ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
Hours played: 20
Game progress: Finished game on Sith (Medium) difficulty level
Star Wars is a fickle mistress. She makes you feel loved and good about yourself with movies like Episodes IV – VI and then when you think the wonderful relationship is over, wait! There’s hope with Episodes I – III, but promises of more prove just to be further evidence that the relationship is tired and done. It’s not that different in the game world, there are signs, mere hints that the relationship could be great with games like Rogue Squadron (next-gen follow up, please!), Knights of the Old Republic and yes, OK maybe even Lego Star Wars. But then there’s so much heart ache with the multitude of bad games that make you wonder what you’re still in it for. Well, which of the two categories does Force Unleashed fall into? Surprisingly, a bit of both.
Let’s start with the good things, the story and production values in Force Unleashed are great. You play as Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, your goal: to ultimately eliminate the Emperor and rule the galaxy as Darth Vader’s right-hand acolyte.
The premise of having to keep your existence hidden from the Emperor is a clever excuse to beat up Imperial Forces (such as the Storm Trooper) as well as the “good guys” and takes you to many interesting locales. The design of the worlds is excellent and captures the Star Wars feel perfectly. There are plenty of cut-scenes, which not only look gorgeous but also have excellent voice acting. The game is set just before the events of Star Wars Episode IV and offers a fascinating view on what lead up to the conflict between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. Some familiar faces make an appearance, such as a young Princess Leia, her adoptive father, played by Jimmy Smits and the first Death Star; still under construction.
The main character and his supporting cast are all original designs and provide entertaining new introductions to the Star Wars Universe. The Dark Apprentice, first introduced as Vader’s loyal servant and perennial bad guy, soon experiences conflicting emotions that make him question his very nature.
The great production values also translate into excellent visuals. Worlds are extremely detailed with plenty of scenery and often sweeping backgrounds like the one in the prologue-level where star ships clash in the sky and a great land battle rages on the beach below. Textures are excellent and so is the lighting. Physics are also superb and a strong point of the game. Due to your force powers, which include everything from force lightning to force grab, which allows you to grab and toss around almost any object or adversary, there is a lot of possible interaction with the environment. Rocks can be picked up and thrown, or pushed away with force push, trees and droids can be hacked in two with a simple slash of the lightsaber, wall panels can be ripped from the walls with force grab, and many other forms of interaction are possible, and in the end present more ways to eliminate foes. As with most games that allow interaction with the environment, there are limitations that at times will disappoint or frustrate players, but overall Force Unleashed does a good job of delivering the goods.
That’s not to say there aren’t technical issues, in the very first level I found my character falling through the very ground into a white nothingness, with only a sliver of sky overhead and a spasmodic character model in front of me. There’s occasional slow down and collision detection issues, but at the end of the day this game is a looker.
Audio is also great, the score, when its not borrowed from the movies, fits in really well with the feel of the universe and is often grand and sweeping. Sound effects and voice overs further round off the excellent presentation package.
So its safe to say our “girl” is easy on the eyes and ears, unfortunately she fails miserably in the personality department, there are such severe gameplay issues with Force Unleashed, that they completely cripple the game. The biggest ones are the controls, which are so twitchy that undesired leaps of a cliff or platform are almost a given. It’s almost impossible to make accurate and deliberate jumps because of this and as such many frustrating deaths will ensue. Combine this with a horrible camera that will often get stuck behind scenery or even inside the player model and you’re practically ensured of anger management classes once you put down the controller. If you needed further evidence that this is not the “girl” for you, consider the targeting system. One of the most potent ways to deal with enemies is to throw objects at them with force grab. The problem is that the game is littered with both enemies and objects, all of which can be grabbed, the targeting system doesn’t provide an easy way to cycle between targets and will often feign selecting the closest object only to trick you by locking onto something that wasn’t even in your field of vision. Another very frustrating element is the fact that your character will be flung back by certain powerful attacks, such as shots from a sniper rifle (handled by Imperial Scouts), because the game doesn’t have invisible walls at the edge of cliffs and walkways, any time that you’re hit by one of these attacks your limp body will be sent over the edge, resulting in death and another do-over. All these aspects also make the boss battles extremely frustrating, many of your excellent force abilities are rendered ineffective on boss characters and because of the twitchy controls and terrible camera, these battles are much harder than they ought to be.
It’s a real shame because the visuals and excellent presentation provide plenty of encouragement to explore this game world, but all the frustrating gameplay elements will make this one ultimately a test of patience. Further fine-tuning of the gameplay mechanics could have made this one of the better Star Wars games out there, there are just so many great design elements in the game, I mean, you can’t argue with using your force powers to grab a Star Destroyer, right? So then what do we do with this girl? Well, don’t waste your money on anything more than a first date, as she’ll eventually end up breaking your heart.
+ Excellent design and story
+ Nice looking textures and lighting
+ Good level of interactivity with environment
- Some glitches and collision issues
+ Great score
+ Excellent voice overs
+ Awesome arsenal of force powers
+ Ability to upgrade powers and light saber
- Horrible camera obscures action
- Twitchy controls and poor targeting system
+ Good number of missions and decent sized worlds
+ Collectibles, side objectives and training rooms add to the game life
- Frustrating game play makes experience unrewarding
Force Unleashed could have been so good with excellent presentation and visuals and interesting abilities, but at its core the game is flawed due to poor controls, camera and targeting. Its semi-respectable score mostly rests with the game’s impressive production values.
[ Editor's Note: ] With the Wii version of the game, the story and such is essentially left intact, with some alterations and modifications to make the story slightly more funny, which was a disappointment in itself. A further disappointment comes from the way in which they decided to try and emulate the 360/PS3 graphics, by permanently freezing fairly high-polygon faces in very ugly expressions on the main characters and replacing fairly important elements in cutscenes with ludicrously inferior replacements. For example, in one of the first cutscenes, a hologram of your ship is shown, this is a full hologram-like model of the ship on the PS3/360, and only a very basic Atari-style vector shape thing on the Wii. Gameplay, though, is mostly fun and a few of the control issues from the PS3/360 iteration are solved by the use of fairly well-designed Wii controls. Still, I find the graphical shortcuts to be very annoying, and give the Wii version of the game: