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Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Review

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The Force Unleashed comes with a lengthy list of caveats, but if you can suffer through some occasionally frustrating control and difficulty issues, the underlying game is a good one.

Crazy lightning hands!
With so many of the different blanks in the Star Wars universe filled in by books and prequels and all sorts of other media, it's probably getting harder and harder to tell a meaningful story with so many things nailed down throughout its timeline. That's part of why the story in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed left me pretty impressed. The tale of Darth Vader's secret apprentice slots itself into a space just prior to the events of Star Wars. As a result, you get to see some pretty pivotal stuff along the way. Of course, all this comes with a catch. The action is insanely uneven, flipping back and forth between an easy and fun physics toy to overwhelming combat sequences that feel like they belong in a different game.

Things start out slowly enough, with an abilitease-style segment that has you playing as Darth Vader with all of the available Force powers. After that quick and easy mission, things accelerate a bit and you take control of Vader's new apprentice, a young adult named Starkiller. Since he's still building his strength, you'll only have a few abilities at the outset, but one more thing unlocks per level. The first power you get, Force lift, is also the most fun. With it you can lift up objects or enemies, move them around in the air, flip them around all crazy-like, and fling them into other things. Stormtroopers will hopelessly attempt to grab onto rails, boxes, or even each other for safety, resulting in moments where you have two of them, holding hands, flipping around in mid-air. I could have played the entire game this way, if it had let me.

Unfortunately, you can only really get away with that sort of slow play for the first two missions. After that, the pace picks up in a big way, and you'll be too busy being surrounded and maimed by enemies to slowly use your telekinesis powers to do the damage. The biggest problem with The Force Unleashed is its erratic pacing. Things go from easy to frustratingly difficult and back again at the blink of an eye. At various points in the game you find yourself completely surrounded by enemies that block or avoid most of your Force powers, which instead makes you rely on your lightsaber. The melee combat is more sophisticated than you'd expect out of a game like this, but you only really need to rely on a handful of basic attacks to succeed. In addition to a basic four-hit combo that you get by just mashing the attack button, you can also unlock different branching attacks that add a little Force power to your strikes. So you can bust out a lighting combo or two, use Force push to bounce an enemy into the air for juggle combos, and so on. Most of the button presses for Force attacks and melee combos are well-designed, but it's a little surprising to see how technical some of the moves get, especially when you only really need a few basic attacks to get through the game.

PROXY is your friendly robot sidekick.
All of the combat suffers a bit due to poor targeting. When you have a grip of enemies running in your direction, you usually want to use Force lightning to stun or eliminate the smaller guys so you can focus on the larger targets. But pointing at the right enemy can prove to be difficult, especially when your targets are up close. This led to a lot of frustrating deaths that felt like they were totally out of my control. Also, the lightsaber feels grossly underpowered when you compare it to how the weapon has been portrayed in films. This thing should be running through Stormtroopers with one swing, leaving nothing but severed and cauterized limbs in its wake. This being a T-rated game, it shouldn't come as a surprise to you that you won't see any limbs flying around here. But it also takes multiple strikes to take things down, and this also seems incongruous with what the weapon is "really" capable of.

While I'm getting all down on things that don't quite match up with how they've been portrayed elsewhere, boy, there sure are a lot of different types of Stormtroopers in this game. You would think that the divisions of flamethrower-wieiding troopers with big energy shields that block all Force-related attacks would have survived long enough to be portrayed in the films. In fact, the sheer number of Force-sensitive and Force-resistant enemies in the game feels pretty out-of-whack when you stop and think about it. Of course, the game is better when you don't think about it. Your ability to suspend disbelief against something that already requires you to suspend disbelief may be stretched to its breaking point by this game, or you may be able to happily write it all off as exactly the sort of things that a developer has to do to give a game variety.

The combat issues culminate in the game's boss fights. As the bulk of your missions are about hunting down Jedi, the game's battles pit you against a fighter with many of the same moves that you have. The boss fights feel out of place with the rest of the action. Though they're significantly more difficult than most of the other battles, that's not because you're having an interesting, balanced fight. Instead, it's not very easy to discern what weaknesses your enemy may have, when he or she may be susceptible to certain attacks, and so on. I felt like I was somehow cheating my way through the battles by finding little corners of the screen that rendered me safe from incoming Force pushed objects and stuff like that. Overall, none of them were much fun at all and felt like the game was trying to do something that it wasn't designed to handle. Plus, almost every major battle against a boss or large enemy ends in a God of War-like quick time event. Not to make sweeping judgments of well-worn game mechanics or anything, but that barely interactive stuff is starting to feel really dated.

