Developer: Sonic Team/Sega Studios Japan
Release Date: Fall 2006
2006 is Sonic the Hedgehog's 15th anniversary, but he doesn't get any days off. Nor would we want him to.
Sonic Team's hard at work crafting his first next-gen adventure, and we got to play an extremely early build of a few levels on the show floor. Sonic Team's claimed to have "re-invented" the blue blur for his new game and to have brought him back to his roots. This statement is both true and false, but whether or not you agree with its overall direction, you have to admit that the quality's still there.
I'll say it now: In its current state, this game isn't going to change the minds of anyone who's been devoutly against the 3D Sonic games. This new installment follows the exact same formula as the others; it may as well be called Sonic Adventure 3. At the same time, the formula has been refined and polished to a fine sheen; there's still a ways to go, but the current state of things is very promising.
Sonic Team's been aware of the shortcomings of Sonic's 3D engine for quite some time, and with the help of the Havok engine, they're working hard to finally iron things out. What I played was already more stable than Shadow the Hedgehog in terms of staying in control of the little blue guy. Sonic's now got a slide attack to trip up robots and stop their fire, and if there's an enemy on the screen, or a destination that can be dashed to, the Homing Attack will never, ever miss it. If there aren't any of those on the screen, though… well, shoot. It's your own fault, okay?
The easiest thing to notice about this game is that it's incredibly beautiful. It's almost like playing the CG movies of Shadow the Hedgehog and Sonic Riders in real time. Every graphical trick in the book you can think of has been employed here (including light bloom and crazy amounts of motion-blur) has been used to give Sonic's parts of the game a sense of speed like none other. Also, the days of "hold up/forward to win" with regards to level design are a thing of the past.
Sonic will traverse all sorts of terrain horizontally, vertically, and even while running sideways on surfaces. Setting off the right combination of bumpers, grindable rails, and conveyors will allow in a path of least resistance. The result leaves you with a choice – it's up to you to explore the levels and uncover all of their hidden goodies, or unleash your inner hedgehog and go spinning all around the place in a barely visible robot-busting blur.
But wait! "Sonic's game," I said? Yes, I did. This new Sonic is split into three parts: one for Sonic, one for Shadow, and one for a new hedgehog by the name of Silver, who isn't fast, but has extreme telekinetic powers. Expect to turn missiles back onto the robots that fired them, to levitate across pits, and to suspend and hurl objects such as crates and cars with the power of his mind. Silver is even able to bend steel girders by sheer force of will, turning them into trampolines. Now that's power. Why he's after Sonic is anyone's guess, just as why the Eggman that Sonic's after seems to have undergone the best diet ever.
However, even with all of Silver's magical powers, it's Shadow the Hedgehog's gameplay that remains the most mysterious at this point in time. We've seen him riding in a weapon-decked jeep in a trailer so far, in a nod to his self-titled game. Other than this, nothing. He wasn't playable on the show floor, and even when asked in person, Sonic Team would not give any details. With this level of secrecy, it's safe to say that when he finally shows up, he'll either be the best thing ever, or single-handedly be the downfall of an entire game project. (Well, perhaps not, but paranoia, don't you know.)
The next generation of Sonic the Hedgehog will be arriving his fall to the Xbox 360 and PS3. We'll see then if Sonic's finally managed to fully realize himself in the third dimension; for now, however, things look good.
Not perfect yet – but good.
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