Forced is a very interesting and innovative take on what would initially appear to be an isometric dungeon-crawler. Instead, it is an adventuring puzzle game with a focus on dynamic gameplay, accommodating for 1-4 players. Each level can be completed solo or with a team, though an inconsistent difficulty level and technical issues taint the experience in either avenue. Damned if you do…
The raw gameplay of Forced (what players actually do to play the game) is rather simple to explain. Pick one of four characters, select skills that sound all right, enter a trial, and spam the buttons; left click, right click, space and WASD all over the place. Eventually you’ll unlock Q and even E. The characters do feel very different from each other in a manner that is very well-done, with very distinct attack styles and skills to suit, and even within each character the potential for various play-styles is enormous. Though the story is entirely admissible, the way the characters’ builds are designed is very impressive.
It is hard to nail the sweet spot of difficult vs. novelty in puzzlers, and for the most part Forced keeps every trial distinct enough to be memorable without being too trying on your noggin. When playing with a friend there are definitely some moments of “If I do this can you… wait… gimme a sec…” and incessant head-scratching, but most puzzles are either explained very clearly or naturally solved through trial and error without much thought. The more difficult challenges and time trials that are set on every stage are the true source of enjoyment in FORCED, since these require a stronger sense of teamwork and experimentation to get right.
But why struggle to complete the time trials and challenges, beyond the inherit fun of it all, I can hear you asking. Each trial laid before the player (valiant hero needs to overthrow bad guys, complete trials, blah blah whatever) contains three gems; one obtained upon completion, and the other two for the aforementioned criteria. The number of gems you have earned equates to your level, and thusly your unlocked skills. Skills are interspersed amongst levels just as they would be in any other RPG title, but the system prevents players who have sunk more time into the game from getting as tiresome as the game, since getting from level 49 to 50 can be just as easy as from 9 to 10; it is simply one gem. Though stages do get progressively harder, players can skip challenges to complete later if they feel the need to take on new skills against a particularly difficult boss.
One aspect of the multiplayer that took some time to understand and I still have mixed feelings towards is that only the gems that have been unlocked by every player in the party can be used by each player. This means that if I have unlocked 30 gems and play with you who have never played before, I will too be restricted to 0 gems, until you and I complete trials together. Since a friend and I completed many early challenges, then joined our other friends who ignored such challenges and just progressed through the stages, we were bothered by the confiscation of our favoured skills. This is just something to get used to, and I actually commend the developers for this refreshing take on level-balancing. Even though it confuses me, I think I like it.
The major issues with Forced will be felt differently by players depending on how they play. Solo players will find that some levels feel almost impossible to complete, and it is a rather lonely experience. Since the title was designed to be and is marketed as a multiplayer game, there is something missing from the solo version. Through playing with others, however, trials are scaled so that having more players will produce a higher difficulty setting, often meaning more bad guys. In some cases the task is still easier than it would be alone, but at other times it is absolutely impossible to progress. Myself and friends found it simpler and less frustrating to play through a number of trials alone before meeting up further along the story. There is also a strong tendency for unbearable levels of lag to show up with three or four players on the same server when a significant number of enemies are on the screen. It is this that ultimately ended my run-time with FORCED – after playing with friends through most of the title, it is unsatisfying to have to return to solo to complete it.
Forced really is a very well-made game and a lot of very important decisions on the design and mechanics of the title have, I feel, been well-chosen. The aesthetic of the game is beautiful and bright, while the enemies, tools and skills are all extensively varied. It is definitely a strong enough title to match and overcome AAA titles, and despite being unique and interesting, the most important factor of games is appropriately not overlooked; it is fun. Forced is a load of fun and, with some friends, it is well worth a lot more money than it costs. So you should get it.
Not that you’re being forced to or anything.
Select Start Media was provided with multiple review copies of Forced by BetaDwarf to allow for review of the multiplayer and singleplayer portions of the game.