A not so long ago as Episode III but longer than Episode IV time ago…
George Lucas, you’ve done it again. You’ve taken one of the most popular and loved sci-fi franchises of all time and tried to turn successfully turned a quick buck by exploiting it. Falling somewhere between Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith in quality, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is actually more tame than its title would suggest.
I must say that I was really looking forward to this one. It had that chance for redemption that is all too familiar in the plot of the original trilogy. Sadly, it is more like going through the stage of compromise in a loved one’s separation. There are things to like about the Force Unleashed, but they quickly and all too often become clouded by the dark side of the game.
Take for instance, your character. You play the role of Darth Vader’s secret apprentice. As a child, Vader killed your father and took you to train in the Sith ways, and that’s about all there is to you. At one point you’re referred to as “Starkiller”, but that could just be a codename. And even then, whoop-de-doo.
The premise behind your mission is more interesting, if a bit convoluted. The Clone Wars have ended and the Dark side won, but Vader wants it all and he’s using you to climb the corporate ladder by sending you on hunts after rouge Jedi across the galaxy. That also means you have to kill any Imperials that get in your way so as to not have your existence discovered (secret apprentice, get it?).Fortunately, the Dark Side is a kill-them-all and let-Obi-Wan's-ghost-sort-them-out philosophy.
At least you come well prepared for your journey. Throughout the game, you utilize the apprentice's many powers, such as force grip, lightning, and Saber-throwing, to manipulate the terrain and destroy your enemies. As you can bet, these powers are the main and coolest part of the game. And best of all, you can combo them together. One of my favorites is to hold an enemy in the air, impale him with a lightsaber throw, hit him with a bolt of lightning, fling him into a crowd, and watch everything explode.
Playing through the game will give you a chance to experience that sort of awesome power over and over again... to the point where it isn’t awesome anymore, even though most of the achievements (kill 100 enemies/kill 500 with lightning) are tailored to it. While your combos and abilities are varied, there comes a point after the first couple of levels when you feel like you’re just going through the same motions, like you’ve weeded out all the filler, with more filler to go.
And I could not for the life of me ever figure out how the Force Repel power was the least bit helpful. You curl yourself up in the fetal position as the force builds up around you, while you take damage from lasers and punches, then unleash the charged force, and watch it push everyone away. But the only reason they were able to circle around you in the first place was because you curled up in a ball and floated in midair like a tempermental baby in the womb.
Another major problem you’ll face with your powers is that your force grip is not as accurate as it really needs to be. You'll frequently grip the wrong object, and then whatever you fling (depending on what you grabbed) has about a 50% chance of actually going where you were trying to aim it. This is then compounded by a loose sense of depth perception between an item and you, and a background that moves too quickly when you throw things around. Much of the problem could have been avoided had they just given objects a shadow or had a “spotlight” effect below the item on the ground.
Graphically, the game is predominately smooth with only a few clipping issues here and there but nowhere near as many as the recently released Mercenaries 2. Actually, clipping was only a problem once or twice in the game, but when it happened, all I had to do was exit my current session and reload it to solve the problem. Each level has a unique look and layout that takes away some of the repetition that is common in action-platform games. Alleviating that further is the amount of interaction you have with the level, either through both basic puzzles and throwing tons of stuff at enemies.
Character models look great as well and have a lot of facial expressions during the cut-scenes. The second Jedi you hunt down on the cyber-trash planet is something completely unseen in any Star Wars game so far; that is, if you haven't seen an odd, little smurf-like cybernetic spider, umm..., thing.
The enemies vary depending on the environment you’re fighting in. They range from the standard bunch of Stormtroopers in a Tie-Fighter factory (Who’d of thought?) to neon-glowing tree-like people on a "WTF is this giant bouncy mushroom" planet who look like they came out of (the end of) a Busta Rhymes video. Then throw in some Rancors for good measure.
Unfortunately, though beating the crap out of Rancor is cool, it's quite flawed, thanks to the wonky camera and targeting system. Here's an example: You spin the camera around trying to get the right angle on the big guy, then you finally get it in your sights and hit the lock button, only to have your force grip target an enemy who’s not even on the screen. The Rancor than pummels you with its feet, knocking you back on your ass every time you try to get up, and you die.
Another example the problematic gameplay is a level that has you fighting waves of Tie-Fighters as you try and pull an Imperial Star Destroyer out of the sky using a little force mini-game. The Tie-Fighters are nearly impossible to destroy because you can only get a lock on them for an extremely short period of time, giving you a split-second window to take them down with a force power. The only other way to destroy them is to wait for a piece of junk to fly by and hope that you can hit them with it as they fly towards you. You can imagine how long this took me to finish, and so by the fourth wave of ships, my patience had run out.
When fighting giant beasts or bosses, the game also employs God of War-like quick time events, where you must push the correct button within the given amount of time to finish your opponent. Really, I’ve never been a fan of this system. Did I not already just beat the crap the out of this guy? Instead of getting to watch the most ass-kicking part of the battle, I’m concentrating on pushing “X” whenever the game prompts me so.
Much like the protagonist (antagonist?) [anti-protagonist ~Ed.] of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, I am conflicted. While the game does let you live out your fantasy of being an extremely hardcore Sith (Jedi?) there are some major flaws to the gameplay that need to be addressed. When it's working right, the feeling of being a badass engine of dark-side destruction is awesome, but too often it's just not working right.
It is unfortunate that the setbacks are so blatant, because the title really draws from the rich Star Wars mythos and makes you experience the power of the force. But with the lack of gameplay polish, The Force Unleashed, like the secret apprentice himself, simply doesn't always play well with the other children..