Grab The Games: FORCED: Slightly Better Edition
At a first glance Forced looks a lot like Diablo. In fact this is more of an action game with heavy RPG elements and puzzle solving, so, thankfully it's its own beast. You start as gladiators forced to fight because your tribe is held hostage. The story is more of an exercise in pressing skip button, nothing interesting there, but games as this are not really played for storytelling.
The welcome screen makes it clear, this is supposed to be a multi-player game. And there is one word missing there, but who would notice :)
You might have noticed that I wrote gladiators and not a gladiator. The game has single player and co-op (up to 4 players) modes, but definitely it was tailored for the latter one. Indeed NPCs in the cut scenes use the plural form all the time, even if you are playing alone, clearly that's not the way to do it. :) There are 4 types of gladiators to choose from, one wielding a double-handed hammer, one with two sword, a bowman and one with a frost shield. Each of them has a set of both active and passive skills, but in both categories there are less usable slots than skills, so you have to make some choices. You can switch the characters (and skills) between fights to adapt to the circumstances. The problem is you do not know what to expect beforehand, the game generally seems to want you to play each challenge more than once. I'm not sure if they are interesting enough, though.
Figuring out what to do with the environment is usually more important than combat as such.
Before I talk about the challenges more I need to mention the spirit guide something between your mentor and narrator, he serves a very important role in the gameplay itself. So onto the main point of the game fights. Each fight takes place on a small arena, each built differently, with walls, statues, shrines etc. Navigating these is nice when using a keyboard and mouse (move with WASD, the mouse chooses the direction of your attacks), using the controller is less fluid, as you use one joystick to navigate and the other to choose the direction where you attack, for me at least the setup did not work that well.
While there are always some enemies to fight, very often the point of the challenge (which can change mid-fight btw) is to destroy some object, put something in its place etc. You would think hitting it would do the trick, but no, this requires you to use your spirit guide. In a simple but clever setup you can issue one command to him i.e. come to me.
In this challenge moving away from your spirit guide too much will kill you, and yet you have to use him to move the shrines around.
If he passes through some special object something can happen. So this can trigger a healing force or an explosion. A lot of gameplay comes down to careful positioning yourself so that something is between you and the spirit. This works very elegantly (and sometimes even requires a bit of thinking) in single player, in co-op it can get a bit chaotic unless you coordinate well with your team mates (which I guess can be the point). The game is not overly difficult, but some challenges are rather tough. This image is spoiled by what death does... basically when you die you respawn a moment later and can continue. Dying does mean you will lose higher rewards for the challenge, but in no way does it prevent you from completing it. This doesn't fit well with overall design of tough puzzles and fights, personally I'd love a â€œhardcoreâ€ option that would, at least in single player, mean death is... well, death. I asked about it and one of the devs said they had this option but many players found it too difficult... Seems the success of games like Xcom did not kill the mentality a game can't be too hard yet.
The game would look good a couple of years ago, now the visuals seem to be a bit too generic.
I've left talking about the visual for the end, because there is not much to tell, they look ok, but are not impressive neither when to comes to technical aspect nor artistic design, mostly things look rather generic. Still they do not come into your way and allow you to concentrate on the actual gameplay. And that, especially if you have a couple of willing friends can be rather enjoyable, the division into challenges means you can pick up the game after some break easily. It is harder to recommend it for a single player, but still it is original enough that I think it is worth checking out at least.