If you walked past a busy classroom at a University you’d probably think nothing of it, even if that classroom was supposed to be empty. There are always groups of people taking over rooms to work on a project or lecturers that need to move about for extra space or availability of a projector etc. The Indie team BetaDwarf relied on this effect for almost a year, living and working in a University classroom without anybody knowing. Hiding in plain sight they worked on their project day-in-day-out until, unfortunately, they were found and removed from the premises, rendering them homeless. It’s a great story, which you can read in full here. SPOILER: All ended well and the final product of a group of developers that just couldn’t be stopped, almost three years of hard work and a successful Kickstarter campaign that saved them from the brink of poverty – Forced was recently released on Steam.
Forced is a strange cross-breed between a top-down action RPG and a puzzle game that is directed more towards co-operative play. I seriously can’t think of any game like it, as it is truly unique and a tonne of fun. The story tells of a tribe of humans who mark chosen children at birth – these children will grow into warriors and attempt a set deadly trials to appease powerful guardians. They train all their lives for the day and are forced (yes, we get it) into entering a deep chasm from which nobody has ever returned. Once there, a spirit guide, Balfus, meets you and announces that he will accompany you on your journey, explaining what he can and helping out as much as is possible for a talking magic orb, which happens to be quite a lot. Before the trials can be attempted, ‘The Selection’ is used to weed out the weaker warriors and acts as a tutorial, explaining the main mechanics but without showing too much, leaving the trials to constantly introduce new ideas and uses for Balfus.
The first thing all warriors must do is choose a class, which can be changed before any trial as long as nobody else in the group is already playing it. The game is four players and thus has four classes – a swift dagger user, a ranged archer, a powerful hammer wielder and a defensive shield user. Each has their perks, strengths and weaknesses and each plays completely different, adding a bit of replay-value. Although, once you decide on a class you like and figure out how best to use it changing mid-game will most likely cause you to fail a lot, proving that each class has a learning curve that must be overcome to progress. I preferred the damaging hammer user, who is better at crowd control and knocking enemies away, but isn’t very good against ranged attackers and doesn’t have any way of healing until much later in the skill tree. Luckily, the two friends I played with chose the archer and the dagger classes, both of which get team healing abilities fairly early on, allowing me to tank enemies without fear of being whittled down. I played Forced both alone and with friends but either way it can be gruellingly difficult for different reasons, nothing wrong with a good challenge!
Even though each class is different, the controls are identical. The game can be played with either a keyboard and mouse or with an Xbox 360 controller both of which are equally effective, something I never thought I’d say. For the sake of explaining the controls, I’ll just use the keyboard and mouse as an example. Naturally, ‘WASD’ controls a player’s movement whilst moving the mouse changes the direction the character is facing, as if they are following the cursor. Left-clicking uses a characters basic attack, pressing the space bar calls Balfus directly to where you were standing when you called him (allowing you to move before he reaches you) and holding the space bar for 0.3 seconds will attach Balfus to you (I’m not sure why it had to be so specific but it was good for a chuckle). They are extremely simple but mastering these controls, especially manoeuvring Balfus is essential to progress. Also, as you unlock more skills, more active skill slots unlock allowing right-click, ‘Q’ and ‘E’ keys to be utilised for secondary abilities.
Forced doesn’t have a ‘levelling up’ system per-se, experience is not gained from killing enemies and completing quests, instead the skill tree unlocks are based on crystals (that are kept even after changing classes), for which every trial (including bosses) have three that can be attained. The crystals are the same for each level – a completion crystal unlocked for simply completing the main objective, a challenge crystal unlocked for completing a, usually very difficult, secondary objective and finally a time crystal unlocked for completing a level within the allotted time, which can also be borderline impossible. The choice of active and passive skills can often be the difference between winning and losing. As a tank I chose passive skills that increased my knock-back and damage and active skills that caused an area of effect and threw enemies to the ground, this way I could dispose of tougher enemies as fast as possible whilst also controlling swarms. Although, when playing alone I used skills to keep enemies away from me and, when I finally unlocked it, to heal myself. As I was playing alone I had to be more careful about taking damage and adapted my skills accordingly. Whilst the skill tree is pretty simplistic and some skills are obviously better that others, most skills are unique allowing for a number of different load-outs, each more effective at taking on certain situations.
The trials are split up into four areas, each consisting of five normal trials and a then boss, culminating in the final boss battle for the 25th trial. Each area adds new mechanics, building on what you’ve already learnt until by the end you are juggling enemies and co-ordinating Balfus through a plethora of different shrines and mazes. Each trial has a different goal but are mostly just about using Balfus to activate shrines, killing enemies and/or reaching the end of an area. It’s the level designs, traps, puzzles and difficulty that make Forced so great. Combat is straightforward, all attacks have a cool-down, with the basic attack always being the most dependant but usually the least damaging. Enemies come in the form of fast swarms that aim to surround players, large minotaurs that grapple players to the ground, ranged enemies whose attacks can be avoided if careful, large enemies that go straight for huge damage and many more. It’s the mix of combat and controlling Balfus that is real problem. My favourite level had a spinning laser that must be hit by Balfus to be damaged, it was pretty simple to run around the arena away from the laser’s path and do this. It was also simple enough to take on the enemies on their own but mixing it all together is a whole different game. Fighting enemies, making sure they didn’t knock you back into the laser and strategically controlling Balfus to activate health shrines, destroy enemy spawner shrines and hitting the laser turret is a much bigger task than the sum of its parts.
Basically, Balfus will stay put unless called for, which any player can do at any time. If he passes over a shrine, it will activate, which is the basis for most puzzles. Shrines can be used to weigh down platforms, regenerate health and turn Balfus into a bomb that explodes on impact, but Balfus can also be used to ‘cleanse’ corrupted objects, knock away enemies that have pinned you down and contract deadly mist that slowly fills certain stages. That might be simple enough, but trying to use Balfus effectively whilst being attacked by hordes of enemies is no easy task, even if playing with others. Bouncing Balfus between a group is simple but requires great communication, especially since some levels restrict players to a safe zone around Balfus on punishment of heavy damage. Pulling Balfus towards a shrine to complete a puzzle may just end up killing another player who is warding off enemies. Honestly, Forced should come with a ‘Mario Party’ effect warning – ‘WARNING: May cause friends to turn against you in rage, please be careful not to harm other players’. It can get pretty hectic, but it’s a great time with friends and will have you trying again and again to complete the often insane challenge objectives or shave off seconds in an attempt to beat each time-trial using the multi-player catch phrase “OK guys, I’ve got an idea…”.
Forced has both local and online play(with a lobby system), campaign and survival modes, online rankings and arguably most impressively is the ability to stream to Twitch in-game. It’s features like this that make it hard to believe it was developed by an indie team. Not just extra features, but the art and sound design (besides maybe the voice acting) are also up to a professional standard of development. Reminiscent of Torchlight, the colourful art style looks great whilst still letting individual assets stand out. The enemies, characters and areas all look great and no two levels are even similar in design. Running from an oncoming wave of poison, battling it out with vicious necromancer and using explosive Balfus to take out enemies that are invulnerable to regular attacks is fun alone but with some friends it’s an absolute blast. This is no regular multi-player game where everybody can just casually stroll through the campaign, Forced is absolutely brutal, requiring constant team communication, clever problem solving and the mastery of combat skills. It can be an incredible amount of fun and is highly recommended for any group of gamer friends (casual gamers may get their asses kicked).