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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Ultimate Sith Edition (7.7/10)

An Imperial Star Destroyer floats through space over an unnamed planet, it's menacing facade a testament to the might of the Empire. But then, inexplicably, it shudders... and begins to sink towards the world below. As is comes crashing down you see that a long figure is responsible. As the massive cruiser grinds to a halt in front of him, you hear the trademark snap-hiss and a red lightsaber glows... there is another Sith, Darth Vader's secret apprentice. 

Such was the initial teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. It gave me goosebumps. The Force Unleashed gives the player access to the Force in a way we haven't yet experienced, but have always wanted to... you even get to re-create that scene described above. Bringing down a Star Destroyer from orbit... um, yes please! But sadly, like most of The Force Unleashed, as cool as it sounds it just doesn't work well in practice. 

The Force Unleashed bridges the gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope during that dark time when Darth Vader is hunting down the last of the Jedi Knights. Vader follows a lead to the Wookie planet of Kashyyyk where, after cutting through waves of unfortunate Wookies, he kills the fugitive Jedi. But then he makes a surprising discovery... the Jedi had a son! This boy has an astonishing affinity to the Force. Vader takes the child to train in secret to be his apprentice, hidden even from his master, the Emperor. The boy grows to be a young man known as Starkiller. He possesses remarkable abilities and makes a formidable assassin as he hunts the galaxy for the remaining Jedi.

I don't want to give too much of the story away, because I think it's actually quite good, and fits cleverly into the over all canon of Star Wars. The events of The Force Unleashed set in motion everything that follows. Personally, I found the writing impressive, they were able to add to the mythology in a meaningful way. It takes some unexpected twists and turns, but ultimately it comes down to good versus evil as Starkiller struggles with the Dark Side. As you would expect, in the end you must make a choice for one side or the other. Again, I don't want to spoil anything, but one ending lets the story continue as we know it, while the other changes it drastically... leading to the advent of the 'Star Wars Infinities' which is essentially an altered timeline, "What would have happened if..." scenario. It's a clever idea that opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities, but for the sake of The Force Unleashed it ties directly into the DLC (which I will mention at the very end of the review as it does contain some SPOILERS). Oh, and I liked your robot pal PROXY, even if he is just a cheap rip-off of HK-47 from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

The third-person action gameplay is difficult to define. On the one hand, it gives you access to the full power of the Force in a way that would give most Star Wars nerds wet dreams. But on the other lies the dark side of terrible cameras, unresponsive controls, a completely useless and broken targeting mechanic, and some truly confusing design choices that make you wonder how Lucas Arts could have thought these were good ideas in the first place.

Wielding a lightsaber is a blast. Starkiller becomes a whirling dervish of Jedi awesomeness. Your combos are fairly limited, but they still look cool as hell. His Force powers, while over-exaggerated to the point it's almost comical, are where the fun really comes in. Starkiller is so powerful you wonder how he doesn't just take over the universe on his own. Force Push sends enemies flying for miles... literally. Force Repulse can destroy an entire room as he releases an expanding bubble of Force energy. Grabbing a stormtrooper with the Force and flinging him into his squadmates is a thing of beauty, and a far more violent act than we saw in any of the movies. Taking the time to master the controls is worth the effort. Starkiller effortlessly slices his way through stormtroopers, zapping some with lightning before picking up the last survivor and casually impaling him with a lightsaber toss... well, I found it difficult to keep from grinning.

When it comes to the design of The Force Unleashed, the results are a mixed bag. Some of the levels are cleverly set up. This is spoiled when, in the second half of the game, you revisit each location and basically play the level all over again. It seemed quite lazy to me... a cop out, like they ran out of ideas and enemies. Oh, and speaking of enemies, I'd have been happier just killing thousands upon thousands of standard stormtroopers rather than some of the 'special' enemies they came up with. While these were cool ideas, they ended up just being frustrating pattern-oriented baddies that I was sick of after the second time I faced them.

Another issue is the 'Quicktime' events. In some games they work, but in The Force Unleashed they fail pretty handily. It almost always ends up being an exercise in trial and error until you get the pattern down. What kills me though is that these sequences are an integral part of every boss battle... after spending ages figuring out the 'Boss pattern' and whittling down their health, you are prompted to "Finish him!" with a psuedo-interactive QTE sequence. Despite being frustrating, I'd actually like to watch those kick-ass Jedi battle scenes, not straining to pay attention to the next button I'm supposed to press.

I also wasn't a fan of the platforming, which was annoying because most levels require some sort of platforming element. Even these seemingly simply and straightforward "Hop from this platform to that one..." are exercises in frustration. Because of the awful camera and it's propensity to move without warning you, poor Starkiller often leaps to his death. The double jump mechanic, while fine, doesn't give you a good idea of where you are, so even judging distance to a particular point is difficult. I found myself rolling my eyes constantly, resigned to the fact I had to do it again and again...

