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Sonic Unleashed impressions: all Sonic, no Unleashed

If you were hoping that Sega was going to use its recent Gamers Day event to show off the "unleashed" half of Sonic Unleashed, you'll be disappointed to learn that the speedy blue hedgehog is still very much "leashed" ... even after breaking out of his cage some months back. Despite being unwilling to sway from its rigid marketing schedule and share what we're assuming is going to be the game's key selling point – the nighttime (and "unleashed" werewolf Sonic we presume) half – Sega does want us to reconsider a traditional Sonic game working in 3D. That would be the daytime half.

The presentation began with an explanation that, although the game is being developed by Sonic Team – the very same development team that delivered the universally panned next-gen Sonic the Hedgehog in 2006 – it is in fact a different team that "didn't work on the last one." Apparently the game's lead designer, Yoshihisa Hashimoto, "understands well where the failings were there." If you find it comforting that Sega's owning up for the previous title's shortcomings, you're not alone but we're a long way from being sold on the latest outing.

Gallery: Sonic Unleashed | 30 Photos

To start, the game is built on an entirely new engine dubbed the "Hedgehog Engine." Don't let the totally clever name fool you; despite being built for Sonic's specific needs – ie: it loads art and whatnot very quick – it's a multipurpose engine, and it's been in development since 2005. How is a fancy new engine going to bring Sonic into the modern world of games? By going back to its roots.

The two levels Sega shared were definitely fast. In the first level, Sonic zipped through some six miles of terrain in roughly 3-1/2 minutes. The levels included Sonic hallmarks like split paths – about 15 in this particular. Some splits involve a button press quick-time event (hit the right buttons, get the better path) while others were simply left or right, up or down. New moves include the Sonic Drift which, you can surmise, is similar to drift racing, slinging Sonic around hairpin curves. The other is Quick Step – instead of running straight into a wall, or an enemy, or laser beams (you get the idea), Sonic can quickly jump left or right by tapping the controller's bumpers.

If you've seen the trailer, you've already seen the split between "2D" and 3D gameplay which is admittedly pretty seamless thanks to a solid camera system. The presentation certainly emphasized the game's speed, making it feel like a classic Sonic side scroller. While that's bad news for fans of Sonic's Dreamcast adventures (and the rep did say there was no "real" adventure element), there will be an "optional" overworld. Nevertheless, with an entirely separate "combat fighting" mechanic (as opposed to that other type of fighting) making up the nighttime half, we're as skeptical as ever of this latest attempt to reboot the popular mascot's flagship series. We'll know more at E3. Probably.

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