T (Teen)Release Date:
September 16, 2008 Screenshots: LinkAmazon: Buy Now!Written By:
In a situation such as this, a title like Star Wars: The Force Unleashed begs for all kinds of jokes. ďThe Force Unleashed? More like, The Force Still on a Leash That Has Been Loosened Slightly and Given Some Slack But Not Any Kind of Actual Freedom or Power, hahaha!Ē. Itís a bad joke, but itís unfortunately true. Outside of the opening level, the Force rarely ever feels like itís been ďunleashed,Ē or even like itís ever a weapon better than those employed by the common Stormtrooper.
The prologue level is the only one that encapsulates everything The Force Unleashed was meant to be. As Darth Vader, you lead the Imperial attack on the Wookie homeworld, Kashyyk. You rampage through legions of wookies, using the force to send them flying off of their treetop villages, smash them into trees, and shatter their wooden bridges and huts into thousands of splinters and chunks. The spectacle and the sense of power is intoxicating. Unfortunately, thatís about where that feeling ends. The first real level as the gameís protagonist--Darth Vaderís secret Sith apprentice, code-named Starkiller--is actually an appropriate step down. As Darth Vaderís apprentice, you shouldnít be quite as powerful as he was in that opening stage. Still, as a Sith, you do feel a great deal more powerful than the Stormtroopers and Rebels youíre fighting. You can fling crates at them, bring TIE fighters crashing down on top of them, send them flying off high catwalks, send them crashing through windows out into the vacuum of space. It doesnít take long, however, before your powers become kind of obsolete.
Throughout the majority of the remainder of the game, the Force is hardly the ultimate weapon it was in those first two levels. Fighting common enemies becomes a battle of attrition, and the Force is used more as a way to whittle away your enemiesí health before taking them down by simply mashing the attack button or through the use of a quick-time button-pressing sequence. The problem stems from the ways in which the designers balance the difficulty of the game.
This balance comes in two varieties, each equally frustrating. The first is in the form of the simple, cheap, Playstation-era, action game difficulty gamers are so familiar with. Commons enemies stun you with their basic attacks. They knock you on the ground and begin a combo over your body, so that when you stand up you get knocked down again, and the process repeats. Your combos can be interrupted by enemies, but you canít interrupt their combos. Other Force-users are invulnerable when charging their powers, but you are most vulnerable when charging your powers. You canít grab on to ledges, so you repeatedly find yourself falling to your death because your knee hit a railing or something. Itís a cheap way to make the game seem more challenging, but only serves to make it more frustrating.
The other problem is slightly more excusable, but no less obnoxious. Common enemies are capable of doing more than they probably should. Force-sensitive Felucians are able to make their allies invincible, Purge Troopers are immune to most of your powers and even resistant to your lightsaber, Rodian scavengers use portable tractor beams to do what you do with Force grab (and usually with greater accuracy, as the AI doesnít have to deal with inaccurate auto-targeting), and about a dozen different varieties of Stormtrooper are immune to some power, able to absorb some power, or even able to turn some power against you. The Apprentice is able to pluck TIE fighters out of the sky and even use the Force to sink a Star Destroyer, but AT-STs and guys with shields are immune to your abilities. Itís this leveling of the playing field and inconsistency with your powers that, in the end, defeats the whole purpose of being a powerful Jedi. Fighting most enemies boils down to mashing the attack button or performing tedious dodge-and-run-and-zap maneuvers, draining an opponentís health with Force Lightning, dodging their attacks while you wait for your Force energy to recharge, then repeating the process two or three more times until they either die or a quick-time sequence is activated. I understand that it must be difficult to walk the fine line between letting the player feel like a bad-ass and maintaining a challenge in the game, but design like this is just lazy, and it undermines the entire point of the game: the titular unleashing of the Force.
The Force Unleashedís leveling system tries admirably to add some variety. Many of these upgrades are passive. Upgrade a Force power to make it more powerful, upgrade a ďtalentĒ to increase you maximum health, reduce the time it takes to charge powers, etc. Itís a fine system, although it makes me wonder why they didnít simply implement a system that makes a given power better the more you use it, but thatís ultimately a moot point. The talents offer some nice possibilities, but if you donít pump points into health and defense, youíll quickly find yourself dying often, so it does lose some purpose. You can also gain points to learn new attack combos. Most often, the more elaborate combos arenít necessary. In the time it takes to properly perform them, most enemies will just knock you down with a regular attack, and itís usually a wiser choice to just attack rabidly with a basic combo or more powerful charged combo. Itís a shame when an action game not only does not reward strategy, but actually seems to punish you for it.
Let it not be said that The Force Unleashed isnít a looker, though. Outside of the somewhat uncanny-valley-exploring cut-scenes, the game is gorgeous and the physics are amazing. Wood bends, splinters and shatters; metal bends, warps and breaks in all the right places; the giant mushrooms of Felucia sway back in forth in a wobbly manner; just about everything reacts to your powers the way one would expect. Melee fights are well-choreographed, and the smooth animation makes them feel like fighting a battle from the films.
For any Star Wars fan, the real reason to play The Force Unleashed is the story. The story of Darth Vaderís secret apprentice is also the story of the founding of the Rebellion. It does an amazing job of filling in the blanks between episodes III and IV, and presents a refreshingly mature take on the mythology. The story of the last of the Jedi being hunted to extinction is appropriately dark and unsettling, and Starkiller grows tremendously as a character over the course of the plot. Both the Dark Side and Light Side endings, maybe for the first time ever in a Star Wars game, are satisfying and develop organically from the plot, making either choice believable (if not canonical). Consideration is paid even to the small details, such as the way different symbols and technologies evolve between the the two films. To be honest, itís probably the greatest story Iíve seen from a Star Wars game, and represents just about everything the prequel trilogies should have been. Itís a shame that the game, as a whole, doesnít live up to its own title. Still, any Star Wars fan should at least give The Force Unleashed one play-through. At worst, itís worth a rental.6/
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