Grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory
When I first heard about Star Wars: The Force Unleashed last year, my hopes were high. The pieces seemed to be in place for a Star Wars renaissance of sorts. And while the original story and some of the force powers are entertaining in spurts, the obvious 1990s style gameplay missteps take center stage in the long run, and make The Force Unleashed a game that frustrates more often than it captivates.
The most glaring, and perhaps most frustrating things about The Force Unleashed are gameplay flaws that the industry have, for the most part, outgrown. Bad 3D platforming was acceptable in 1995, but the likes of Mario and Prince of Persia have since shown us the light, making such nonsense inexcusable in today's world. On top of spastic aerial controls, the game's auto-targeting feature leaves much to be desired, and the pacing is too random to provide any sort of continuous enjoyment. Going from effortlessly flinging stormtroopers around, to cowering behind a rock to avoid dying from a few droid blaster shots, and then back again defies any logical sense of level progression. It was rare for me to know exactly what were supposed to be the "hard parts" of the game- especially when stormtroopers would randomly dawn force resistant gear, or AT-Sts would crumble under a simple blast of lightning. This constant fluctuation kills any sense of intuition you might have about how the Star Wars universe should function, and ultimately makes being a Sith much less awesome than it should be.
Controls, pacing, and balance are fundamental design issues, and ones that plenty of games today execute perfectly. The Force Unleashed is not one of those games. Surprisingly, even though it misses the basics, the game isn't a complete waste. Force powers are indeed awesome, and during the few times where everything is working, unloading your powers on whatever is in your way can be a blast. The game's many new engines add a lot to the experience, and make acts like gripping a stormtrooper and flinging him through a steel door priceless. The game's tone and story also do the Star Wars universe justice, and offer a more enticing presentation than a Star Wars game has in a long time. These positives give The Force Unleashed some legs, and do a fairly decent job at sprinkling some entertaining moments throughout the game.
Unfortunately, the positives also seem to make the negatives stand out even more. By doing well with the higher concepts, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed makes it's lack of basic support painfully obvious. It also leads to the realization that had the game gotten these seemingly trivial basics right, we could be talking about one of the year's best games. But as it stands, The Force Unleashed is simply a sub par action game, and one that is hard to give more than a modest recommendation to anyone but the most loyal Star Wars fans.
For additional information on my review style and scoring system, click here.