Sonic Unleashed - first look

Ever since the first trailer leaked onto the net a short time ago, we’ve been clamoring to hear more about Sonic Unleashed, the supposed “re-imagining” of the Sonic series after a string of commercially successful, yet dismally received entries. It’s sad that we approach each new Sonic title with trepidation, but as luck would have it, Unleashed is poised to bring the blue freak into an entirely new direction. Hitting multiple consoles this winter, we caught a glimpse from an unfinished 360 version and came away curiously optimistic.

Unleashed appears to handle similarly to the Wii’s Sonic and the Secret Rings, meaning you’ll always be moving forward at blazing speeds and use homing attacks against enemy robots. None of that meandering adventure nonsense was seen. Right away, one difference in Unleashed is how much faster Sonic books it. Utilizing the all-new Hedgehog proprietary engine that’s been in development since 2005, you almost get the sense that keeping track of Sonic would be the tough part. Right when we thought it would be nigh impossible for the developer to time his jumping attacks, the camera whipped around to a classic 2D view, giving the player a little more reaction time. Still, we wouldn’t be surprised if you mistimed a number of jumps.

We noticed a new Ring Energy meter this time, that once filled (by collecting rings quickly) - will trigger either a speed boost or attack boost - the latter of which enabled Sonic to plow right through enemies. Additionally, we saw two new features in Unleashed. With Sonic Drift, Sonic will jam on the brakes and slide around corners much like a racing game and Quick Step is an evade move that lets you quickly sidestep enemy attacks. We saw flying robots emit lasers at our blue hero, before he quickly dodged to safety and delivered a punishing spin attack. Another time he sidestepped spiked barrels (don’t ask) that were thrown in his direction. Side stepping is a welcome addition for those fearing this new game doesn’t give you much control.

Two levels were shown to us - Greece and another European-themed level - and both look absolutely astounding. We saw Sonic barrel down streets and over rooftops, sometimes crashing through outdoor furniture and grinding corkscrews over oceans. Also, there’s some amazing draw distance at work. At one point, Sonic dashed through a shadowy tunnel while the whole town was visible in the background. It looked so good that we half-expected Sonic to leapthere at any given time.

Each level will have daytime and nighttime variants, with nighttime being more combat-oriented. We didn’t get a full answer on what this meant, but were assured each environment will warrant extra replay value. Additionally, there are multiple pathways in each level, sometimes designated with a Quicktime event. Sometimes when you launch yourself in the air, you’ll have to correctly input a button combination. Success means you’ll be propelled to a higher location in the level and possibly find some secrets. Failure just dumps you back to the main pathway - a punishment we’re okay with.

Heading to the 360, PS3, Wii and PS2 this winter, we’re told that there’ll be two completely different versions of Unleashed - one for next-gen and the other for Wii/PS2. We’re giving Sega the benefit of a doubt (again) to blow us away with a Sonic re-invention - but we’ve been burned before. Stay tuned though because we should hear more on the blue blur’s next big adventure at E3.

May 16, 2008