August 9, 2022
Enlarge / Sonic, seen here slip slidin’ away through the mascot’s most ambitious adventure yet. And so far, while it has its issues, Sonic Frontiers actually seems promising.


LOS ANGELES—Ahead of this week, the next fully 3D Sonic the Hedgehog video game, slated to launch on all console families by the end of 2022, wasn’t looking so hot. Quite frankly, we’ve never seen a Sega gameplay reveal land as poorly as Sonic Frontiers.

Maybe you didn’t see the preview footage, which debuted exclusively at IGN earlier this month, or maybe you blocked it out of your mind. Either way, I can now talk about a different kind of preview experience: going hands-on with something that looks and feels like an actual Sonic video game, as opposed to the zero-UI tech demo that was previously showcased.

Sonic Frontiers delivers fresh ideas that Sonic’s 3D pantheon has sorely lacked for decades. In my brief time with the game, I could already tell that Sega is remixing the Breath of the Wild formula in a way that feels new and Sonic-appropriate. The game seems to fix many of my complaints about every full-3D Sonic game that followed 1999’s Sonic Adventure.

A consensus of jank on Generic Hill Zone

Before I sing this unreleased game’s praises, however, I should clarify that Sega did not bring its technical A-game to this weekend’s press-only Summer Game Fest Play Days event.

Some mild colorful flourishes here, but otherwise, the current visual state of <em>Sonic Frontiers</em> is pretty bleak.
Enlarge / Some mild colorful flourishes here, but otherwise, the current visual state of Sonic Frontiers is pretty bleak.


Sega wouldn’t let members of the press directly capture their gameplay sessions, and it wasn’t hard to see why. This unoptimized build struggled to lock to a 60 fps refresh on Sega’s high-end PCs. The game’s UI had pixelated icons and ugly fonts. Running and jumping around the open-world landscape was often interrupted by unclear “collision detection”; Sonic would sometimes wobble while running across a surface, and wall-running on vertical surfaces would not always work.

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The game looks still looks unpolished compared to other open-world fare from the past five years. “Pop-in” is set to an aggressive level, meaning that distant objects don’t appear on-screen until Sonic is quite close (which looks weird in a high-speed Sonic game). Mid-air hops between platforms were made terribly difficult by a mix of unoptimized camera adjustment, a lacking lighting system, and entirely absent shadows. In these jumps, I often lost all sense of perspective—a problem that was solved in the 3D-platforming explosion of the ’90s.

Yes, I have a question: Will <em>Sonic Frontiers</em> look better by the time it launches?
Enlarge / Yes, I have a question: Will Sonic Frontiers look better by the time it launches?


And I still wonder if Sega ripped basic assets from an Unreal Engine marketplace to make what I’ve dubbed “Generic Hill Zone” (a riff on older games’ “Green Hill Zone”), at least for the content I could hop-and-dash through in a 30-minute demo. By comparison, the copy-and-pasted terrain that fills out the most boring regions of Halo Infinite looks like a Renaissance masterwork compared to the desolate landscape in this demo’s beginning area.

I mention those complaints because I truly do not know how much can be chalked up to “press-only, behind-closed-door” demo limitations. The word “janky” became a chorus among members of the press during the event, and seemingly everyone I spoke to described their own eyebrow-raising moments while playing the game. It’s not done yet, and I’ve seen iffy pre-release demos of games that turned out brilliantly, so the above complaints are not final “review” judgments. Still, if Sega’s new game is indeed going to make its “2022” release window, either the devs have a much more polished experience hiding at Sonic Team headquarters, or we’re going to see this game launch with some of these issues intact. Sega reps insisted that Sonic Frontiers is still committed to launching by year’s end.

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