Right now Star Wars fans have a lot to look forward to, from the spectacular reveal of Episode 9 as The Rise of Skywalker to upcoming TV shows The Mandalorian and the return of The Clone Wars. But that doesn’t exclude video games, as Respawn’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is out this November and sounds spectacular. Yet it’s reminding us a lot of another major game set in the galaxy far, far away: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, also known as the best Star Wars game ever.
That boy is our last hope
Star Wars fans know that the series is all about parallels and history repeating itself, from spherical death machines to Chewbacca doing Tarzan impressions. Well, fans of Star Wars video games were probably doing a double-take at all the parallels between the recently revealed Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and The Force Unleashed. Both are set during “the Dark Times,” as Obi-Wan refers to them, between Episode 3 and Episode 4, as the Empire increases in power and the Jedi are mercilessly hunted down. Both even star white male actors with a penchant for playing villains in DC Comics TV shows.
The pair of games were deemed Star Wars canon, telling a crucial tale set between the two movies. Most importantly though, both titles came during a dark time for Star Wars video games, and a lot of fans looked to them as the next big hope for a decent Star Wars story game. While Fallen Order is coming after the mixed response to the two Star Wars Battlefront games and a string of cancellations, The Force Unleashed arrived during a time when LucasArts had decided to stop licensing the franchise out and produce games internally again. The Force Unleashed had to be big, or Star Wars would struggle.
Only a master of evil, Darth
The only big difference is that Cal Kestis is the hunted, and forced to avoid using his Force abilities in Jedi Fallen Order. In The Force Unleashed, Starkiller is most definitely the hunter, and the game’s all about using the Force as entertainingly as possible. Set around 15 years after Revenge of the Sith, you play as Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, who he is training so they both can take on the Emperor and rule the Empire together.
That marks the first great thing about The Force Unleashed: Darth Vader, a.k.a. the best thing about Star Wars, prominently features in the story. How many games can you name where Vader plays an important role? And how many of those are direct adaptations of the movies? His presence levels the game’s cool factor up a million.
The story (spoilers ahead) is crazy, but it’s also epic in a way that Star Wars tales really need to be. After hunting Jedi, Starkiller (initially at Vader’s behest) essentially helps to create the Rebel Alliance as a way of rooting out the enemies of the Empire, before being betrayed by Vader and deciding to go with this Rebellion thing for real. It hits home, making you feel like an important part of Star Wars history, while interacting with all the best characters in the saga. The new ones are pretty good too, with Proxy in particular being ahead of the current franchise trend for unhinged droid characters.
Your arrogance has blinded you
Many would probably not think of The Force Unleashed as one of the best Star Wars games, let alone the best, but that’s more than a little unearned. Yes, it has some problems, most notably an iffy camera (that’s especially terrible for platforming moments) and the lightsaber being a little underpowered. Those issues are worth acknowledging but other Star Wars are also littered with problems.
Knights of the Old Republic has a great story, but a load of tedious wandering about and boring combat. TIE Fighter is really old now, and impenetrable for newcomers. Rogue Leader is deeply frustrating in places, and it’s still only available on GameCube. Republic Commando is shorter than you remember. The Jedi Knight series’ story is never as epic or cool as it wants to be, and you’ve probably blanked out those awful stealth sections or how much of the game is just a lightsaber-less FPS. Episode 1 – Racer? OK, that one is basically perfect.
While Jedi Knight is (allegedly) the closest comparison to The Force Unleashed, and can admittedly have more fun (if crazy and bunny-hoppy) lightsaber combat, it can all look rather drab now, with some terrible animations. The Force Unleashed still looks acceptable, with decent mo-cap and colorful environments. It’s the Force powers, though, that are second to none. Just using any of them is frustrating in Jedi Knight, as the games are built around traditional first-person shooter controls, and magic powers don’t really factor into those. You have to manually select a power before you can use it.
In The Force Unleashed, though, you can go to town with all the cool Force powers, as the game’s controls are built around having fun with them. You can charge up and Push enemies hilariously across the entire stage. You can hold them up, zap them with Force Lightning, and turn them into a bomb. You can knock enemies off the ground and ragdoll their corpses across the ground as missiles. Or, you can cut an AT-ST in half or stab a Rancor in the brain. Force Unleashed gives players too much power, and it’s hilarious. Yes, and you can’t forget about that infamous scene where Starkiller pulls a Star Destroyer out of the sky. C’mon, that’s cool.
You were the chosen one
While nothing can top the Star Destroyer scene, the audio is also quite fantastic. LucasArts generally does good stuff in this department, meaning voice acting, music, and sound effects, but The Force Unleashed boasts the best audio of any Star Wars game. It’s possible that EA’s Star Wars Battlefront games have it licked in terms of general sound design, but overall it’s all amazing. The soundtrack includes appropriate mixes of tracks from all six Star Wars movies at that point, along with a fantastic original score by Mark Griskey (who also did The Old Republic).
The voice acting, too, is absolutely top-notch, with some great performances by Sam Witwer (doing double duty as Starkiller and the Emperor), Nathalie Cox (Juno), Cully Fredricksen (Kota), David W. Collins (Proxy), and even Chad Vader himself Matt Sloan is shockingly effective as Real Vader.
The most important fact in favor of The Force Unleashed being the best Star Wars game ever is that it’s telling a proper Star Wars story, telling it well, bringing in important characters we want to see like Darth Vader and the Emperor, and truly feeling like a lost Episode in the way Rogue One worked so well. It’s not just a bit of fun, like Racer, or mostly recreating scenes from the movies, like Rogue Squadron, or having an impersonal view of the characters, like Empire At War or even Battlefront. It’s got a great story with entertaining characters, action gameplay which you can experiment a lot with, wonderful sound design, a good range of level design, and Darth Vader.
Jedi Fallen Order might have a chance to top of The Force Unleashed but it would be the best if it learned from Lucasarts’ underappreciated classic. It’s the only Star Wars video game that feels like you’re playing through one of the movies, and a unique one at that. And, combined with the slick Force powers and interaction with Darth Vader, is why it’s the best Star Wars game ever.