July 14, 2012

/ by Tin Salamunic

Developer(s): LucasArts
Publisher(s): LucasArts, THQ Wireless, Activision
Platforms: PS3, PS2, XBox 360, PSP, Mac OS X, Wii, iOS, Microsoft Windows
Release Date: September 16, 2008

I’ve waited a long time for a worthy next-generation Star Wars experience.  Sure, the recent Lego Star Wars games are incredibly charming and fun, but you’re still getting a gimmicky franchise parody and not the real thing.  Finally, LucasArts brings us Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and frankly, despite its flaws, it’s the best addition to the Star Wars universe in decades.

The Good
- Using The Force is a blast
- Incredible environments
- Starkiller has a ton of moves
- Strong storyline

The Bad
- Occasionally questionable level design
- Automatic target-lock is not very precise
- Too short
- Star Destroyer sequence is flat-out broken

The game takes place between the Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope.  You play the introductory mission as Darth Vader, who’s sent by the Emperor to destroy a Jedi survivor on Kashyyyk.  After a gripping Jedi duel, Vader discovers a young boy who is strong in the Force and takes him in, without the consent or knowledge of the Emperor.  Vader entitles the boy Starkiller and teaches him the ways of an assassin, to one-day hunt down and kill the Emperor.  Once the Emperor uncovers Starkiller’s existence, the story takes several interesting twists and turns.  One thing is certain; the narrative alone is stronger than the last three Star Wars prequels combined – this is how it’s done Mr. Lucas.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed plays similarly to God of War, in that you hack n’ slash your way through swarms of enemies, learn new moves, and eventually fight larger-than-life monsters using button prompts during cinematic finishers – then again, don’t most games in the genre follow a similar pattern?  The similarities end there and the game gives us something Kratos never could:  The Force.  You can use The Force to toss your foes around the environment, fling explosive crates at groups of enemies and even solve the occasional puzzles.  The Force alone is reason enough to play the game.  Watching a Star Trooper beg for his life as he’s choked to death mid-air is something no Star Wars fan should miss.

Using The Force is tricky at first.  The game auto-selects your target based on distance and the direction you’re facing and it’s difficult picking the right object in the midst of battle.  Fortunately, once you grasp the mechanic, you’ll learn to maneuver Starkiller fluently and you’ll be slinging baddies into outer space with ease.   You earn force points by defeating enemies and varying your combos.  Force points allow you to upgrade combos, powers, and talents, giving you a massive arsenal of special moves.  And you will need every upgrade you can get.  Combining attacks is key to defeating different enemy types and once you come closer to the game’s end, you’ll be forced to use every available special attack to survive. 

This brings me to the game’s biggest problem. Once you start facing 20+ enemies, you feel the lack of precision in the controls and using The Force turns cumbersome.  Striking the right target in the distance becomes a matter of luck and you end up dying because you technically lose control.   Add to that some questionable level designs that make the camera go berserk, and you start wondering how the game made it through testing. 

And let me tell you, one sequence in particular is altogether broken.  Without spoiling anything, let’s just say that the most climactic moment in the game, a moment when you’re using The Force’s full power, is the game’s biggest downfall.  Being stuck on this segment for an embarrassing two hours is enough to knock the score down by a whole point.  Nevertheless, sweat and tears aside, the things that do work in the game are exceptional and I found myself enjoying it thoroughly.    

Sound wise it’s exactly what you’d expect from a Star Wars title.  The beloved theme accompanies the swooshing sounds of your light saber and the voice acting is first-rate, especially Sam Witwer as Starkiller.  At this point, however, I expect something more engaging from the audio department.  Everything works as it should and at no point does the sound take away from the experience, but it also adds nothing to it – it’s just adequate.  Maybe I’m expecting too much, but a little extra umph would have given the title more individuality.  It’s not to say the sound is disappointing, I mean it’s LucasArts after all, but it doesn’t have the same impact it once had.

Where the game really excels are the visuals.  The environments are crisp, detailed, and constantly varied.  The Environmental design is a shining example of everything that’s visually iconic of Star Wars.  The textures are meticulous, sharp and the lighting is superb.  From the Tie Fighter factory to the junk filled Raxus Prime, every single level is utter eye candy.  Same goes for the character models.  Starkiller wears a different costume in each level and the Star Troopers are shiny as ever.  Unfortunately, most cut scenes consist of degraded CGI and are dulled down compared to the in-game graphics.  Even so, the game’s visuals are a real treat. 

While Star Wars: The Force Unleashed might not be the most refined third-person action game; it’s certainly one of the better next-gen offerings until we hopefully see another Knights of The Old Republic title.  If you can overlook the imprecise controls and the Star Destroyer sequence, you’ll find an action packed, albeit short, piece of Star Wars saga that no fan should be without. 

Review by Tin Salamunic

Final Score “A Must for Star Wars Fans” 8.0
Breathtakingly detailed environments. A true homage to the Star wars universe.
The controls are very loose, but when they work, they’re incredibly fun.
Better than all three Star Wars prequels combined.
The sound is exactly what you would expect from Star Wars, which is both a good and bad thing.  The music is great, but there are absolutely no surprises.

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