|System: PSP, X360, PS3, Wii, PS2, DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Krome||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Lucas Arts||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sept. 16, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jason Lauritzen
Ambition and expectation often cross paths and don't always complement one another. That's precisely the problem that comes up over-and-over again with Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. From a development standpoint, the aspiring nature of the game seems sound: instead of churning out another by-the-numbers Star Wars game, LucasArts went all-out by establishing a new narrative, fine-tuning a multi-platform engine, and giving players new ways of utilizing Force powers.
All this should lead to a game that's genuinely satisfying but, instead, ends up beating down its own hype. Far from telling a compelling story, what we get is a standard light versus dark tale; instead of a getting a graphical showcase, users have to deal with technical problems; and Force powers quickly go from dazzling first impression to mundane gameplay fixture.
Placing its foot in the lore between the new and original trilogy, The Force Unleashed initially puts you in control of Darth Vader on a mission to rid the galaxy of the Jedi one-by-one. On the planet of Kashyyyk, Vader discovers a young boy in tune with the Force. Far from seeing him as another target, Vader decides to take the boy as a pupil and trains him in the ways of the Dark Side. From there, the story and gameplay switches over to you controlling the apprentice Starkiller as he undertakes missions for Vader.
It's when the narrative actually kicks in gear tossing in double crosses and questions on the proper use of power that it falls apart at the seams. Exploiting trust is a perfectly acceptable plot device, but when it continually happens and seems to come out of left field as is often the case in The Force Unleashed it feels like a gimmick. Vader and Starkiller constantly go behind one another, resulting in a confusing, conspiratorial dance. Then there's the obligatory Light versus Dark Side plot crutch that's been done so many times in Star Wars games that its become a cliché within its own world. Instead of Starkiller struggling with areas that seem morally ambiguous, all we see is a character pretending to be light or dark for a particular level. It comes off as strange because, as the game progresses, you're confused as to who's side your on, and it takes till nearly the end to get an accurate picture.
Playing the game for the most part is more fun than trying to digest the narrative. From a combat perspective, The Force Unleashed does a lot right. Aside from the standard lightsaber melee attacks, you have an arsenal of Force powers at your disposal. Choke, lightning, push all these powers mix up the combat. You can toss an enemy up in the air and then choke the life out of him or shock a group of stormtroopers with a massive field of lightning. As you play through the game, you'll gain experience that can be used to upgrade these powers. You'll also get crystals that enhance your lightsaber, doing things like adding increased lightning damage or super charging your Force push ability.
All these Force powers are a nice touch, but once you get over the initial thrill of using them, it becomes clear why they're there: the melee combat isn't deep. Since you can't do more than a three hit combo - and when Starkiller swings his lightsaber, he locks into an awkward sliding animation - you have to use your Force powers. The game makes no attempt to stray away from roping you into using your Force powers to do things you would have done in other games sans the Force. For example, exploding barrels are a cliché in the world of first-person shooters enemies seem unaware of their - precarious command post. In The Force Unleashed, if you're fighting an AT-ST, explosive canisters are placed all around the room so you can force throw them at the lumbering enemy.
In a nod to God of War, The Force Unleashed tries to make boss battles more cinematic by adding quick time events. These do give the fights a more epic feel, but make important encounters seem formulaic. For every boss, the pattern is the same: you slowly deplete their health with basic attacks until a quick time event button pops up and then follow those button presses to inflict even more damage.
The biggest problems with combat arise from the camera and targeting. Since the game is third person, the camera always hovers behind Starkiller. Instead of letting you manually swing it around, this is done automatically, but quite often the camera doesn't track where you're pointed, resulting in it traveling in the wrong direction or getting stuck near a wall. Targeting is an issue because much like the camera it's done automatically. You just point near an object you want to pick up, hope Starkiller targets it, and then throw it. However, for some odd reason, he'll often have no trouble picking up an object across the room, but if there's something directly in front of him, he'll completely ignore it.