The Force Unleashed

Being the rabid super fan of the Lucas empire that I am, NOT having high expectations for a new game/movie/whatever that takes place in the Star Wars universe goes against 30+ years of blind fandom. The thing about 30+ years of anything though is that it’s enough time to learn to know better. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was easy to get excited about. A game where you basically play the bad guy, a sith apprentice, with more power than anything previously seen. Towards the end of the Clone Wars, Darth Vader discovers a boy incredibly powerful in the force. He takes the child and raises him to be a secret apprentice that even the Emperor can’t know about. Not quite 2 decades later, Vader feels his apprentice’s training is nearing completion and begins to give him missions to track down and destroy any remaining Jedi, but Vader has a darker purpose.

To start with, this game is gorgeous. From art direction to character design it’s clear that a lot of development time was spent in the look of the levels, characters, weapons and vehicles. Textures, particularly those on the more organic planets are detailed and convincing, mini works of art really. Play through the game and you’ll be rewarded with concept art that I’d love to have hanging in my office.

Plus, it’s fun. The force gives you abilities to pull lights from the walls, smash glass and throw stormtroopers at tie fighters. Better yet… THROW TIE FIGHTERS AT STORMTROOPERS! You won’t have the ability to use mind tricks or choke, but you will throw lightning from your fingertips and perform some lightsaber combos that would make Yoda cry little green tears.

Sound and music are as top notch as you would expect from anything Star Wars, except maybe the abysmal Clone Wars animated movie out recently. The soundtrack consists of the familiar John Williams symphonics movie-buffs want from a Star Wars property. The sound effects are straight from the Skywalker Sound library and meet every expectation.

Even more impressive is the story. The Force Unleashed fills in enough gaps between the movies that it should be considered canon for anyone calling themselves a fan. The plot moves along at a good pace, though the game itself is short (8-10 hours of play on the first run-through). The gameplay itself feels like the action parts of a well written and well acted movie. I said this before in a random thought blog post, but THIS is what a Star Wars movie should be.

Which segues poorly to the negative. As talked about as the game’s impressive physics engine and graphic quality have been, the title fails in execution. Oftentimes gameplay is unforgivably buggy. Here’s just a partial list of the problems I experienced:

  • Entire cut scenes were just skipped – no buttons pressed, just a slight freeze and then a half second of the end of the scene that should have been played before moving to the next playable area
  • Awful camera locks – At one point during a boss battle in a confined area, the camera panned in the opposite direction I moved my character, plus the boss never showed up. Required a restart.
  • Character floated, then froze – During a large outdoor battle, the apprentice just stopped… while standing/floating a few feet off the ground. I had camera control and received plenty of damage, but could do nothing until a pre-rendered button-press sequence (a la Resident Evil 4) was initiated against a Rancor.
  • Game just quit – Just quit. Didn’t freeze up, didn’t give a ‘your disc is dirty’ warning. One moment I’m dangling a stormtrooper over a chasm, and the next I’m back at the Xbox360 main menu.

Now granted I didn’t play on any other system, but it’s usually safe to say these types of issues won’t be eliminated based on console bias. At any rate, the variety and frequency of the glitches is inexcusable.

Another minor knee-jerk issue is how your character gradually learns these powerful, grandiose attacks that cultivate into one of the most banal moments in video game history. Taking down a Star Destroyer sounds like the most awesome thing you could do using just the force, but in execution, you might as well be scrolling through text on the screen. No button combos, not even moderately complex joystick motions are used. Hold the left stick left. A lot. Then hold the right stick down. A little more. Uber-yawn. This should have been a cut scene, not player controlled.

Oh, and by the way, if you’re going to give users the ability to save their games, make it actually DO something. The game auto-saves at regular checkpointed intervals, but the save game option in the pause menu would lead one to think they could pick up wherever they last chose to save. Not so much. You’ll be put right back at the last checkpoint you ran across. Useless.

After seeing The Force Unleashed at E3 a few years ago, I knew I was going to love this game. After playing a demo at Comic-Con this year, any doubts I had were put to rest. Even after playing the downloadable demo, I had no reason to believe there would be problems. Sadly, disappointment all but overshadows being impressed by images or story. I wish I could say I recommend a purchase, but I can’t push for anything more than a rental. You’ll be through the initial game in a few days and despite 47 achievements (Xbox) there isn’t much outside the initial (excellent) story line that would keep anyone interested. Even a super fan like yours truly.

Christopher Kirkman

Christopher is an old school nerd: designer, animator, code monkey, writer, gamer and Star Wars geek. As owner and Editor-In-Chief of Media Geeks, he takes playing games and watching movies very seriously. You know, in between naps.

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