Sonic Mania may have released earlier this month on consoles but the PC version received a delay until August 28 to fix some bugs and further optimize the game. PC players who waited it out received a copy of the original Sonic the Hedgehog game for free if they still pre-ordered. The game also had a discount on Steam all the way up until the release.
All of this sounds like a good show of faith from the development team but there were some underlying issues with the PC port that upset much of the playerbase. It turns out that Sonic Mania required players to be online at all times which cause a problem with some of the players. Games with no online multiplayer option, like Sonic Mania, are usually expected to offer support for an offline only mode but that wasn’t the case with Sonic Mania. The always online nature of the game is a problem but a bigger problem is that the Store Page made no mention of this being a thing.
If you take a look at some of the top reviews for the title on Steam right now you can see how many of the players are upset by this. Here’s how the top review on the Sonic Mania store page reads.
Preface: As has been pointed out in comments for this review, the developers – Christian Whitehead, Headcannon and PagodaWest – are probably not responsible for the game’s plaguing issue. From the little I’ve played and everything I’ve heard from the console releases, they have done some stellar work which is sadly being undermined by some abrasive DRM they seemingly had no say about.
Immediately upon release the game has been found to contain potentially dangerous anti-tamper malware known as Denuvo. Worse, the End User License Agreement that is required to install the game does NOT mention this. The closest it comes to it is the following section:
16. TECHNICAL PROTECTION MEASURES
The technical protection measures of the Product may require you to download certain data to your device in order to authenticate the Product. If you disable or otherwise tamper with the technical protection measures, the Product may not operate properly and you are in material breach of this Agreement.
This seems innocent enough, but Denuvo can be damaging to PC hardware; its predecessor, SecuROM, once managed to permanently break both a new DVD drive and a reasonably new SSD drive of one of my past machines.
I am beyond disgusted that this was installed without any warning. If not removed I shall seek a refund towards the end of my refund period in a week. More urgently, I am trying to find a way to eradicate the malware from my computer presently.
This game should be avoided at all costs until a Denuvo-free installation is offered and independent analysis confirms that it is completely removed. Sega should unreservedly apologise for any distress and all damage this astonishing mistake may cause their most enthusiastic paying customers.
Update: Sega have responded to suggest the lack of DRM warning on the store page or EULA was an innocent mistake, which has been strongly questioned. At best it was careless, at worst it was purposefully duplicitous by leaving out a notice that would have prevented many users pre-ordering. Some have even suggested that the two week delay and the Sonic 1 compensation were measures to block refund attempts, but that seems a little too hard to believe for me. Predictably they offered no apologies.
One other thing worth mentioning; though it is not responsible for the always-online requirement, Denuvo DOES regularly “phone home” an authentication server to allow the game to be played. If that server disappears (and servers for previous Denuvo servers have done so), the game will become unplayable forever. Users are rightly complaining that this game is presently not a purchase but a rental of unknown duration.
Games in the past have run into this issue such as Hitman (2016) and Tekken 7. Lately, Denuvo has become a buzzword for something terrible in the gaming industry and it doesn’t look like it has fared much better with Sonic Mania. Once the development caught wind of this backlash, they released the following statement on the matter.
Like you, we’ve noticed an error in the Steam store not mentioning the DRM for Sonic Mania.
We’re fixing that now.
Sonic Mania is intended to be played offline and we’re investigating reports on that.
We’re also investigating other issues like controller support, these are all PC specific things that Christian and the team have been working on these last few weeks
Please bear with us while we collate and investigate problems that are being brought to our attention.
Today, the team has announced the offline play bug has been fixed. However, owners of the game have been reporting that you still need to go online to boot up the game and then you turn off the internet. You can read more about those reports here.
It’s a shame these problems are affecting so many players because once you get past all of this, Sonic Mania really is a great game. We’ll let you know if anything changes on this situation in the future.