Kickstarted co-op action game Forced may look like an ARPG in the Blizzard mould, but it's actually much more of a... co-op action game. I'll explain below.
Forced sees you controlling a little dude in a top down combat arena, and unlocking powers as you play, but it's no Diablo-like RPG. This, instead, is a game of taking on various arena challenges – with monsters to fight, puzzles to resolve, and environmental dangers to avoid – while working with a chum. There's no loot, the single player is basically a mega-tutorial which explains all the possible challenges you'll face in game, and character persistence is only about making your character more versatile within the gladiatorial circumstances you find yourself in. The idea behind this game is to develop player skill, not to level with the magical grind of clicking.
The fiction for the game – and reasoning behind the dodgy title – is that you've been forced to enter a realm where you fight for the pleasure of demon types, and are basically a slave who caters to their entertainment. As such you pick a weapon (effectively character class, which you can change before any bout) and leap into the fray.
The maps can be quite complex in what their contain, and while you generally interact with the world by hitting, stabbing or shooting, you also have a will 'o' the wisp type glowing ball of light which can be used to trigger, charge, and activate other things in the game arena. For example, you might cause your wisp to float past a healing plinth thing, giving you a diminishing healing radius for a short time, or you might use it to set off an area of effect blast, which will knock back a large number of enemies. Consider that you have a chum doing the same sort of stuff all the while, and you can see that Forced's arenas can be busy places.
As I've been saying, what developers Betadwarf have been most keen on emphasizing is that this is a game about co-operating with other players, and the body of the game is in playing with a chum or three in a battle against the various arenas. This means trying to work together to take on both baddies – demons of various sizes and configurations - and environmental puzzles – spinning spikes, lava, mystical lasers - and doing so in a way that will complement the style of the other player. Ideally you don't want to both be the same character class, of course. This mostly works, too, especially if you end up play with someone who has rather different powers to yourself. A fast stabby character can be backed up by someone doing bigger slower hits or ranged damage, for example.
Forced is a competently produced game, and will no doubt do well based on both these kinds of production values, as well as the Blizzardian visual design sense. We like games that are co-op, and we like games that do pretty and cartoony fantasy. However, and this is a pretty big stopping point for me, I found the game to ultimately charmless. It isn't something I could sink time into long term, because the precise mix of visuals and mechanics just don't press my buttons. On paper it should, but the executions misses some vital ingredient that would really bring it to life.
Partly it's down to the odd mechanics, such as wisp activation of things, but also their lack of pizazz. Having played a tonne of Magicka: Wizard Wars – which is a PvP game, of course – I've acclimatised to a real cacophony of top-down combat effects, noises, and general pandemonium which Forced lacks. Sure, it's solid and does what it's supposed to, but everything from the character designs to their weapons, to the particle effects, the monsters and the world itself, avoids really making anything its own. It simply lacks flair, and combined with the slightly awkward mechanics in co-op play, means it never feels wholly convincing. I'm playing, and it works, but I'm not absorbed in it in the way I immediately was with, say, Torchlight II or even a top-down shooter like say Teleglitch, or a co-op shooter like Left 4 Dead, which in truth this is probably closer to.
For a game that is trying to do things differently, it feels odd that there's so little distinct about its visual style. It needs more cowbell. And for a game that is predicated on co-op, I didn't feel like I got enough out of playing alongside other gamers, although it's hard to pin down precisely why. Perhaps Forced is simply overshadowed by the way in which so many other games have got us working together and co-operating in play, or perhaps its emphasis was simply in the wrong place.
Whatever the real issue, I feel like Forced is one of those games that fell short of greatness. There's a lot there, and it's been well made, but the package isn't for me. Perhaps it was addressed to someone else.
Forced is out now.