Every new Sonic release carries a hope that Sega's blue hedgehog will be able to regain the form that made him a star in the early '90s. And most every venture into the third dimension has resulted in various degrees of failure. Sonic Unleashed was supposed to provide the unrelenting speed fans have been clamoring for, and it does finally offer a healthy dose of turbo-charged levels to burn through. Unfortunately, even with Sonic's trademark speed finally on full display, Unleashed lacks one very important element: fun. The imprecise platforming, absentminded camera, and poor level design make Sonic's levels an unplayable mess, while his baffling transformation into lumbering werehog comes with a whole new slew of problems. Put simply, there is no reason to play Sonic Unleashed.
Using stretchy arms in combat isn't as cool as it sounds.
The story begins with Dr. Eggman shooting the world with a giant ray gun. Predictably, the planet breaks apart, but there is an unexpected side effect as well. Innocuous Sonic gets transformed into a giant, mean-looking creature called a werehog. This abomination emerges only when the sun goes down, and the game allows you to play stages during the day and at night to make full use of your dual personalities. Even though there are an equal number of hedgehog and werehog stages, most of your time in Sonic Unleashed will be spent at night, since the arduous combat levels take far longer to complete than the sprint-to-the-finish-line hedgehog races.
The werehog levels are extremely tedious. The levels are evenly divided between platforming and fighting, but both elements offer more frustration than excitement. Even though you can unlock more combos as you progress through the journey, your combat strategy never evolves beyond mindlessly tapping two attack buttons with an occasional jump thrown in for good measure. You're given a shield for when things get too hectic, but it's hardly ever necessary. The enemies are stupid, blithely standing around until you take the fight to them, and their lack of variety becomes oppressively obvious after just a few hours. You'll be given a few checkpoints in each level, but these are awkwardly placed, so you'll have to repeatedly mash through the same battalion of enemies if you can't properly navigate the woeful platforming sections.
As a werehog you're equipped with stretchable arms and the ability to grab onto ledges. This should come in handy when venturing around these stages, but a few arbitrary restrictions have been tossed in to make even simple navigation annoying. First of all, you can only grab onto certain surfaces. If you mistime a jump, you often won't be able to grab a nearby ledge to save yourself, resulting in a quick death. Second, your arms' stretchiness varies at random, so while it may be possible to grab a ledge from a certain distance at one point, from that same distance later on in the level, you'll find your reach stunted. The camera also hinders your progress. You are given free control over your view when standing in the middle of a large plot of land. But when placed on a precarious walkway where a perfect line of sight is necessary, your camera control will be severely restricted, allowing only slight shifts to either side of your character. Because the punishment system is so immediate and severe (falling in water results in instant death), these miscues will quickly steal away your precious lives, leaving only frustration in their wake.
Unleashed is at its best when you're barely interacting with Sonic.
The Sonic levels don't fare any better than the lousy werehog parts. Your goal is to run as quickly as possible to the finish line, but the camera is rarely able to give you an optimal view and the controls are far too loose to provide the pinpoint accuracy you'll need. These technical problems mean you'll have to memorize stages before you can breeze through them. The game is not responsive enough to allow you to consistently avoid obstacles the first time you encounter them, so you'll find yourself repeatedly plowing headfirst into spikes and falling down countless bottomless pits before you finally know where each obstacle lays ahead of time. Extra lives--something you're usually happy to see in a game--actually serve as a warning in Sonic Unleashed. Particularly cheap sections are often adorned by these markers, ensuring you can play them repeatedly to memorize their cruel layout and hope luck is on your side.