This pretty British lady is your pilot.
The game's story is helped along by some good voice performances from the actors voicing Vader, Starkiller, your pilot, your friendly robot sidekick, and so on. I didn't much care for the music in the game, as the standard John Williams-like music that you expect from a Star Wars game is present and accounted for. It'd be nice to see something a little more modern-sounding in a Star Wars game, but I guess that's one of those "it's not Star Wars without..." things that you just can't mess with without inciting a riot in the process.

The Force Unleashed looks nice from start to finish, both in its cutscenes and during the game itself. The game delivers a lot of different-looking locations, from wild-looking plant worlds to enemy-filled junkyards to the interiors of large, unfinished installations. Each one looks good in its own way, with enemies that match. Along with the standard canned animations for your attacks, the game also has loads of intelligent ragdoll behavior that makes flinging things around and blowing open doors with the Force look cool.

Overall, the story is the main thing that I'll remember about The Force Unleashed--I found it to be more satisfying than the last three movies combined. Though you go in sort of knowing how it has to end, since it has to lead into Star Wars, there are plenty of significant events occurring throughout. It's enjoyable to watch it all unfold. That said, it's unfortunate that the game isn't a bit more even, because the constant flips from too easy to too hard really drag things down and prevent The Force Unleashed from being great. But even with its lengthy list of caveats, The Force Unleashed is still one of the best Star Wars games to be released in quite some time.
Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
111 Comments
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Posted by GalvanizedNails

3/5 stars. Seems like a must rent. I'll be buying Pure this week instead, but nice review jeff. I predict video review by thursday night?

Posted by Caddy

Yup, I expected this review, it agrees with several others I have been reading. I just don't know if I will get this game or not! Argh!

Posted by Cook66

Disappointing. Yet I wasn't expecting anything more after playing the demo.

Posted by Saltank

Interesting. I cancelled my pre-order...

Posted by Bulldog19892

I can't say I was very impressed by the demo. I kind of expected this. Good review.

Posted by DualReaver

Koffing is weak.

Posted by MagusMaleficus

Seeing as I already read the book, and the story of the game is supposedly its best feature... I may just Gamefly it.

Posted by insanejedi

Seems like a fair assessment giving it 3/5 stars. You could have easily given it a 2/5 for your hate of Star Wars alone, but I really liked that you gave it a fair score. I'll probably buy it and give it back to the store just for the story, and you can manipulate the Star Wars soundtrack without having everyone make a hissy fit, which Bioware successfully did, but then again Bioware's soundtracks always seem to be amazing no matter what.
Nice review Jeff!

Posted by Alphazero

Sounds like a fair review. I'd be interested to get Brad or Vinnie's opinion as self-professed Star Wars fans.

But then, I suppose that's what Tuesday night podcasts are for...

Posted by Torb

Yea, this pretty much confirms my suspicions from the demo. Great review! Very thorough. Sorry to see yet another disappointing movie-game...

Posted by MB

Yoda Voice: Rent...or rent not.  There is no buy.

Moderator
Posted by Vinchenzo

Accurate review, I can't believe how many people claim this game deserves more. Oftentimes people are comparing the full game to the demo they played saying, "I played the demo, this game is definitely an 8.5" Ya, that's not how it works. Anyway, really enjoyed the review can't wait for the video review - renting this and maybe buying Pure or Rock Band 2.

Posted by Artie

Are you telling me this isn't the greatest game ever made?

BUT IT HAS LIGHTERSBAERSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSssssssssssss

Posted by RHCPfan24

I saw this coming.  Looks cool and a decent rental.

Posted by MB

Totally dude.  Seems like a great rental value, but not so great as a purchase.  I typically am one that likes to support developers by actually buying games, but in this case it's a little tough to justify a purchase.

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Posted by CleverLoginName

Kind of weird how the story is the strongest suit when it's pretty obvious how the plot can and can't go, seems almost like spoilers right from the get-go. 

Posted by DrPepper1990

I'll probably still buy the game just becasue the story seems entertaining enough

Posted by giyanks22

Awesome review...still looks awesome...still getting it tomorrow....

Posted by Kohe321

I'll play this for the story. Awesome review Jeff!

Posted by Masonvd

The demo wasn't to exciting but... I woild rent it if it weren't for the fact that there are no video rental stores in South America!!!!!!

Posted by MrMiyagi

Picking it up tomorrow. I've been waiting far too long for this game.

Posted by mrfluke

yes yes i agree 300 percent with jeff on everything if i did a review it  ( would be crappy written) but have exactly the same points thats why im gameflying this one

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Posted by AllThatBacon

Wait...what? I was expecting Brad to review this one. Jeff doesn't even like Star Wars...this is strange. TOO STRANGE!

Posted by DarkPants

thats what I expected

Posted by j_meyer_13

another awesome review.  Probably rent this at some point...maybe next summer when I'm back home with the slower DSL and there's a game drought?  sounds good to me...

