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Sonic Generations revisited: better than Forces, runs beautifully on PC

2017 could so easily have been the Year of the Hedgehog thanks to the arrival of two high-profile Sonic releases. It goes without saying that Sonic Mania is something truly special, a brilliant return to classic 2D platforming for the franchise – but on the 3D side of things, Sega came up short. Sonic Forces was a disappointment, a real shame bearing in mind just how good Sonic Generations was – especially on PC. The game has aged remarkably well, has exceptional modding support and runs well and looks wonderful at full 4K on GTX 970-level hardware.

Sonic Generations was released on PC back in 2011, a few weeks after the console versions. Unlike those 30fps efforts though, the PC version allows for smooth 60fps gameplay and higher resolutions. It’s powered by the Hedgehog Engine and offers visuals that still hold up beautifully even in 2018. Indeed, in our opinion, the sheer quality of workmanship in the visuals makes this game stand up better than its successor.

The visual quality stems from a combination of great art direction, an accomplished post-processing pipeline including a soft-focus depth of field and good quality motion blur, detailed models and rich texture work. The star of the show is its solution to global illumination – a feature created for the original Sonic Unleashed, designed to simulate realistic light bounce across these expansive stages. The lighting data is pre-calculated, stored in textures and then streamed in during gameplay while characters are blended into the scene using a technique dubbed ‘light field’. For an engine that began development in 2005, it’s an impressive achievement.

As PC hardware has scaled in power over time, Sonic Generations locks in step. GTX 970-class hardware can run the game not just at 4K resolution, but also with max settings at something approaching a 60fps lock, only losing frames in areas rich in alpha textures, and even then, only fleetingly. Overclocking can help stability, but even here, there are still very rare drops. Overall though, this class of GPU (we tested Radeon RX 580 too with similar results) delivers the goods and it looks magnificent.