Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
Platform Reviewed: PS3/Xbox360
Also on: Wii, PS2, PSP, DS
I had a lot of fun with the demo of The Force Unleashed, so much so that I was able to ignore any potential problems that were evident. While I had (and am still having) a lot of fun with the full game, it is far from perfect. The story of Starkiller, the secret apprentice of Darth Vader is well worth playing, especially for fans of the Star Wars universe.
First, the bad news: the camera has some massive issues. Zoom is the main problem, and it presents itself in two terrible ways. First, when enemies surround you, the camera should zoom out so you can attempt a combo to defeat all oncoming challengers. This is how it works in most action games hitting the market today. Unfortunately, in this game, the camera zooms in closer to the playable character, giving no indication where other enemies are coming from. The worse camera issue comes in close quarters, if Starkiller is backed up against a wall. In this case, a preferred camera method would either make the wall transparent and keep the over-the-head view, or zoom in to over the shoulder, in the style of Gears of War or Resident Evil 4. Unfortunately, the camera instead zooms into Starkiller’s head, obscuring the majority of the screen. Conversely, during boss battles, the camera is perfect. It zooms out, and gives a cinematic view, lending a unique feel to these larger, more difficult battles.
The controls are likewise a mixed bag. Combos are very easy to pull off, and the force powers are mapped simply to the controller; even when you have all the powers unlocked, you’ll never mistaken one button for the other. The targeting is notably better than it was in the demo; you can now acquire your target with less precise head-on viewing. That is, you no longer have to be looking directly at an enemy to target them. It’s still not perfect, however, and can get frustrating when a lot of small enemies and one large enemy are on the field. Overall, the gameplay is good enough to make you want to play the game again. In fact, the real fun begins when you take your built-up Starkiller through the game a second time, finding hidden items you may have missed, and playing at a higher difficulty level. Those hidden items and unlockables are fun, and can make your young Force-wielder even stronger. Skip the training room, though; you’ll learn better on the fly, and there is no experience given or items unlocked, even if you complete every single one. The lack of multiplayer is disappointing, as I can’t help but think 16 Jedis and Sith running around with this kind of power would be insanely fun.
The three aspects I like to call “immersion,” sound, graphics, and story, are not at all mixed. In this case, they are amazing all around. The graphics are beautiful, and the accurate physics from your ridiculous powers are a lot of fun. I found myself returning to areas where all enemies had been defeated, just so I could see what else in the environment I could interact with.
The sound is clearly Star Wars. These are sound effects and a music style any fan of the movies has heard before, and that’s absolutely a compliment. The music soundtrack especially is perfect; Mark Griskey did a great job, adding to the original score from the films. It adds tension when it should, gives solid ambience when it needs to, and never takes away from the game. Lastly, the voice-acting, especially in the cutscenes, is top-notch.
Those cutscenes make up the best Star Wars movie since the original trilogy. This is a cool story, with great twists, and as I said when I reviewed the Graphic Novel , this is arguably the biggest part of the Star Wars story that was still missing. Starkiller’s story is much more than just the story of Darth Vader’s “Secret Apprentice,” and the way it plays out is engaging, well acted, and interesting from the scrolling story (though no Episode 3.5 number attached) to the sound of those high strings leading you into the final credits. This story is so good, I truly believe it should’ve been one of the feature films; combine Episodes 1 and 2 into one movie, move Episode 3 into the number 2 slot, and make this the new final story of the new trilogy, and you would have much happier fans. There’s also a major choice toward the end, with two versions of the ending, to help with replay value. It should be noted as well that even if you've read the GN or the Novel, just enough of the story was left out of the adaptations to make the game's version feel fresh.
All this together, the good and the bad, adds up to one of the better Star Wars games ever. If even just those camera issues were fixed, it would stand atop the heap with ease. Even still, action adventure gamers looking for another reason to fire up their game system need look no further. Star Wars fans: this one is a no-brainer, and almost required playing. There’s not much room between this and Episode 4, so any “sequel” would only be using the gameplay, and have to take place in the New Republic or New Jedi Order eras. I hope to unleash the force again in the future.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed ships for nearly every system made September 16, 2008.