phobos's Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (PlayStation 3) review

Oh, How I Wanted to Like this Game

Lets make this very clear. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is not a good game. I want it to be. I tried telling myself that it was. It is not.

That said, The Force Unleashed is not a complete failure of a game. There are two aspects of the game that keep this sinking ship afloat.

The story feels contained, but existing in a larger world -- a balancing act that Star Wars stories often seek but rarely find. The Force Unleashed's story is that of Starkiller, but it's also the story of the birth of the Rebel Alliance. It's the story of how one man stood up to the Empire, and how this inspired a handful of others to do the same. Along the way, Starkiller makes very substantial choices at crisis moments that affect the the growth of the character. The most overreaching crisis action is Starkiller's choice to trust and remain loyal to Darth Vader after a massive betrayal. The aftermath of this sets the stage for the last half of the story.

The Force Unleashed also paints you onto a beautiful canvas for Starkiller's adventure to happen. The game moves from the rust colored world of Raxas Prime, across the saturated colors of Felucia, and up the trees of Kashaak. On and around these locations the monolithic metal of the Empire intrudes. The Empire's conquest over the natural world even leads you down an elevator into the belly of a Sarlaac. These three main set pieces are wonderful, but all reused in the last half of the game and don't feel as impressive the second time through.

This is the good that The Force Unleashed has to offer. If you're a Star Wars fan, then you will probably want to muscle through it for the story. It really is that good. If you enjoy playing video games, on the other hand, then you should, probably, not play it.

The Force Unleashed's problems aren't it's presentation, it's its gameplay. It is not a good game. There is no two opinions, this isn't a good game. Every part of The Force Unleashed feels gamey.

Let's start with the fighting, the real meat of the game. There are a good selection of enemies, but none of them work well together. Each enemy type has a different way they fight. Different animations, different weapons, and different  strategies. It's great -- on the surface. Break each enemy type down and they are only trying to do one of two things. Shoot you or connect and continue a melee combo. How the enemy performs combos and how you perform combos seems to come from a different view of reality. Enemies can block your combos at any time. Sometimes they have a protective bubble, sometimes that's a shield, sometimes they just choose to block a light saber with whatever they're holding at the time. You cannot do this. Once a melee combo begins, you're there for the duration. Sure, Starkiller has the ability to block, but this doesn't seem to matter too much. He also has the ability to dodge left and right when locked on, but transition into a dodge is awkward, slow, and projectiles tend to turn and track you regardless.

Enemies don't have complex movement patterns that you can learn and work around. What they have is defenses that you must learn to break, and the ability to spam you with the one attack they do have. Break one enemies defense, then repeat. Boss fights suffer similar problems. There is no pattern to learn, no attacks to be avoided. Sometimes they attack you and you get hurt, other times you attack them and they get hurt. Often, you attack them and they hurt you. There is a lot of consistency to bosses hurting you, not so much the other way.

Group fighting is a pain. In addition to a lack of clear enemy patterns, The Force Unleashed has an almost useless lock-on system. While, it's useful in the fact that you need it to fight enemies without attacking a rock instead, it's useless in the fact that there is no good way to choose to lock-on to anything specifically. You could lock onto the enemy immediately ahead of you, or anything behind him. Even when you're locked-on, the lock-on may simply switch to another character without rhyme or reason. This is doubly frustrating because there isn't a way for you to change targets to begin with.

Boss fights show off the weakness of the games health system. Before you can regain your health, Starkiller must fight and defeat an enemy. I've seen this done well in other game, but in The Force Unleashed it ends up feeling like having to combat a sandwich before you can eat it. The goal of a boss fight, with the exception of two, is to get to a checkpoint, since there isn't a way to regain health.

On top of it all, movement and fighting are just stiff and mechanical. There isn't room for any kind of free form movement. If enemies charge to attack in anyway, it's usually too late to move out of the way by the time you notice. You must complete the current animation, wait for Starkiller to return to the idle animation, and then begin his dodge animation. These extra seconds add up to sluggish and unresponsive controls.


Even if you learn the games broken rules of engagement an enemy may still spawn behind you and immediately start in on a melee combo that costs you half your health and leaves you open to attack coming from anywhere else.
 
There are good Star Wars games. There are great Star Wars games. The Force Unleashed is neither. Don't play this game. Don't rent this game.
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