Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

It's fairly common in the games industry to see a particular series or genre classified with a single sweeping statement that, although undoubtedly not suited to everyone, still manages to capture the essential essence of the games in question. For example, the God of War series has, so far at least, been superb, Bethesda's big releases have been full of bugs, Naughty Dog have rarely put a foot wrong and LittleBigPlanet downloadable content has been, reliably, overpriced. One series of games defies such easy classification though. With a huge number of entries available, Star Wars games span almost every genre, and the quality of each title has varied dramatically over the years. From the dismal depths of lazy prequel tie-ins like The Phantom Menace through to the soaring heights of Knights of the Old Republic, Star Wars games have had almost every level of success and failure. The simple question when a new Star Wars game arrives has become simply: is it one of the great ones, or is it all a bit pants? In the case of The Force Unleashed though, the results are quite mixed.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

Most importantly, something The Force Unleashed understands is that, in a Star Wars game, especially one based so strongly around the use of The Force, players will want to actually feel like such power is at their finger tips, and flexible to use. This cannot be a game where only small objects highlighted in red can be gently lifted under the correct conditions. For true success, players must be able to leap into a tricky situation, fling a couple of stormtroopers into the air, tear down a boulder to crush several other enemies, send a massive force push forwards into the path of oncoming foe and finish with a flurry of lightsaber sweeps. The Force Unleashed almost manages this perfectly, and within the first few seconds of the game, you'll be able to start hurling enemies across the screen, into the sea, over trees and into rocks. There's an excellent array of force powers to use, and each is reasonably satisfying. However, because of our own human limitations, there's a limit to any multi-tasking that players would like to perform. The difficulty with telekinesis in a computer game is that you're still required to use your fingers, leaving little capacity to perform other operations. Running along, swinging a lightsaber, lifting a boulder into the air and force pushing a stormtrooper might be possible as a jedi, but with only two hands and a controller, there's no physical possibility that this could actually happen.

As a result, players are left to take on the role of a young grumpy jedi called, inevitably, Starkiller, there to reference the name that George Lucas wisely dropped in favour of Skywalker for the hero-based Star Wars films. As one of the worst-kept secrets in the Empire, Starkiller is Darth Vader's secret apprentice, known to (apparently) everyone you meet, with the possible exception of the Emperor. The secrecy idea though is an excellent excuse to simply take out everything in your path though. Forget any thought of sneaking, stealth and subtlety; this game is about blasting your way through and causing maximum carnage. In terms of the regular minion-style baddies (and goodies), this is all fine, and it's certainly entertaining chucking enemies around. There's also a little comedy injected into proceedings with, for example, comic murmurs uttered by jawas as they get struck by Force lightning. The primary failing in the combat though, is boss fighting. When two jedi meet in a battle of dark clothing versus slightly paler brown clothing, what ensues is usually a slog, with repeated patterns always the undoing of each enemy. That's not to say the major enemies aren't interesting - on the contrary, there are some exciting, familiar and spectacular bosses - they're just a bit pants to fight. Perhaps a little time spent playing God of War 2 would have lent some useful clues.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

Aside from the difficulty of mapping mutliple tasks to a controller, the character movement and control is generally quite smooth, but it does fall down slightly when Starkiller jumps. An initial instinct is to leap into the air to avoid incoming fire, and hit the lightsaber button to crash down on your enemy. Instead, hitting the lightsaber button causes Starkiller to hover as he madly swishes his glowstick, leaving the moody muppet as an easy target for any enemy bored enough to shoot. Once intuition is overcome though, this move has its own uses, especially against targets that are somewhat taller than Starkiller. With time, the controls do become more natural, but there's certainly an initial hurdle to Force leap over. On Medium difficulty, that's pretty much the only hurdle though, as the rest of the game will be unlikely to pose a significant problem for most players. There are harder difficulty levels to unlock, including a Sith Master difficulty, but that remains locked until your first completion, once again taking the path of manufactured replay value. If a player wants to take on a game on the hardest difficulty setting, they should be allowed to, from the start. The tradition of unlocking difficulty levels is antiquated and unwelcome.

Understandably, it's a little tricky to visualize Force powers, but powerful blue streaks illustrate Force pushes, while clever physics from the Havok engine enable suitable ragdoll behaviour of Starkiller's Force grip victims. On the whole, things actually look reasonable, and it's rare to see anything truly atrocious or lazy. It lacks the extreme detail of games like Metal Gear, but manages to pull off quite a lot more in terms of variety and activity across each location. Every area visited seems to be bustling with something, even if it's only the skies that are littered with passers by. In addition, there don't appear to be any gaps in the artist's palette, since the various scenes visited across the universe use virtually the entire colour spectrum. Sadly, that doesn't stop a few levels from re-using textures and objects a little too much. It's sometimes a little like visiting an art museum where each exhibit, though wildly different from the next, is filled with identical paintings. Character models are fairly mediocre, but facial expressions are adequately mapped to voicework. An odd criticism though: each character, when walking, appears to stick their knees out well-ahead of the norm, leading to some slightly strange strides, but it's a minor complaint.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

Even at the lowest points in Star Wars gaming history, one facet that has largely been left unscathed is John Williams' somewhat awesome score. The classic Star Wars themes appear in Force Unleashed, combined with a few original pieces that fit with the overall feel superbly. Musically, there's little to fault with the game, and it continues a fine tradition of great Star Wars sound. The voicework can't quite match that brilliance, but it's not bad. There's a little too much Hollywood cheese and pouting, but the voiced cutscenes keep the story flowing nicely enough. On the other hand, though they are varied and effective, the sound effects could perhaps do with a little more punch. Propelling a stormtrooper into a metal wall, or sending a powerful Force push towards a cluster of enemies should reward the player with satisfying crunches, crashes and rumblings. Instead, sound effects produced tend to be a little muted, in total constrast, for example, to the superb asteroid pursuit sequence in Attack of the Clones that has no doubt been used to demonstrate more than a few new surround sound systems.

Though the story isn't long, the locked difficulty level, combined with a reasonably interesting story and trophy incentive may invite an extra replay of the game, and there are the usual collectible objects to find. It seems that no modern game is complete without intel, packages or logs to find, but this isn't always a bad thing. In the case of Force Unleashed, many of the collectibles add extra powers or costumes, adding a little to the overall game. If you can forgive the occasionally awkward controls and a few feeble boss fights, The Force Unleashed is an above-average Star Wars game that, while not perfect, doesn't harm the repuation of the saga as much as other games set in the same universe have done over the years. For Star Wars fans with a PS3, The Force Unleashed will provide great entertainment, a few laughs, an interesting story and some new parts of the Star Wars universe to explore. For everyone else, perhaps there's more fun to be found with the likes of Uncharted or Ratchet and Clank.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

LucasArts

Developer:

LucasArts

Players:

1

Online:

Downloadables

Release:

2008-09-19

Trophies:

65

Review summary

Gameplay:

Excellent fun, but not quite fully unleashed

Graphics:

Familiar settings and beautiful worlds

Sound:

Classic music, great effects and okay voicework

Lastability:

A reasonable length, with some replay incentive

7.8

Volcanic

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