Forced is the first game from studio Beta Dwarf and takes the hack and slash genre to a different place with progression, team work and puzzle solving. And while the game comes close to matching the great team play seen in titles like Lara Croft and the Guardian of Life, this is definitely a game meant for a group.
The story of Forced is that you are a gladiator being forced to fight for the amusement of powerful monsters. Guided by a spirit mentor, you need to fight your way through different trials before coming to the guardians of each area where you’ll have to deal with to move on.
What’s very interesting about Forced is that while it may look like your traditional hack and slash, it draws similarities to other genres. Character progression is not tied to killing any enemies but collecting crystals from each trial. You get one crystal for beating the trial, one for completing a secondary mission and one crystal for doing it under a par time.
You can choose from one of four weapons/classes which you can swap between before starting a trial. Each weapon has unique skills and passive abilities which become unlocked as you collect more crystals. It’s an interesting approach that takes a lot of the min/maxing from the genre out in favor of a simple and engaging progression model.
The trials themselves are where things take a different turn as Forced is as much a puzzle game as it is a hack and slash.
The basics of each trial are combat focused as the game controls similar to most ARPGs. You can move and strike in different directions with your weapons while skills that you selected are tied to hot keys. You’ll slow down if an enemy hits you which forces you to keep attacking and to avoid being swarmed.
Run out of health and your spirit mentor will revive you with some health and you’ll have a 30 second cool down before he’ll do it again.
However killing enemies is not the focus of the game but instead you’ll be tasked with different goals for each trial. Part of the puzzle solving comes in with how you can use your spirit mentor to activate objects.
Your mentor takes the form of an orb that can be called to you via the space bar. The orb will move from wherever it’s currently at to the position you were in when you called it. Holding space for a second will tell it to come directly to you and stay on you until you hit space again. Using the orb is required to get through the many puzzles in the game as you have to position the orb so that when you call it, it will move into shrines and other points of interest on the map.
Teamwork is needed to properly move the orb around as you can’t stop it once it begins its trip and advanced puzzles require two or more players to “juggle” the orb around obstacles by calling it back and forth between them. And when you take into account the fact that you’ll be attacked during these situations makes Forced a challenging game. This sense of teamwork gives the game a very unique feel to it especially when you get to the boss fights that require different tactics to fight.
For a co-op game, Forced is amazing but it’s important to mention that despite the single-player option, you really don’t want to play the game by yourself.
Forced, like Left 4 Dead or Payday is a game that is designed and aimed for group plays and is not balanced at all for single-player. In order to have any chance at playing through you need to have at least one, possibly two people along for the ride at minimum due to how the mechanics are set up.
Without being able to launch or pull the orb back to you, it makes later puzzles impossible to solve by yourself and the sheer number of enemies will easily swarm you. There are also suicide bomber enemies who can only be dealt with safely via ranged attacks which again mean you need to have friends available.
This is the main area where Forced slips up on compared to Guardian of Life as that game featured redesigned content for both single and co-op play.
So that someone could play the game effectively twice: Once by themselves and again in co-op and get two different (and beatable) experiences.
With Forced, you are forced (no pun intended) to play co-op which requires the added commitment of getting people together that you can communicate with. In an upcoming cast, I spoke with the designer behind Forced and he talked about how the singleplayer mode was sort of a last minute addition to the game and it almost seems like the game would have flowed better with having it excluded and replaced with a shorter solo campaign.
If you can get your friends to join you, Forced is an entirely original co-op experience and worth it to go through at least once as a group to see it all. The game design really does co-op differently and despite the simple mechanics, there is a lot of variety and challenges for you and your friends to enjoy.