*Insert generic Star Wars quote here*
Star Wars - one of the most beloved franchises ever - has been treated to its fair share of good and bad games. The Jedi Knight series best captured what it’s like to wield the power of the Force but LucasArts’ latest title, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, looks to show you what the Force is really capable of. With brand new technology under its belt and a tie to the movies, the hype machine has certainly been rolling.
But does it succeed?
If the first level is anything to go by, then yes. You start off playing as the Dark Lord himself, Darth Vader; landing on the Wookie home planet of Kashyyyk to lay waste to many of Chewbacca’s kin. Here you get to see the Force at its most powerful and exciting as every move crushes and destroys environment and enemy alike. It’s a great opening that shows what the game has to offer.
After this explosive opening you are introduced to the games’ protagonist, Starkiller, now Vader’s secret apprentice. Vader tells him that he must earn his rank by disposing of the remaining Jedi still alive within the galaxy. You see, The Force Unleashed is set between the original and new trilogy of movies - tying Episodes III and IV together. The story is definitely one of the game’s strong points. It’s engaging with some great characters, both old and new, and it’s guaranteed to hold your interest throughout. The cutscenes really capture that signature Star Wars look, and it’s probably better than anything Lucas has made recently.
Once you’ve become accustomed to all of the characters you’ll begin the first mission aboard a space station. It was part way through this level that I hoped the rest of the game wouldn’t follow suit. It’s full of plenty of bland looking corridors and generic space station clichés that can begin to tire after a while. Luckily, the other levels are hugely varied, taking you to vast locations all across the Star Wars universe. On the downside the level design is very straightforward and linear, which is disappointing considering the massive size of some of the levels. Each location does however look outstanding. The art direction is brilliant, and a lot of the time the levels are a lot more fun to look at than venture through.
There are a few problems with the framerate often stuttering when there’s a lot going on, and sometimes it will come to a complete stop for a few seconds, especially when an Achievement is about to pop up. Some enemies will also clearly spawn or pop-in right in front of your eyes, and I also had an incident where a Stormtrooper was actually invincible from all of my attacks. There are a few graphical glitches, but overall it’s not enough to ruin the experience.
And of course, the whole experience is built around the Force. LucasArts have heavily invested in new technology, and The Force Unleashed is the first video game to use Pixelux’s Digital Molecular Matter (DDM) along with naturalmotion’s Euphoria (previously used to excellent effect in Grand Theft Auto IV). DDM is used with different objects within the game, giving them real-world properties. This means that objects will weigh as much as they should, or bend like you would expect them to. For the most part it works well and can provide a lot of fun, however some objects won’t really react at all, taking you away from some of the immersion. I’m sure it will greatly improve in the future - maybe with the next-generation of consoles - but right now it doesn’t live up to the expectation and hype surrounding it within the context of the game.
Euphoria is also a little disappointing, especially after what we saw in GTAIV. At its core it works well, making enemies react to your Force powers by grabbing onto things, and trying to balance themselves out if you hold them in the air; but aside from that, it mostly just applies to rag doll effects that could have been done just as effectively on the Havok engine.
However, both of these technologies do provide a lot of fun when dealing with your run-of-the-mill enemies, like Stormtroopers. You can throw these guys around with ease, and really express yourself with the Force powers. It’s hugely entertaining coming up with inventive ways to dispatch your foes and this is where the game really shines. Unfortunately the game often shies away from this aspect, especially in latter levels when enemies actually prevent your Force powers from working. This is extremely flawed when you consider that you can lift massive structures, but not certain enemies just because they’re wearing a metal suit. Because of this irritation you have to resort to using Force Lightning to bring them down; so essentially you’re just holding down a button, waiting for your Force powers to replenish, and then holding down the button again. As you can imagine, this gets boring, fast. If they had just kept with your basic enemies - with the occasional metal suit wearing aggravation - the game would have been a lot more entertaining.
Boss fights are also a pain. I was hoping for a mixture of fast paced lightsaber attacks and blocks combined with some over-the-top Force moves. What I got was continually mashing the lightsaber attack button, with an occasional use of Force Lightning. It’s only when you reach the last couple of bosses, that some strategy is involved and you actually need to block and time your attacks.
Of course, to make each boss more manageable you need to upgrade your powers. On each level there are plenty of Jedi holocrons to find that will give you experience points - along with some unlockable lightsaber power and colour crystals - to build up Starkiller’s stats. However, most of your experience will come from killing enemies. You get points for each kill, and can also gain a small bonus by killing them in an imaginative way, such as Force-Pushing them off a ledge, or throwing them into some explosive barrels, and so on. Once you’ve earned enough experience points you’ll level up and be rewarded with upgrade points. There are three different areas to upgrade: Force powers, combos and one for overall abilities that can improve your health, or power up your lightsaber attacks. There are plenty of areas to upgrade, and even though I earned quite a lot of experience, I wasn’t even close to maxing out everything after one playthrough.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is a solid entry into the fabled sci-fi franchise. When it sticks to its strong points it’s an extremely fun title, and is sure to please all of the die hard Star Wars fans. The story is no letdown either, perfectly tying the films together in an area that has since been unexplored. Sadly, the flaws are there for all to see, making it a bit of a let down. I’m sure with more processing power the technology involved can blossom into something amazing, so hopefully we’ll see a possible sequel somewhere down the line.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is an entertaining romp through the Star Wars universe; just don’t expect something of The Empire Strikes Back brilliance.