Players control one of four characters as they move through urban and science fiction environments, battling waves of oncoming enemies with weapons including soda cans, knives, cars, and guns. The player can make some choices as to which territory to travel through.
The four characters have various reasons for taking on Dr. Dex Zeng, a criminal mastermind with an army at his command who predicted that the world would end in the year 2000. After New Year's Eve 1999, Dr. Zeng believed that there was an error preventing the apocalypse, so decides to correct it by destroying the world himself. The action starts with a police cordon around Zeng's office skyscraper, moving to such locales as a shopping mall, subway and Coast Guard base before finally ending at the top of Zeng's island headquarters.
Players choose from a selection of four characters: Hawk Manson, Ben "Smasher" Jackson, Mace Daniels, and Alana McKendricks. Hawk Manson and Mace Daniels are two all-around characters. Hawk is somewhat stronger than Mace who is in turn faster than Hawk. Ben "Smasher" Jackson is a large and slow bruiser capable of lifting and throwing the engines of cars at enemies. Alana McKendricks is a fast but soft-hitting teenager with an effective jump-kick. All four characters have a special move that can be performed with the loss of a portion of health.
Core Design collaborated with ten coders from EA Japan in making the game. The story line and character designs were done by Marc Silvestri. The character of Dr. Zeng was inspired by Heaven's Gate. Core Design originally pitched the game to Sega as a potential fourth entry in Sega's Streets of Rage series. Sega declined; according to Core, Sega explained that it had its own plans for continuing the series. Core opted to go ahead with the game as a standalone, multi-platform title, and started work on it. In addition to the PlayStation, Windows, and Nintendo 64 versions, a Sega Saturn version was developed and eventually completed. After Eidos decided against publishing this version, Sega Europe secured the publishing rights and announced a European release date of November 1997. However, it was cancelled. An early prototype, with older character designs, was leaked in November 2008.
The original PlayStation release received mostly mixed reviews. Critics overwhelmingly commented that the game has a satisfyingly large amount of interactive scenery to destroy or collect weapons from, but agreed that despite the transition to 3D, the gameplay was not meaningfully different from the 2D beat 'em ups of earlier console generations. GameSpot summed it up as "basically a 3D version of Capcom's classic, Final Fight, except the characters and enemies lack the personality that made Final Fight exciting." Some, however, looked on the game's lack of innovation as a virtue rather than a liability; Shawn Smith commented in Electronic Gaming Monthly, "What's cool about Fighting Force is that it plays like the old side-scrolling games of the same nature. Then you might ask, why not just make a 2-D one. Well, when the 3-D works, why not go with it?" Next Generation took more of a middle ground, stating that "despite its derivative nature, Fighting Force is a very fun game. Yet, it's just not the same huge leap forward for the Final Fight genre that we might have expected from the creators of Tomb Raider." Besides lack of originality, some critics criticized it for repetitiveness and took issue with how the control configuration assigns multiple actions to the same button while leaving other buttons on the controller unused, saying this often results in the character performing a different action than intended and leaving them open to enemy attacks. GamePro nonetheless opined, "Despite its few flaws, Fighting Force delivers the fierce fun and beat-fools-silly action that PlayStation gamers are looking for." IGN, while contradicting GamePro by actually praising the game's controls, offered a somewhat more pessimistic overall take: "With solid graphics, impeccable control, yet almost zero innovation or variety, Fighting Force is a mixed bag. If in doubt, rent before you buy."
Ports and sequels
A Nintendo 64 version of the game titled Fighting Force 64 and published by Crave Entertainment was released in North America and Europe in 1999. Differences include partially improved graphics and changes in the available number of player lives. A sequel, Fighting Force 2, was released in 1999 for the PlayStation and Dreamcast. Unlike the first title, Fighting Force 2 focuses on the character of Hawk Manson exclusively, and rewards a more stealthy approach. A second sequel, Fighting Force 3 was also in development for the Xbox and PlayStation 2, but was cancelled during development.