A New Hope
After the disappointing new trilogy of Star Wars movies, I began to wonder if the Star Wars that I once knew and loved had failed me for the last time. I can now say that perhaps it has, but not in the way you might expect.
Instead of The Force Unleashed being just another proverbial nail in Star Wars’ coffin, it actually has revitalized my interest in the universe prior to the original trilogy and as a whole. What Lucas Arts has accomplished with this game is nothing short of amazing, especially when you consider the nature of the game’s storyline.
The Force Unleashed effectively bridges the gap between Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Episode IV: A New Hope. It does so by having you control Darth Vader, first level only, and later his secret apprentice, Starkiller. With the help of his new apprentice, Vader hopes to one day destroy the Emperor and rule the galaxy. Sounds vaguely similar to his plans with Luke, I know, but it really is an intriguing story full of unexpected twists and turns. Without spoiling what is one of the best Star Wars storyline’s in the past decade, I will say that fans will surely not be disappointed.
While Vader is eager to overthrow the Emperor, teaming up with an untested apprentice wouldn’t be incredibly bright. So once you’ve made your way through the sluggish and lumbering Darth Vader level of the game, it is time for you to control Starkiller and prove your worth by seeking out and destroying the Jedi who managed to escape death following Order 66. That isn’t to say that the Vader level isn’t fun, but once you’ve played a few levels as Starkiller, you’ll quickly realize just how cumbersome controlling Vader is. Playing as Vader, the air surrounding you feels as though it is made entirely of molasses. Starkiller, on the other hand, is an incredibly nimble character, able to dash, turn, attack, and jump very quickly and responsively.
The ease with which you control Starkiller, and the speed at which he moves, helps make the game’s combat all the more satisfying. With a title like The Force Unleashed, one would expect force powers to play a major role. Thankfully, these powers are well represented, including everything from force lightning to force push. Not only does your wide variety of powers help make quick work of foes, you will also need them for more than just annihilating your enemies. While force push can be used to knock down all manner of barriers in your path and force lightning can overload generators, it is the force grip power that players will need to solve many of this game’s puzzles.
Functioning similarly to the telekinesis ability found in Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy, players will be able to pick up objects and enemies using the force. Once grasped, players can move things, including switches and levers, left and right using the left analog stick, while moving them up and down with the right analog stick. Objects can also be launched as projectile attacks by holding the left analog stick in a direction while releasing force grip. There aren’t many things more satisfying than picking up a storm trooper, charging him with some force lightning, and then hurling his electrified and flailing body at a pack of his buddies while they try desperately to dive out of the way.
The way you can combine your force powers with each other and with your lightsaber is what really makes the gameplay in The Force Unleashed shine. There are several options, including the one I just mentioned, just waiting to be discovered by curious gamers, or even completely by accident. Mashing alternating buttons can produce some useful attacks, but utilizing the available combos and techniques in the game definitely gives you an advantage in combat. Not to mention the fact they truly make you feel like a powerful Jedi / Sith lord. This can range from infusing your lightsaber with force lightning to hitting an enemy with a few swipes of your lightsaber before hitting them like a homerun ball using your saber and force push.
The combat in The Force Unleashed is fairly deep and is constantly kept feeling fresh by leveling up your character’s abilities. When you level up through combat or find the random holocrons scattered throughout levels, you will be given spheres that can be used to purchase more force powers, combos, and abilities. Players will attain spheres rather frequently, which help to quickly improve Starkiller’s skills but also bring one of the game’s flaws sharply into focus.
Every time you want to access the menu to upgrade your character’s abilities, lightsaber, or change your outfit, you are met with a five to ten second loading screen. The same happens whenever you exit these menus as well. The rate at which you acquire upgrades is incredibly fast, making these incessant loading screens insanely annoying. What’s worse is when you want to change your look with newfound outfits, the game will make you reload from your last save. While the game does a fairly good job automatically saving after major events, making players reload just because they want to swap garb is completely asinine.
Even with these slight issues, The Force Unleashed is still a great game. Visually, this game is a delight. The characters look incredible, with light realistically reflecting off of Vader’s glossy black suit and every wrinkle accounted for on Emperor Palpatine’s evil mug. Starkiller himself successfully displays a wide range of emotions through facial expressions, and his many interesting outfits are full of intricate details, even while flapping freely in the wind. The worlds you visit all look great, from the forests of Kashyyyk to the vibrant, fungus-covered home of Shaak Ti. These backdrops look like you would expect, with nice touches like a plethora of floating junk and killer plants that make them feel authentic. Force powers won’t disappoint either, with lightning arcing in every direction and tons of objects scattering from force pushes. While you won’t mistake the game’s cutscenes for live action video, it is clear that much time and effort was spent making them every bit as good, if not better than many new CG films, including the recently released Clone Wars.
For Star Wars fans, there is a lot here to love. The game looks great, controls well, is fun to play, and has a great storyline that you won’t want to miss. Add to that a huge helping of fan service waiting to be discovered (no spoilers) and you’ve got one of the best Star Wars games in recent memory. Despite its few minor flaws, The Force Unleashed is truly an excellent and entertaining experience that shouldn’t be overlooked, whether you are a fan of Star Wars or not.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
Detailed character models populate excellently recreated, well known Star Wars locales full of destructible objects, with some impressive looking force powers to boot. 4.2 Control
Using and combining force powers is a breeze, and lightsaber combat is fairly deep and satisfying as well. 4.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
While many of the main characters aren’t voiced by their original actors, their replacements do an admirable job of sounding similar. You can also expect to hear most of the Star Wars tunes we’ve all come to recognize from the films. 4.0 Play Value
The Force Unleashed is a fairly lengthy experience, clocking in somewhere between eight to ten hours to complete. While there aren’t any modes besides the single-player campaign to be had, players who want to see both of this game’s endings and find all the secrets hidden throughout the game will definitely get their money’s worth out of this title. 4.3 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.