A pair of stabbing green daggers hold the horde at bay, as a flaming hammer swings around the heads of the soon-to-be vanquished. An arrow streaks from somewhere, felling the largest of the creatures and a frost-frosted shield sparks and clangs as it hurtles between man and beast. Forced is a co-op thing of beauty, that still, somehow, manages to squeeze extreme-frisbee into this scene of battle.
I’m not even kidding.
Built from the ground up by a kickstarted indie team, Forced is a four-player co-op action RPG. Except it isn’t. The RPG elements go as far as clicky combat and interchangeable powers, the rest sits closer to a kind of last-man-standing arena mode. Except it’s co-op. You and up to three friends pit yourselves against a rising tide of beastly things in a fight to the death within arenas reminiscent of World of Warcraft. Except for the statues. And puzzles. And Balthus. Yeah, it’s an odd game.
The plot sadly pours cold water over you at the start – you are a gladiator/slave, and you are forced (ah!) to fight for the amusement of demon-overlords. It is a watery and somewhat drab setup, but fortunately completely irrelevant as the story is less a roller-coaster of exposition, and more an entrée into the online co-op. Broken up into stages with a boss through the last door, the game segments itself nicely into short, fast bursts of action. The trials themselves are pretty looking enough, all crumbling ruins and fantastical shrubbery. The art department are clearly World of Warcraft fan-boys and it shows, even down the character and monster models. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is up to you, but I quite like the style.
Unlike the clicky Diablo-alike it’s screenshots hint at, Forced is unequivocally an action game. Your character’s movement nimble and responsive using the keyboard, his attacks directed by the mouse – or you can control the whole thing with a pad. Even the various abilities you can unlock for your little guy are all geared towards ease-of-use, and the vast majority far more useful in a group. This is where Forced stumbles a little bit. There is a single-player mode, but it simply waters down the difficulty and throws less enemies at you. This is a game designed from the ground up to be played with friends, and it hurts it badly when you have none.
The co-op in Forced is fascinating, though. Each mission/arena has a clear objective – kill this many things, blow up this many statues, survive etc. But the synergy between classes is profound during both combat and solving the myriad of environmental obstacles you are faced with. The combat itself is simple, a kind of play on the old energy system of the rogue from WoW with each successful strike placing a “tick” on the enemy. These ticks can be used a number of ways, from doing far more damage with a special attack, to increasing the damage basic attacks inflict. The ticks are shared between players too, meaning a rogue-type character can attack a load of enemies, filling up their ticks, and the chap with the Volcanic Hammer can use his special attack that does significantly more damage per tick. And this is the most basic of example.
It’s not all beating monsters either. Well, it is, but it often tasks you with other objectives as well, which introduces what is easily the most interesting – and risky – concept Forced has up its sleeve.
Balthus is a spirit guide. He guides you, tells you story stuff and is even occasionally possessed by some of the nastier bad-guys for the sole reason to throw insults at you and your companions. And at the beginning, I really disliked him. A slightly weak attempt at a Wheatley-style chap tasked with fleshing out an already forgotten plot. And he kind of is, until you start a trial. Then he becomes a fairly clever way of interacting with the environment, as well as an excuse to yell at your team-mates.
You can call Balthus to your position, you can even make him follow you about. Across the arenas are various statues and structures with various effects on Balthus – a healing shrine that causes him to radiate an aura that heals all who stand near, for example, or a fiery statue that turns him into a floating bomb, for another. There are a fair few more, but in the interest of no spoilers, I’ll just say this – it pays to experiment. He becomes an integral part of working out the machinations of a particular trial, and becomes invaluable very quickly. The catch? Everyone can move him about. While this sounds like a perfect way to start a fight, it allows a decently coordinated team to pull off some extraordinarily clever moves, pinging Balthus back and forward across the maps in a kind of plasma-ghost-ball-frisbee game. It’s tremendous fun, and while quirky at first, it keeps the game frantic and far more skill-based than you might imagine.
Forced was an unexpected treat for me, to be perfectly honest. I’m not one for Diablo clones, not liking Diablo being one of the main reasons. But this is far closer to a tight, sporty puzzler you can play with your mates than any other RPG you care to mention. It’s daft, occasionally bastard-hard (while solo, some trials bordered on impossible for myself), but it tries something different and risky. It messes with a traditionally strict and rigid genre to create a co-op experience that manages to make itself almost an arcade game. And in a curious twist – it succeeds, and lots of fun too.
Verdict – Headshot
Platforms available – PC
Platform reviewed – PC
Review copy supplied by Betadwarf.
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