Regardless of which sections you're playing, control is a constant issue. Sonic is slippery, all but impossible to control at top speed and inevitably prone to zooming to his death at a moment's notice, while the werehog stages are sluggish and gluey, plagued by repetitive combat and horrifically frustrating platform sections. You're far more likely to lose your lives to an infuriating camera angle or hard-to-judge leap than to any of the dumb enemies standing in your way.
The fact that SEGA's seen fit to turn Sonic into a melee fighter for half the game should give you a good idea of what's gone wrong. It's the same thing, of course, that's been going wrong with Sonic for years. Rather than focusing on what works, SEGA has once again smothered the character in reams of extraneous clutter and gameplay ideas that do nothing to enhance the series' best features.
Take, for example, the non-player characters. Conversing with these brings up pointless banter, except for the handful of characters you must talk to in order to advance the story. You have no idea which these characters will be, so each time you enter a new area you have to go around triggering mindless speech bubbles in search of the one that you need. Collecting sun and moon medals from around the world opens up more levels, but once again you're given no clue as to which ones have opened. Given that each area can be explored twice - during the day and night - simply working out where you're supposed to go next is a real slog.
It's possible - likely, even - that your stilted progress will come to a standstill when you discover you need to go back and replay the same levels over and over again until you've found enough trinkets to open up the relevant area. Toss in some boss fights that rely on long-winded grinding of enemy health bars or insultingly simple quick-time events and you've got a game where even the basics of the genre are made unappealing.
It keeps piling on the tasks though. You can replay levels as time trials or survival battles, to earn hotdogs which you can feed to Chip, your all-new irritating sidekick. You can buy souvenirs from each country you visit, and swap these for gameplay hints. You can collect books of concept art and music tracks, but must then buy a bookshelf or find a record player before you can use them. You're given a camera and told to find people "acting suspiciously", so you can take their photo and trigger a battle scene to exorcise them of Dark Gaia. There are lots of distractions, but thanks to the game's obtuse design you're never entirely sure what's optional and what's essential.
Structurally speaking, it's just a mess. It's as if SEGA no longer feels confident that Sonic will connect with today's gamers so it's included a bit of everything. Desperation shrouds the whole project in thick, choking waves. It's a platform game, a fighting game and an adventure game, yet none of these elements feels fully developed. There's no logical progression, no direction to the action, just the thankless task of blundering around the same areas trying to guess what the game wants you to do next.
The result is a lumpy splurge of half-developed ideas, flung together with no apparent throughline for the player to follow. There are occasional flickers of the old magic, most notably in the earlier Sonic levels where the balance between speed and exploration is more welcoming, but these moments only serve to make the later frustrations harder to endure.
Admittedly, Sonic Unleashed is marginally better than the execrable 2006 effort, but that's incredibly faint praise and only useful as a benchmark to the most blinkered fan. Compared to Mario Galaxy or Ratchet & Clank - heck, even compared to Crash Bandicoot, another platforming mascot mired in mediocrity - Sonic Unleashed is an obviously poor effort from a series that is still hopelessly lost in the modern gaming landscape.