Oh, and then there is the Star Destroyer sequence from the trailer that I mentioned at the beginning. It's completely broken; a frustrating waste of time. I can't tell you how astonished I am that something like this could actually make it into the final build of a game, least of all a Star Wars game. I mean, come on Lucas Arts! What the hell?!?

Apart from the design issues, from a technical standpoint The Force Unleashed isn't too bad. The graphics are pretty decent. While the environments look great, the characters models and animations aren't nearly on par. In game they are okay, Starkiller looks a proper badass as he cuts his way through waves of stormtroopers. But in the in-game cutscenes he looks quite blocky. The facial animations, especially the eyes, leave a lot to be desired. It's obvious they were going for expressive, but it comes off as either constantly surprised or mentally handicapped. The other weird thing is about the way they walk... all of the characters seem to have the same pre-set walking animation. No matter who it is, they all stalk about the place in the same way, like they have a pole stuck somewhere rather uncomfortable... it doesn't look even remotely natural.

The soundtrack is, as we would expect, awesome. It's John Williams for Pete's sake, what more do you need to know? All of the classic sound effects are present as well, and the game is better for that attention to detail. The voice work is pretty good too, although it does suffer from some pretty poor writing and a lot of "struggling Jedi" cliches we've come to know and love thanks to Hayden Christensen. But the guy who does Vader, Matt Sloan of Chad Vader fame (if you don't know what I'm talking about look it up on, is scary good.

Scattered throughout the game are Jedi Holocrons for you to find. I wouldn't normally mention these but they do actually have in-game payoff, the most noticeable being lightsaber crystals. You can change the color and characteristics of your lightsaber, something that I think every Star Wars nerd has dreamed of... I'll admit, I've thought about what color mine would be... but one thing I never considered was a black one! And let me tell you, it looks freakin' awesome! Once you go black... well, you never go back!

I'm a full fledged Star Wars nerd and I have the tattoos to prove it! Pretty much anything with the Star Wars moniker is an easy sell for me. My first instinct about The Force Unleashed is to wonder if it was actually finished when it was released. It's as if it was rushed out the door to capitalize on the brand-name. On the whole it's a perfectly decent game, but as a Star Wars fanatic, I can attest to the fact that "decent" doesn't cut it for us anymore. I think the simple fact is I expected too much from my favorite franchise, and as a result was hugely disappointed. Seems odd that the maestro himself George Lucas would give his stamp of approval to such a shoddy product.... but then I remembered the prequels. Ah, what could have been...


Score = 7.7 / 10


The first DLC is actually a cut level from the original game, where Starkiller goes into the Jedi Temple. It's fairly short and generic, I wasn't terribly impressed. The real fun comes when you play out the alternate timelines from the end of the game...

If you decided to play as the "Dark Side" character and kill Vader at the end, Starkiller takes his place as the Emperor's apprentice and assassin. Wearing the terrifying Darth Stalker armor, Starkiller is the new Darth Vader. His first test is to go to Tatoonine, hunting for the Death Star plans. You get to visit Jabba's palace, fight all the classic characters therein, including a confrontation with Boba Fett. After offing the legendary bountry hunter in a surprisingly dull battle, Starkiller then races to Mos Eisley to prevent Luke and the gang from leaving. Obi Wan Kenobi stays behind for face Starkiller, sacrificing himself to allow the others the chance to escape.

The third DLC surrounds the events on Hoth during The Emprire Strikes Back, as Starkiller has finally caught up with Luke Skywalker. You slice and dice your way through the defense of the Hoth base, killing wampas and Rebels alike, before battling Skywalker at the end. I won't give it away, but the ending to this one is actually quite clever. Again, it's fun to think about "What would have happened if..." scenarios. I'm curious if we will see more from the 'Star Wars Infinities' alternate timelines in the future.

All in all, I wasn't that impressed with any of the DLC selections. They are smallish levels that force you to endure more of the same frustrations that plagued the regular game. With the exception of the Hoth mission, there isn't really much in the way of a story, this is simply and excuse to mess up more baddies with the Force. While that wouldn't normally be such a bad thing, the bad camera, annoying QTE's, and repetitive boss battles aren't worth putting up with in my opinion.


  1. The creaters of the game did come out and say that the star destroyer part was a mistake. I don't remember the specifics, but basically they were making changes on the game shortly before it was finished and screwed up the settings for that part. Not that that makes it ok, but at least they know they screwed up. I nearly threw the xbox out the window after about 15 minutes of that scene with hardly any progress to show for my frustrations.


  2. Lol, yeah. What killed me is that there were so many cool ideas in this game that if it were just done better it would have been awesome. As it was, it was just plain annoying and frustrating. The sequel ain't much better, I'll review that one soon.