By: Justin Redmon
Co-op is a tough thing to get working correctly in a game. Not just because of how you’ll be interacting with each other, but also because of the people you’ll be playing with. Some games subvert the entire expectation of co-op, like BattleBlock Theater, where helping or completely screwing over your teammates is up to you. Forced, by developer BetaDwarf, shares a lot in common with BattleBlock Theater, albeit replacing the platform-y goodness with gladiatorial combat. While fighting as a team is certainly enjoyable, Forced makes it just as fun to throw a wrench in the whole process; which can sometimes hurt the whole experience.
As a four-person co-op experience, controls are the first up on the board for an enjoyable time. Whether keyboard or controller, it’s up to you how you tackle the arena. Which weapon you jump into battle with might change what you should be using , however, as controllers fare far better on the twin-stick setup for melee characters while a keyboard and mouse make the bow child’s play with far more accurate aiming; though movement can be somewhat tricky when using the keyboard. All in all, the setup feels tight and reliable, with every death feeling like a fault of the player and not a glitch in the system.
Forced doesn’t slouch in the looks department, either, boasting vibrant colors in some pretty cool looking environments. Some of the special attacks are impressive as well, and explosive deaths cause bodies to gib in spectacular fashion. The only real downside is that enemies don’t really seem to have much inspiration behind them, and often seem plain when compared to the environments.
In sound, Forced puts forth just as valiant an effort. Your spirit guide companion narrates pretty much everything you do and helps breathe some life into the game, as well as the main boss of each section chiming in every now and then, taunting you on your progress. Forced pulls off what it sets out to do, crafting a reliable look and feel that keeps things enjoyable.
Story wise, Forced doesn’t have too much going for it — although seeing as the co-op gameplay is taking center stage it’s understandable. At its core, Forced is an arena combat game, but how you tackle that combat is the most important part. Before jumping into battle you choose from one of four classes, each with its own advantages and drawbacks. There’s the slow attacking hammer wielder, the archer, the quick attacking dual blades, and the team buffing shield support.
This is actually where a lot of team play before arenas comes in, since prior to jumping into battle you can mix and match weapons with your teammates for different setups. A mark system plays into combat as well, where attacking enemies marks them with ticks on their health bar, setting them up for extra damage via your teammates’ special moves. This factors into your team makeup, where taking the dual blades means you won’t be doing much damage, but your ability to stack marks quickly can set up teammates to finish off enemies relatively quickly with their special abilities.
Beyond straight combat, arenas also have puzzles based around controlling your spirit guide, which is basically a glowing orb. How this works is that there are statues and pedestals in the arenas that activate when you direct the spirit guide into them. Your guide is only controllable in one of two ways, either by pinging them to your current location, or having them follow you. Some puzzles require you to steer the orb through mazes or blow up statues.
How well you do in each arena also factors into an RPG system dealing with crystals. Each arena has three crystals for you to earn, one for completion, one for a particular challenge, and one dealing with a time trial. Collecting crystals is how you level up your character with active and passive abilities, ranging from damage-dealing specials to elemental augmentations to your attacks. Abilities and crystals are completely interchangeable, letting you mix and match within your favorite class, or switching to others. The problem is that some missions are pretty tough, so unlocking all the crystals is a feat few might be able to accomplish.
Forced does fall short in some aspects though, mainly if you ever choose to tackle the game alone. There doesn’t seem to be any balancing in place to ensure solo players can have an enjoyable time. Even though it’s somewhat expected with a co-op focused game, it still can be a pain for someone looking to go it alone. Playing co-op can occasionally be an annoyance, too, as even one unreliable teammate can be enough to mess up a match. Some of the challenges can be particularly devastating to complete as well, most notably some of the time trial challenges that seem to require a precision few will be able to achieve.
While it can be a little rough going alone, Forced is an incredibly rewarding co-op experience; just be a little careful of who you play with online.