Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Review
|Release Date:||September 19th, 2008 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||Andy Hemphill (Bandit)|
As a Star Wars fan of many years, I should have been jumping up and down at the thought of a new Star Wars game, especially one that has had such an intense advertising campaign and a massive amount of merchandising applied to it.
However, as a game critic, I always let the spin roll off my back, and that’s why I’m able to see through the smoke-screen of Lucasarts’ PR people and straight through to the main part of its multimedia project- the game itself. Which, to be honest, is only a mediocre offering.
Plot-wise, The Force Unleashed (TFU) is set roughly in between episodes 3 and 4, the Rebel Alliance has not yet been formed, and Vader and co have been busily building the Death Star and Vader’s own personal Star Destroyer, the mighty Executor.
Into this turbulent time comes your character, Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, who is found by Vader on Kashyyyk when he raids the planet in the name of the Empire.
Having brutally killed his father, he then adopts the youngling and trains him in secret to be the extension of his will, and he gives him a codename- Starkiller.
Now, I can’t reveal any more of the plot, other than to say that you will be sent on many different missions in the service of Lord Vader, including hunting down the Jedi who survived Order 66 at the end of episode 3, before being caught up in a story that will change the galaxy.
The plot, while a little predictable, is definitely one of the high points of this game, neatly tying off some loose ends left by the movies and throwing a few plot twists for good measure.
The winding nature of the plot will take you all over the Star Wars galaxy, from a TIE fighter production facility in orbit above Nar Shaddaa, the smugglers moon, to the junk planet of Raxus Prime, to Felucia and elsewhere.
You also return to the same planets later in the timeline, and get a chance to see what the Empire has done to redecorate.
Starkiller is an exceptionally gifted force-user. His master, Lord Vader, has spent many years teaching his young charge, and has turned him into a finely honed weapon- much more powerful than in any of the movies.
He has four core skills: Lightning, Repulse, Push and Grip, which can be upgraded using powerups picked up from ‘Jedi Holocrons’ (glowing boxes) found in the game, and by completing side-missions such as killing four of this, or destroying that. He has many other skills however, including sabre-throw, force jump, lightning shield and a couple of other useful talents such as being able to take a short sprint forwards while hanging in the air.
The force powers in the game are true to its name- they are the force, unleashed. Push, for example, can be charged up and released to send a wave of force energy flowing outwards, flinging things aside with merry abandon. With Grip you can pick up almost anything and use it as a weapon- rocks, stormtroopers, whatever, and after you upgrade the power, you can pick up to three things up at once, it’s up to you what you want to focus on.
Your lightsaber skills are similarily unleashed, Starkiller is an expert combatant, and he can chain together combos using the force with extreme ease.
Pressing two buttons at once will commence a grapple move when you’re close enough to an enemy, resulting in a cool animation as he uses acrobatics to destroy his enemies- these are also dependant on the enemy you face- if you grapple a stormtrooper for example, you will shock him, flip him and stab him, while if you grapple a Jawa, Starkiller grabs the critter by the head, shocks him, then kicks him away screeching- classic.
Graphically, the game is simply stunning. Draw distances are excellent and the textures are neat and tidy, with very little blurring or buggy lighting. The downside to this is that when there is a lot going on at once (which there often will be) the game suffers horrendous slowdown, becoming as jerky as a PC game struggling with an older computer- not a good sign.
Similarily, the sound effects are also excellent. Turn up the volume on your TV and the roar of a Rancor, the hum of a lightsaber, the discharge blast of a mounted blaster cannon- all of them sound brilliant; even the yells of the Stormtoopers as you pick them up and hurl them round is nothing short of satisfying.
However, the game, while a brilliant thrill ride, is sadly bought down by a long list of bugs and mistakes.
First off, the Lightsaber in this game has been reduced to nothing more than a humming red stick. In Jedi Outcast, for example, the Lightsaber killed Stormtroopers in one hit, and you felt like you had a lot of control over the swings and parries of Lightsaber combat. In TFU you have no control, and are reduced to button bashing and using combo’s to finish off the enemy. Similarily, while you can slice bits off the walls and cut Astromech droids in half, swing your Lightsaber at a bush or sapling and nothing happens- why doesn’t the tree collapse using the ‘new’ technology Lucasarts has inserted into the game?
As for this new tech- Digital Molecular Matter (the physics of objects) and Euphoria (NPC reaction to external stimuli) - work ok, but you often don’t get a chance to see it working fully because you are too busy fending off the wave after wave of enemies the game throws at you. That isn’t to say that a Stormtrooper hanging on to a bar-room table while you try to lift him up isn’t hilarious to watch.
As for the enemies, these are varied and interesting, but the developers decided to throw too many at you at once- your screen is regularly full of biped bad-guys who are easily dispatched, but these are often supported by bigger enemies, such as an AT-ST or a Rancor, who continually knock you over, and when you get knocked over, Starkiller takes so long to get up again that you’re probably going to be shot to death as you lie there!
The same could be said for the ‘boss’ battles. While these are fun, they are also maddeningly infuriatingly buggy, and for some reason one or two bosses can’t be defeated using your lightsaber- if a coherent blade that can cut through anything (except tress) can’t kill one guy, then what is the world coming to?
Another issue is the terrible camera and dodgy targeting. For example, in one scene (one of the worst in any game I have ever played) you have to pull a Star Destroyer from the sky, but in order to do so you have to fight off squadron after squadron of TIE Fighters, which are impossible to grab because the targeting will only lock on to what the apprentice’s eyes are looking at- not where the camera is looking- maddening!
This game also commits the cardinal sin of gaming- it can be completed in about 6 hours- far too short. Coupled with the tiny replay value- play through again and all you can unlock is a few extra lightsaber blades and costume- and it provides a decidedly disappointing experience. Plus, the decision to remove any kind of multiplayer was just stupid.
The menu’s themselves are also incredibly bad- while they offer a large amount of depth, including an information databank for inexperienced Star Wars gamers and a practice room for your powers, each menu takes about 10 seconds to load- why does it take so long? Why? What’s the point?
Long story short, TFU is a game that needed an extra couple of month’s playtesting before it was unleashed on the general public.
After a gargantuan advertising campaign that had almost everyone believing that this would be the definitive SW game of this generation, what we got was a good try that is sadly flawed by a long list of silly and pointless mistakes- one for renting, or buying when it’s on sale.
- Great plot
- Nice graphics
- It’s fun, for a while
Not so good stuff
- Very buggy
- No multiplayer
- Low replay value
- That bit with the Star Destroyer
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