Like the insurgence we witnessed of first-person-shooters some years ago, hack ‘n’ slash action RPGs are flooding the market. The genre lends itself to success, as the base formula easily appeals to our time-tested instinct to kill, loot, and compare numbers. Fun as this may seem, some games rely on a strategy of feverishly clicking from point A to B without much thought. Forced departs from this recipe with innovative gameplay in a market desperately needing flavor.
Forced lacks in the story department. The protagonists are raised as gladiator-slaves whose sole purpose is to go down a hole once properly prepared to fight for their lives. Though the village probably doesn’t prepare their gladiators well, since we quickly learn that most people die at the first guardian. But you’re different! With the help of Balfus, a type of guardian himself, the players must conquer each trial to earn their freedom. Generic at best, the dialogue doesn’t fare much better. Repetitious word choice and archetypical good vs. evil nonsense force players to endure the real trial: listening to the crummy voice actors read the banal script.
At times entertainingly poor, the voice acting isn’t genuine or smooth. None of the emotions feel sincere and the bad guys rely on excessive cackling and simple taunts. Though forgettable, the sound effects and music serve their purpose. Graphically, Forced is colorful and vibrant at times, but archaic with some of its modeling. While not hard on the eyes, Forced won’t “wow” anyone, either.
This assumes people can even get in a game. Or use their controller. And if they do get in a game with someone, they aren’t skipping around horribly due to lag. These are just a few of the complaints consumers have made regarding Forced. My initial romp through Forced didn’t yield much in terms of bugs and control issues, though someone I played with — while I hosted — complained of glitches, such as getting stuck in walls, not seeing Balfus move around the map, and not being able to attack or use abilities. Anyone reading this should know that at this time, Forced is plagued with bugs, and that the low Control score represents that. I had the good fortune of playing Forced virtually bug-free, though I attempted to join others’ games to test that aspect of the game, since multiplayer is how it is meant to be played. The lobby interface was delayed, since most rooms I tried to join were full, even though they appeared to have ample room (three open slots). In addition, someone getting disconnected from my game resulted in some Socket error, which meant I had to restart the entire game. Although consumer frustration is completely understandable, the gooey, juicy gameplay center almost makes up for this grievous shortcoming.
In terms of pacing, Forced is ever-challenging. The single-player experience seems exceedingly difficult, as I believe the game was designed with multiplayer in mind, but with a party of three, my friends and I were able not only to beat every level, but meet most of the challenges and time trials as well. Each trial offers a gem for completion, a gem for some miscellaneous achievement (e.g. beat the stage without healing), and one for meeting a time limit. Forced’s progression flows through a safe lobby wherein players have access to a group of levels until that area’s boss is defeated. These trials at times feel like minigames, each one departing from the last in some fashion. In classic game design fashion, each level builds off of what players learned in previous trials.
Though I hesitate to proclaim that Forced is a Kickstarter success due to its flagrant flaws, the game design is not only worth celebration, but also deserves gratitude from future developers. Every time an independent developer substantially adds to the pool of design choices and ways of thinking for future artists, an angel gets its wings. Forced departs from successful games of its ilk, such as Diablo, Path of Exile, and Torchlight, with simple measures. Foremost, the use of Balfus the ball of light companion, who allows players to interact with the environment in novel ways. Simply pressing the space bar moves Balfus to that player. Aside from the standard use of abilities and point-and-clickery, players can use Balfus to give themselves an edge in battle or out of sheer necessity. At times, totems appear that create a brief healing aura around Balfus, increase player speed, shock the enemies, and so on. Sometimes infected plants grow and deal ever-increasing damage to players unless they can root Balfus inside over a certain duration; to complicate matters further, sometimes players cannot leave the immediate vicinity of Balfus, creating a hectic, adrenaline-infused experience while the heroes sap the life out of the plant. At other times, Balfus is crucial in solving spatial reasoning puzzles that, admittedly aren’t too complicated, but with the addition of enemies who get in the way and demand attention, make gameplay more complex. The catalogue of uses for Balfus is not only imaginative, but adds a substantial layer to otherwise basic gameplay observed in AAA titles.
Balls of light aside, Forced doesn’t rely on loot or mana. Instead, player abilities are unlocked by completing trials and earning gems. Abilities’ only limitation is cooldown. Initially, players have access to one ability, but this library opens up to eight, with three equipment slots once the gem requirements have been met. Proper customization is key, as certain trials are best met with certain abilities (utility vs. damage vs. defense). Though this may seem like trial and error, my companions and I met certain challenges or time trials without optimal ability choices, and each trial is certainly completable without the “best” choices. In addition, even the first ability may be the wisest choice, as each ability functions as a trade off. Some of the “strongest” abilities have longer cooldowns or other drawbacks, such as a smaller area of effect. While I never felt the pressure to change my weapon over the course of the game, four weapons are available, each with unique playstyles and abilities. Truly, each “class” feels different from the rest.
The enemies and obstacles thrown in the way also deserve recognition. Though nothing entirely complex, the amalgamation of foes create an experience that is at times frustrating, but wholly enthralling. Few trials are a breeze, and I never feel dejected after a loss. Some trials are absolutely demonic and completing them offers that invigorating sense of victory so rarely found in modern games. In short, Forced is purely an intrinsic experience: defeat is the result of lack of cooperation and skill, and victory is directly related to teamwork, communication, and aptitude. You know, when bugs aren’t interfering with the experience.
In isolation of the present glitches, Forced is a brief, satisfying excursion. The rush of adrenaline experienced after a long-fought battle or test of endurance is what action RPGs are (or were) all about. Though not outstanding in any other regard, the game design alone demands a purchase. However, in light of the present bugs that potentially cripple any enjoyment, would-be fans may wish to wait on picking up this otherwise stellar title.