FORCED just might be one of the more interesting and unique takes on the PC staple genre of action-RPGs seen in awhile. The indie PC title just released on Steam is from a studio of Danish origins called BetaDwarf who in an attempt to rebel against the gods of gaming decided that a puzzle game needed to be “forced” into a co-op arena based hack and slash action-RPG. Allowing players to go through the campaign by themselves or with up to 3 of their friends locally and online, FORCED caters to all variety of setups one might have with their gaming friends.
Players find themselves playing as a gladiator in training from a village that is bred by the gods to produce participants to run a gauntlet of arena style trials and matches. These trials feature a mixture of combat, manipulating the environment, and solving puzzles. The ratio is not always even with some trials being more about combat while others are clearly meant as puzzle trials with minimal combat. The game is split up into 25 trials and there is a boss fight at the end of each grouping of trials. The boss fights are where FORCED shines as they are longer affairs requiring players to react to patterns and also utilize aspects of the puzzle portions of the game with straight up combat.
Each trial gives 3 different crystals. The first crystal is for completely the trial, the second is for some random requirement that isn’t made known until completion, and the third is for completing it within a set time. These crystals are very important to the strength of the gladiator because the more crystals unlocked means the more abilities the player has to chose from when preparing their character pre-trial. The trials last under 10 minutes and quite a few cases 3-4 minutes leaving FORCED as one of those titles that are just hard to put down leaving you at 3 in the morning saying “Just one more”.
The nameless gladiator does not have a set class. Before each trial, players enter a prep room that allows them to choose between one of four weapons that have their own unique set of stats and abilities essentially creating the classic archetypes. Daggers equate to a speedy rogue like character that is made to get in and out of combat. The hammer allows the player to fill that traditional slow attack heavy damage warrior role. The bow leaves the player attacking from the distance with ranged and deliberate attacks. The shield fills the defensive role giving the player the ability to deflect damage for the group.
Combat is a bit of mixture between a twin stick shooter and a Diablo-esque game. Movement and aiming are separated to their own controls so you can run in one direction while aiming in another executing regular attacks and abilities. The twin stickness of it all takes a bit to get used to for those familiar with titles like Diablo that doesn’t separate the movement and attack direction.
Combat centers around a mechanic called marks. Enemies gain a mark up to five above their head when attacked with a regular attack. These marks affect the strength of various abilities and passives. More marks might make 1 special attack to do more damage while a passive ability allows you to do more damage with an attack on an unmarked enemy. This is where working together as a team during co-op can really make the tactical difference between losing and winning. Well oiled teams might have 1 player shooting all of the enemies creating marks while the other does high damage special attacks.
The spirit trainer slash glowing and floating ball of spirit juice, Balthus, first greets you as you recover from being tossed into the pit. Balthus is the players reference to the world of FORCED explaining the ins and outs. But that is not his only function and he is surprisingly an intrical part of the gameplay. Players can pull Balthus to their current location with a press of a button. As Balthus glides across the screen he interacts with different objects like switches, enemy spawners, and power shrines just to name a few. Shrines are the most interesting because they power him up to bestow buffs or destroy enemies for a small period of time. The puzzle aspects of the game tend to rely on Balthus gliding into some shrine and then something else. In an early level of the game, Balthus has to be powered up from a shrine that causes him to explode on the first thing that touches him. Players then have to direct him into several statues around the arena.
Campaign is not the only mode available in FORCED, as teams can take to the leaderboards and try their hands at Survival Mode where waves of enemies attack. Survival gives the game a bit of replayability after collecting all 75 crystals and is a great way to test new tactics as a group. Leaderboards are separated by the number of players so 2 players will not be competing against single player runs etc.
Another neat feature in FORCED is Twitch integration allowing players to broadcast their gameplay to the popular broadcast site. Right before release BetaDwarf held a tournament based on the Survival mode and utilized the Twitch feature to catch the action. While not having heard anything official, I can see these type of tournaments being a regular thing either player ran or ran by the developer.
FORCED is a game that will test a players mettle and quickly let them know how they and their friends stack up. The puzzle aspect mixed with the arena style trials create a game bite sized enough that it is hard to put down while at the same time allows you to play in small increments if necessary. Twitch integration is a nice plus and hopefully more and more titles will continue some kind of game capture integration.