Opening paragraphs are a difficult beast. I must confess, it’s the part I struggle with the most. I’ve got about four sentences to write something engaging and interesting to draw the reader into the review, while introducing the game and setting the tone of the piece. It’s hard to write something witty and relevant that segues nicely into the main body without ever seeming…
…Forced is a game, developed by Danish indie company, BetaDwarf. Billed as a ‘Tactical Arena Co-op’ game, it is currently in early access on Steam after been Greenlit and funded via KickStarter. The setup is this, you are a slave forced to fight in fantasy gladiatorial arenas, completing trials to eventually earn your freedom. To help you in your quest you have the Spirit Mentor, Balfus, a floating white orb who is much more than a idle advice dispenser. He can be used in a variety of ways to complete tasks within the arenas and is essential to completing your goals, but more on that later.
Part RTS, part arcade adventure, the game aims to strike a balance between tactics and hack’n’slash gameplay. It adopts a strategic, isometric view-point, while handling like a twin stick shooter. The player is given the choice of four weapons, each with their own distinct style and upgrades. The Shield is more defensive, the Hammer is slow but powerful, the Bow is ranged but takes time to draw and the Dual Daggers are quick but weak. Each drastically alters the style of play and half of the battle is choosing the correct tool for the job. Fortunately, you are not locked to any weapon for the game, and you are allowed to pick from the armoury before beginning each trial.
The game is separated into different arenas, each containing around 6 trials that must be completed before facing the sub-boss. Each trial has the potential to unlock 3 gemstones that can be used to upgrade weapons and abilities and open new areas. Your prowess in the arena will denote how many you unlock, with stones being awarded for completing objectives in a specific way or within certain time restrictions. The game quickly does away with simply battling wave after wave of enemies, and requires the player to move objects, destroy statues or solve puzzles instead. Of course the waves of enemies are still there to pester you, but they’re usually not the focus.
This is where Balfus comes in, as an integral part of the game. Controlled via the spacebar, he can be called to the spot you’re standing or follow you around the map, as you take care of business. Guiding Balfus over objects allows him to interact with them, such as switches that activate doors, healing shrines to restore health, or hand statues that charge him up into an explosive, smart bomb. While you can call him towards you, you cannot send him forward so player positioning becomes critical, and difficult when swarmed with enemies.
The game feels very tight, with responsive controls and fluid gameplay. It retains the arcade slashfest feel, without over encumbering it with an excess of tactical elements. The main strategic decisions come down to weapon and ability choice but with no foreknowledge of what each trial holds, expect to fail a few times while you figure out the best approach. The ‘Mark’ system is one of the more unique mechanics to the game. Enemies hit with your main attack are marked, which can be further increased to 5 more marks with successive hits. This leaves the enemy much weaker to your secondary, special attack which inflicts far greater damage but takes time to recharge.
Forced adopts a World of Warcraft graphical style that sits quite well with the gameplay. It’s bright, cartoony and vibrant with lots of colour. The locations are varied and interesting, but the environments seldom have much impact on the gameplay. The sound design is admirable with some quality voice acting for Balfus.
While the single-player is a lot of fun, I’m willing to bet the Co-op mode is where the game really shines. Forced supports up to 4 players, both local and online, and also features full controller support. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to test it myself, but seeing how well the game handles in single player, the multiplayer experience should be a blast.
With the release date well over a month away, Forced is really coming together nicely. It’s slick, well designed and very enjoyable. It’s simple enough to pick up and play but there is enough depth and variations in weapons and abilities to add some strategy to the slashing. The Spirit Mentor and Mark features are interesting features that are implemented perfectly into the gameplay, without slowing down the action. All in all, Forced is definitely one to watch.