Review: The Force is very strong with this one.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
has done pretty well itself on the sales charts, but it has been coming up a bit short amongst the rank and file of gamers who hound game forums. Complaints of poor camera control, unfair enemy attack patterns, lame boss fights, loads of bugs and just plain unsatisfying gameplay abound. But I'm here to say that they're all wrong. So very, very wrong. The Force Unleashed is a fantastic action game and one of the best Star Wars titles in a long time.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is the second Star Wars "media project" from LucasArts. The previous project, Shadows of the Empire
, was built around a novel set in between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The game, which was initially exclusive to the then new Nintendo 64, was a bit of an afterthought to LucasArts, but loved by most N64 owners. This time around, the PS3 and Xbox 360 game (along with DS, PS2, PSP and Wii ports) is the focal point and the novel is an afterthought. Amazing what a decade (and several billion dollars in sales) will do for a medium, isn't it?
The game is once again set between two films in the Star Wars saga, this time between Revenge of the Sith and the original Star Wars. The story follows "Starkiller", Darth Vader's nameless apprentice, and his quest to finish the Jedi purge. This quest takes him to a variety of Star Wars locales including a TIE Fighter factory, the Wookiee home world of Kashyyyk, the junk planet Raxus Prime, the jungle planet Felucia and the Death Star.
The game slowly introduces us to Starkiller's growing mastery of Sith powers, including the ever popular Force Lightning, deadly Lightsaber techniques and the ability to toss Stormtroopers around like rag dolls.
But it's throwing Stormtroopers that has earned The Force Unleashed most of it's hype in the gaming world and this is thanks to LucasArts' use of the Euphoria engine. Euphoria allows players the chance to pick up an enemy or an object and watch as moving it in the environment is controlled by a unique physics engine. For example, it's possible to pick up a storage crate, throw it into an instrument panel, which explodes and rains fire down on a platoon of Stormtroopers stationed nearby.
The game's enemies are actually very well designed and their invincibility against some Force attacks but weaknesses against others is actually very well thought out. For example, Purge Troopers were created by the Empire to fight Jedi. As such, their armor is extra tough against Lightsaber attacks and Force Push and Force Grip do not work against them. However, Force Lightning (which is a Sith trait), will bring them to their knees.
While the game is mostly linear, the variety of Force powers can still be used to dispatch enemies in a dozen different ways. As another example, an assault on an Imperial base on Kashyyyk can be done many different ways. You can go in Rambo-style with nothing more than your Lightsaber and a prayer or you can do what I did. First I stood just outside the base and threw crates, boulders and explosives at the base until my Force Meter was empty. This caused several explosions, which caused a group of Stormtroopers to scatter and destroyed several manned turrets. I then ran into the base and freed a bunch of captive Wookiees with my Lightsaber while waiting for my Force Meter to refill. These Wookies then charged around the camp causing chaos for the Imperials. I mopped up the rest and went on my Jedi way.
The game is filled with moments like that.
I also have to take issue with the most common complaint lobbed against the game: the Star Destroyer battle. For me, the Star Destroyer fight was the best implementation of The Force I've ever seen in a game. The camera pulls in nice and tight and the battle between the Star Destroyer's engines and Starkiller's Force powers can really be felt through the excellent vibration feedback on the controller. The whole thing brought home Yoda's teachings from The Empire Strikes Back: "Size matters not" and "Do or do not. There is no try."
With enough concentration, an object of any size can be moved by The Force and the careful movement of the analog sticks required to take down the Star Destroyer prove that. Only through delicate concentration and focus (and the Jedi nerves of steel required to stare down multiple TIE Fighter squadrons) can the Star Destroyer be destroyed. The Force Unleashed portrayed this moment perfectly. Not only was it fun, but it felt epic in scope. A moment on par with the best of the movies.
That's not to say the game is flawless. The remaining boss fights are button mashing contests that require more luck than skill. The poor camera controls and inability to easily target a specific item or enemy with Force Grip was also rather annoying.
But these are minor quibbles that are easily overlooked when the entire presentation (which includes some fantastic graphics and an excellent Star Wars-style score) is taken into account. The game oozes story and style including some fantastic voice acting from Matt Sloan (who plays Vader), Sam Witwer (who plays Starkiller) and Cully Fredericksen (who plays Jedi Master Rahm Kota). Even some neat little surprise appearances await those who get far enough into the game (or sneak a peek at the later chapters of the book).