Forced is a game which rewards co-operation through combat – and is proud of it.
Pitching the title as a ‘tactical arena combat’ game, developers Beta Dwarf have lovingly crafted an addictive, surprisingly deep title with a cheeky, tongue-in-cheek side.
Opening with a short FMV detailing the lives of a primitive tribe, Forced is the tale of a group of slave-warriors who are sacrificed to heathen Gods by being thrown into a pit. Finding themselves alive after a fall of many miles, the 1-4 warriors don suits of armour, grab their weapons and have to prove themselves in a series of fiendish challenges, in order to prove their worth as gladiators.
So yeah, Forced is light on plot – but it makes up for this with a healthy dose of action.
Played from an isometric perspective, the game feels like a classic dungeon crawler, but with a charming, well-lit art style of its own. Each player takes on the armour of a certain warrior – the assassin, heavy (with hammer), archer and throwing star-shield-guy (catchy, I know.)
These four combat archetypes then have to work together to face down waves of well-designed foes, tackle massive bosses and complete puzzles.
The fifth member of the band is a lippy spirit mentor named Balfus, who doles out advice and scornful put-downs in equal measure.
Although not a playable character, Balfus is nonetheless integral to the warriors’ quest, as he can be used to open doors, explode walls (or friends/foes) and heal the party.
Learning to control Balfus is essential for success, as all four players can call his ball-of-light form to them, and moving him about the screen quickly becomes essential to victory.
The gameplay itself is pretty simple fare. The four gladiators hack, shoot or thump their way through a series of rooms and foes, working together to ‘mark’ larger foes. These marks, displayed on the target, make it easier to bring them down, so strategically targeting enemies quickly becomes natural after a few levels.
As well as the gleeful bloodletting, the game also has a well-rounded upgrade tree for each warrior class, as well as a selection of special abilities. These can be triggered after a certain amount of time or damage given, and range from a powerful smash-attack to sending out a wave of paralysing ice.
A host of passive abilities can also be chosen for a number of armour slots – but tweaking your load out is done between levels, so choosing wisely is essential.
Graphically, Forced looks great – in fact, as the camera often zooms out to take in all four players at once, you don’t really get a chance to see how well-realised the character models are, which is a shame.
The lighting gives each level, whether a dungeon or a cloud-strewn bridge, a pleasant size, and I didn’t notice much in the way of texture drop-in or poor draw distance.
The enemies range from cleaver-wielding thugs to scuttling horrors to huge, slavering beasts, and Forced loves to throw packs of mixed foes at the warriors, forcing co-operation through frenzied combat.
The sound and music are also well-realised, with a decent variety of voice acting for Balfus and the other pit-dwellers – not too tinny, despite the lower, crowd-funded budget of the title.
The levels are cleverly designed and the challenges often prove very difficult, but Forced’s gentle (relatively, there’s still beasts trying to gnaw your shins) introduction brings gamers up to speed fast.
Outside the single/co-operative gameplay, Forced also offers a survival mode, which pits waves of enemies against the warriors. It’s simple fare, but it offers a pleasing extension to Forced’s average gameplay length.
Forced is well worth a try if you’re a long-time fan of titles like Diablo, but its focus on combat and co-operation over looting bodies may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Equally, if you’re new to the genre, Forced could be the easy-to-play title you need to ease yourself in.
It’s addictive, compelling stuff, and great with three friends along for the ride.