Review: Adabat/Empire City Adventure Pack

Review: Adabat/Empire City Adventure Pack

by June 13, 2009

The final DLC pack is upon us – how does it fare?

It’s been three months since Sonic Unleashed DLC first began to drop and here we are, at the sixth and final DLC pack: Adabat and Empire City. Way back for the Chun-nan Adventure Pack, I brought in to question the very nature of downloadable content itself, and this is clearly an industry still experimenting with how to embrace digital downloads, and unfortunately, consumers are the guinea pigs. For around $19, we’ve gotten a total 42 levels. It’s easy to look at the number and praise it on sheer quantity alone, but has it all really been worth it?

The only answer I can come up with is “Sort of”. There has not been a single level pack where every level contained within is worth playing, and there have definitely been level packs with very little value in them at all. But here and there have been been bright spots – previously “lost” content repurposed and distributed for downloadable content, for example, like Adabat’s Jungle Joyride Act 3 (Night). Discovered in a half-broken state, the content from Jungle Joyride Act 3 originally existed inside of the retail copy of Sonic Unleashed, locked behind a door that could only be bypassed by exploiting a glitch in the game’s collision detection. Through downloadable content, this level was restored to a fully playable state and can be accessed by all. For some people, that alone is worth the $3 for the level pack.

I never thought I’d be saying this, but unfortunately, the majority of each DLC pack is usually made up of daytime Sonic the Hedgehog stages. I say “unfortunately”, because, unlike the stages contained within the standard version of Sonic Unleashed, the levels contained in the downloadable content are either very short or very hard – sometimes both. I’ve always been against these kinds of levels, because they don’t really serve any purpose. The only people who want harder Sonic Unleashed levels are the Sonic fans who have already memorized the entire game front-to-back. It’s these very people (and remember, I’m one of them) who will probably have bought any Sonic Unleashed DLC. What the Sonic Unleashed DLC should have actually been was something to hook new customers in to buying the game, as most non-Sonic-fans I’ve spoken to regarding the DLC are very intimidated by the idea of new Sonic Unleashed levels that are even harder. Instead of selling to existing customers, selling to people who have not yet bought the game means a much greater increase in sales for Sega and Sonic Team – and that would be a good thing.

Instead, we get content like the Adabat/Empire City Adventure Pack. Continuing the tradition from the Apotos/Shamar Adventure Pack, the Adabat/Empire City Adventure Pack features a total of nine levels – five in Jungle Joyride and four in Skyscraper Scamper. Perhaps the easiest level pack of them all, the difficulty level does not stray very far from the original difficulty of the levels they are based off of, with the exception of the frustrating Skyscraper Scamper Act 1-2 (Day) – a level which loves to throw the player in to spikes without giving them proper time to react. Thankfully, Skyscraper Scamper Act 3 is vastly easier, offering a long, non-stop stretch of highway to barrel down.

A large number of levels in this pack are actually starting to feel a little stale – most of the previous DLC focused on remixing old Sonic Unleashed content in new ways, and while I guess that’s technically true in the Adabat/Empire City Adventure Pack, the content within is also kind of predictable. Jungle Joyride Act 1-2 does almost nothing interesting whatsoever – it’s more like an alternate layout for the existing level – of course, considering the original Jungle Joyride was one of my favorite levels, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Jungle Joyride Act 4 and Jungle Joyride Act 5 are extremely heavy on the water-running segments, especially Act 5. Act 5 is redeemed somewhat by introducing a totally new mechanic: a long pipe that allows Sonic to run along the ceiling (if you so choose). Unfortunately, given that Act 5 is a remarkably short level, the mechanic is only used once and it does not turn up in any of the other levels – which is a shame, because it makes Act 5 remarkably fun, just to spin around in the pipe. More levels could have definitely used a mechanic like this, though I have to wonder how tricky it is to implement – the level froze my game at one point.

Night levels feel equally uninspired (outside of the aformentioned Jungle Joyride Act 3 (Night)), relegated to the tired act of Platforming/Fight/Platforming/Fight. Titans are put to heavy use, here, with Jungle Joyride Act 1-2 (Night) featuring three very close-quarters Titan fights. Thankfully, it’s nothing quite as nasty as what took place in the Apotos/Shamar Adventure Pack, as you fight most Titans with a generous number of walls surrounding you. Despite the discovery of the mysterious Empire City Javelin, none of the night levels in Empire City stray far from established conventions – which is a shame, because Empire City definitely ranks pretty high as one of the most annoying Werehog environments, making the DLC levels probably some of the most bland Werehog levels ever released. Both Empire City Act 2 (Night) and Empire City Act 3 (Night) are nearly identical in their premise, as you generally beat up enemies and push buttons (or throw levers) to deactivate electrical barriers and/or activate moving platforms. It’s very standard Werehog gameplay.

In all, it’s kind of disappointing that the Sonic Unleashed DLC has to go out with what seemes to be a wimper. But, for as harsh as I’ve been on the DLC, it’s hard not to get a little bit sentimental about this being the final downloadable content pack. For however pointless, boring, or annoying some of these levels were, it’s kept me (and no doubt a lot of people) playing and talking about Sonic Unleashed for quite a long time – but I can’t help but wonder if that effect would have been greatly multiplied if the quality of the DLC had been higher. But, given Sonic Team’s usual propensity towards extra content, perhaps we all should be thankful that they did anything at all – let alone something of this grand scale. Quality or not, producing 42 levels was no doubt a lot of hard work, and Sonic Team’s level designers no doubt got a lot of valuable time experimenting with new ideas. Let’s hope it pays off when we see the next 3D Sonic game, eh?

As always, I’ve set up a Youtube playlist for this DLC: