FORCED does a great job at crafting a challenging yet highly engaging cooperative experience, one that scales cleverly to accommodate a single player but whose true marvel is revealed when a second, third and fourth player joins in on the fun. It’s mighty challenging, though, enough to test your friendships.
You play as a gladiator, born into slavery with the rest of your kin to perform for your masters in arenas of combat and cunning. However, if you survive the trials and defeat each tyrannical boss your freedom is granted. Of course this is anything but simple, relentless waves of foes attack you from every angle and devilish puzzlers stop you in your tracks.
In order to progress, and indeed survive, you must master both combat and puzzle solving, often under trying conditions. Each stage sports its own aesthetic qualities, from lush jungles to desolate deserts, each with ruins that are part maze, part arena, funneling the unique denizens of each locale towards you so they may attack you mercilessly. Meanwhile, they’ll be a puzzle or set of puzzles to solve that opens up the way forward, stops enemies spawning, or simply makes up criteria that results in the completion of that arena. Figuring out how to deal with the many enemies and solve the puzzles efficiently is a true mental workout.
It’s remarkably entertaining trying to juggle the combat and puzzle solving, it leads to frequent deaths as you try to figure it out but with every failure a lesson is learnt. FORCED is terrifically well-balanced and fair, enemies have weaknesses and attack patterns that can be exploited and anticipated, the arena’s size and design offers additional opportunities to aid you in combat or punish you, once you’re familiar with the mechanics it becomes all about figuring out how each arena functions, and it’s a fascinating journey of discovery.
A spirit guide accompanies you on your quest, Balfus, and through him you can interact with the arena, activating mechanisms and power ups, or even turning the spirit into a bomb temporarily to destroy totems or enemies. Meanwhile, a marks system registers as hit counters on enemies up to a maximum of five, generated by standard attacks and then spent by performing special attacks, with the more marks on an enemy causing extra damage. This system also ties into the weapon you choose to wield, which you can change at the beginning of each arena, as well as the abilities and stats you chose for your characters as you level them up.
Indeed FORCED offers a pleasant amount of choice and never locks you in to a single style of play. A shield you can throw allows you to block attacks if you can master the precision required, while being able to deal significant melee damage, meanwhile the bow offers quick arrow shooting or a charged, more powerful shot. Each are enhanced by their elemental properties which can be further customised with the skill tree of your character and can also be changed at will to fit any style of play. It’s terrifically open and welcoming, however, this isn’t the case for the difficulty.
FORCED is supremely challenging, so much so that it warns you of its challenge on the menu screen. Enemies can be countered or blocked, the puzzles can be completely quickly, and the bosses can be overcome with minimal damage, if you know precisely what you’re doing. It’s very much a matter of mastering the mechanics of combat and working out the puzzles as soon as possible. Trial and error gets you to the point where you can perform a clean run through an arena but it takes plenty of tries to get there, especially solo. Bringing another player or three in to the arena helps significantly with the extra heads and weapon sets. Moreover, the puzzles change slightly to better accommodate cooperative play. This is where FORCED truly shines.
FORCED can’t escape the inherent frustrations that come with frequent death, despite each failure ultimately proving to be fair, but sharing the failures with friends helps alleviate the worst of it. Furthermore, cooperative play offers a different experiences than solo, tapping into the cooperative spirit and requiring teamwork to solve the puzzles, such as activating pressure pad simultaneously. However, where fellow gladiators really comes in handy is the Survival mode, which is far more demanding than any of the campaign levels, throwing waves of enemies and requiring constant communication and effective use of Balfus.
FORCED is an enjoyable co-op brawler and puzzler but an extremely challenging one, however, the design is so fair and clever that the frustration of dying is lessened slightly. Four player co-op is certainly the best way to play in order to see the puzzles and arenas in their true glory, as well as help with the burden of puzzle solving and frantic combat.
Thanks to Xbox and BetaDwarf for their support
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