Posted by burjeffton--defunct

Jeff, you forgot to factor in the opportunity for some of the best PEOPLE-WATCHING of the year at the midnight release at Gamestop. I think that adds a half star - which is why I'm getting ready to head out tonight.

Posted by zitosilva

This was expect after the demo was released I guess. From what I hear, the story is really the only compelling thing about, so I guess a rental is really all that'll give this game. Not that saying that it is better than the last three movies combined means much.

Posted by alpha_numeric

As a Star Wars fan I would buy  this game for the story, but I'm still trying to convince myself that episodes 1-3 never existed. The whole prequel thing never really did anything for me except to ruin everything I loved as a child.
Aside from that It looks like this game needs some "g_saberrealisticcombat 1"

Posted by TrulyAlive

"It'd be nice to see something a little more modern-sounding in a Star Wars game, but I guess that's one of those "it's not Star Wars without..." things that you just can't mess with without inciting a riot in the process."

Evidently, you didn't see The Clone Wars movie, Jeff. If anything proved that formula is good when it comes to Star Wars, The Clone Wars is a prime example.

Posted by MasturbatingBear

very well written review but I must say it is interesting to see how messed up giant bombs community is. I mean people are being nice and respectful whereas on gamespots the force unleashed review there are so many people hating on the reviewer and calling him all sorts of names. Weird to see people being respectful to an honest review despite the fact it may not have a rating they agree with. Either way I agree on all points of the review

Posted by natural_deadhead

I LOVE star wars I'm getting this game. Great review Jeff!

Posted by Nate

so torn about whether or not to buy this.! I very rarely buy games reviewed this poorly, but it's Star Wars so I'm having a hard time resisting. Maybe I'll wait a few months to see if I can get it for 30 bucks on amazon or something.

Posted by Psynapse
Posted by TAllen

First time commenter here. Anyway, this review is exactly what I expected.  After playing the demo I was a bit skeptical, but I'm about to go pick it up at a midnight launch. There's just something that attracts me to the game. I love Star Wars games (not so much the movies) so I feel like I gotta give this a try. I also like hack-n-slash games, which this reminds me of ... well plus force powers, of course.

Nice review Jeff.

Posted by JonnyAvacado
Posted by BlazingWookie

Fair enough, I'll still pick up but I'm hoping there's replayability bonuses somehow, unlockable characters or something

Posted by TomA

I like how alot of people are saying that they agree with the review when they haven't actaully played the game yet.And i think Jeff's dislike of StarWars kinda got in the way of this review anyway,because I did get a copy and played a bunch and I like it,i think it probably deserves 4 stars,but i do agree with alot of the things in the review,such as the boss fights, and it REALLY does suck that there's no limb severing:(

Posted by John

the demo was pretty awesome. I'll probably get this in December.

Posted by IceCold

 Saw this one coming me thinks. Thanks for the review, it'll be a rent for me.

Posted by AndrewB

I'm still much more intrigued by the Jedi Knight storyline. Kyle Katarn is still the best Jedi around.

Posted by CraigAA1028

I've had it since Thursday and I enjoyed it. I'd give it 3-3.5 stars. Nice review Jeff

Posted by BD_Mr_Bubbles

problems aside, i'll be buying it just because i'm a Star Wars fan.

Posted by SofaKing

This review's significantly decreased my interest in the game. It hits on several gameplay issues I've had with playing the 360 demo and a bit of the PS2 version (poor targeting, unnecessary combos, etc.) I had a false hope of sorts in it I guess. Ah well. Rental.

Posted by TheJollyRajah

Sorry man but Pure is garbage. TFU is garbage too...

Posted by TracedVelocity

Great review.
My initial impression from the very first trailer released for this game had me thinking it would be the next great Star Wars action game. Guess it hasn't turned out like that. Makes me wish they would bring back the Jedi Knights games.

Posted by Matt7

Nice review, but no Wii version review?

Posted by TheHBK

Yes!  Jeff nailed it.  He even mentioned the lightsaber thing which was pissing me off the most.  By the way, Jedi Knight had severed arms and hands, and that was a T.  Just dont show blood!  And since its a light saber, it wont!  We need Jedi Knight 3! (I think of Academy as still part of 2)

Posted by Lookin2GetSmoked

I was gonna buy this game and now i'm not.  Thanks Jeff!

Posted by SpikeDelight

I don't want to sound like a douche, but I feel like I predicted this entire review in my blog post, The Force Unleashed: That is Why You Fail. It's ironic however, that now I am actually one of the people who brushed every gameplay flaw aside just to enjoy the story of the game (and then probably sell it). I almost feel dirty for enjoying this game, but I am such a huge Star Wars fan and ths really is an excellent canon storyline.

Posted by Koopa_kid12

I'm a massive Starwars fan, so to tell the truth i don't mind if it is an average game, i'm getting it today! YES! That's right! Us English are gettin it th same time as tghe US! Hurrah!

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