt something new but, ultimately, if the game does not play better and if there are no significant surprises hidden away in the release version of the game and/or in future islands, I’m afraid that Sonic Frontiers will be a sharp disappointment. This being said, given the history of the franchise, it was perhaps naïve to hold out hope in the first place.