Forced is a simple and satisfying little game, but tying it down to a genre feels like pulling teeth.
It looks like an Action RPG à la Diablo and its ilk. Steam's store description explicitly describes Forced as an "action RPG." The opening cinematic and formative first few minutes give you little reason to doubt it, introducing you to a colourful fantasy world where gladiators are bred from birth to fight and die for their gods' sadistic amusement... before unceremoniously punting you straight into the pit clad solely in a fashionable loincloth. A hovering (and pleasingly sardonic) spirit guide, Balfus, assumes the role of your coach, putting you on the road to defeating numerous demonic guardians and finally escaping the nightmarish realm into which you've been forced. A strong setup for an RPG, no?
But it's absolutely not an RPG, at least not in the traditional sense. Rather Forced presents you with a totally compartmentalised series of arenas full of mobs to kill and puzzles to complete against the clock, and replay over and over again for leaderboard times. I suppose you could call it an ARPG... if that stands for Arena Replay Puzzle Gauntlet. BetaDwarf's Kickstarted effort is an intriguing fusion of different genres that, in multiplayer, works rather well indeed.
Before each arena kicks off (typically a compact environment stuffed with spawning mobs or a major boss fight every six levels), you're free to choose from one of four weapons: quick-smart DPS daggers, slow-but-devastating warhammer, tank-tastic ice shield and a bow for ranged engagements. Controlling your character, attacking and triggering a small selection of secondary skills is effortless WASD or controller fare, resembling any twinstick shooter you've played over the last generation, putting the focus squarely on arcade action. It's Smash TV, not Icewind Dale, brought to life with capable and colourful cartoonish visuals that channel World Of Warcraft to a notable degree.
Early impressions are less than stellar. Regardless of weapon, attacks don't feel as weighty and impactful as they ought to, stopping the all-important combat from feeling as visceral and satisfying as it should. All too often, it feels like you're gingerly wiping the onrushing hordes with a soft-bristled brush rather than striking them, and painting on a stack of vulnerability known as 'marks' in the process. Marks amplify the damage that your secondary skills deal, which was clearly intended to provide an extra tactical nuance, but in practice feels unnecessarily messy and obfuscatory.
Put in some time, however, and Forced gradually reveals its underlying depth - perhaps enough to reclaim its RPG credentials. You'll certainly have to play a role, since the situational weapons require you to play to your strengths in order to survive, and approach levels in an entirely different way. Enemy attacks slow your movement speed down to a sluggish crawl, much like Valve's Left 4 Dead, putting the focus on intelligently pushing the offensive rather than continually running backwards like a traditional twinstick shooter. Critically, a massively robust unlock system hinges around securing par completion times and completing unbelievably difficult optional challenges, which forces you to excel to earn your upgrades and feeds into a satisfying win > new skills > faster times/better victories > more upgrades loop.
Combat is therefore a deadly puzzle, since working out exactly which weapon to use and which skills to equip... and what enemies to kill... in what order... is absolutely critical to nailing the best leaderboard times and securing new abilities. Which is all before Forced rolls out its actual puzzles.
Arenas are absolutely packed with execution challenges to complete, most of which involve you ordering Balfus around to interact with shrines or destroy critical objects and spawners, guiding him through mazes and avoiding deadly traps as you do so. A little like one of those hoop and wire games you'll see at fairgrounds. It's very much an 'on the fly' puzzler; whereas Portal gives you plenty of time to deliberate exactly how to complete each objective, Forced throws you in at the deep end against the clock and a horde of enemies to deal with simultaneously. This welcome extra gameplay dimension requires equal amounts of brainpower and reflexes, after all, actually figuring out a solution is nothing without the skills to perfectly pull it off with split-second precision.
Forced is a bit of a chore when played solo. Because each weapon class is situational, you'll frequently feel ill-equipped to deal with the challenges posed by later levels, and replay quickly sours into repetition if you're on your lonesome. Thankfully things make much more sense when you get a few other players involved either online or crammed onto a couch. In fact, Forced comes to life.
Those situational weapons complement each other perfectly. One player hangs back with the bow while his pal tanks in front of him using the ice shield. Dagger-wielding rogues dance around bosses while hammer maniacs move in for the kill, even as other players scurry to complete a puzzle relatively unmolested. Victory requires incredibly tight teamwork and constant communication, so be sure to use Steam's voice chat if not a standalone VOIP client, and play with trusted friends or acquaintances whenever possible. Winning out against a tough arena or solving a puzzle together is uniquely rewarding, and absolutely the best way to enjoy Forced. That's what it was designed for, after all.
That said, I would strongly suggest that two is the magic number when it comes to co-op. With just one other hero involved, you can cleanly and easily discuss your strategies while you play, and efficiently boss your floating coach around. Adding more players can turn Forced into a rather messy and chaotic experience, since it's much harder to nail down your tactics when everyone's bellowing down your headset and Balfus ricochets around the maps like a pinball. Locally, though, you should definitely enjoy the disarray and unique tactical possibilities that four players can provide - or create a quartet online if you have an existing crew who you already work well with.
In case you were wondering, Forced offers no PvP. Personally I feel that this is definitely the right approach, since the game is built around cooperation and asynchronous competition, so I'm not going to even think about marking it down.
Without competitive multiplayer, though, your long-term enjoyment of Forced entirely depends on how much of a completionist you are. Constantly beating par times and securing challenges is the entire point of the proceedings - to the extent where character progression is based around replaying levels rather than farming kills - so the main selling point is continually proving your own worth and bettering yourself. Hell, you can even stream your gameplay directly to Twitch.tv. If you're the kind of gamer who lives to crush leaderboards and loves the thrill of finally completing a nigh-impossible challenge after a thousand failed attempts, Forced is a perfect fit for you.
If you can find other players who share your mentality, that is.
- Enjoyable arcade action and puzzles
- Hectic cooperative fun, encourages teamwork and cooperation
- Plenty of deceptively deep content
- Combat lacks satisfying feedback, feels slightly limp
- Mark system feels messy and somewhat redundant
- Highly repetitious by design
The Short Version: Forced presents a satisfying fusion of cooperative arcade combat and on-the-fly puzzle solving, wrapped up in a constant battle for leaderboard placement and self-improvement. Though many players will find themselves tiring of the small arenas and purposeful degree of repetition, completionists and co-op fiends will find plenty to love here.