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Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

Star Wars

Star Wars is a rich universe to draw from for video games. Unlike many other licensed titles, plenty of Star Wars games have been warmly received by critics. Lucasarts is a trusted name in the industry, thanks to their pioneering work in adventure games, and now their (fairly) good track record with games based on one of the world’s favorite movie franchises. The Force Unleashed is more than most Star Wars games, however; instead of portraying basically meaningless characters in a story that carries no weight within the actual canon of the movies, it attempts to tie together the two trilogies in one grand swoop. The Force Unleashed also brings some interesting mechanics to the table, such as the trio of physics engines enabling players to use The Force in ways no other game has allowed them before. From a storytelling standpoint, The Force Unleashed is a sublime success; unfortunately, the game itself leaves a little to be desired.

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“Juno Eclipse simply serves the purpose of “the girl” for “the boy” to get, suave accent and cleavage ripped directly from Lara Croft.”The player assumes the role of Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, the son of a rogue Jedi that Vader killed on the Wookie homeworld in the opening level of the game. Even with the rather silly name Starkiller, the apprentice is a great character, with understandable motivations and an excellent voiceover. Without spoiling too much, it can be said that The Force Unleashed sports better writing than any of the prequel movies, including some genuinely surprising twists throughout the story. Aside from Vader and Starkiller, the two main characters, there is Proxy, a lovably homicidal droid designed to train Starkiller by trying to kill him at every opportunity. There is also Juno Eclipse, Starkiller’s personal pilot, who is unfortunately not as well developed as the rest of this Imperial cadre. Whereas Vader is brooding and strong and Starkiller is conflicted and idealistic, Juno Eclipse simply serves the purpose of “the girl” for “the boy” to get, suave accent and cleavage ripped directly from Lara Croft. Still, the rest of the cast carry the weight of the story admirably, and it’s a tale all Star Wars fans should witness.

The Force Unleashed has been hyped for years on the strength of its combat system, and for the most part, the game holds up in the action department. As well as stylish lightsaber combos that wouldn’t look out of place in something like Devil May Cry, the game encourages Starkiller to wield The Force as a weapon. And boy, is it a fun weapon. Using the face buttons and triggers, players can combine basic powers like Lightning and Push to off Stormtroopers, Wookies, and whatever other poor saps run in front of the Sith apprentice. It’s possible to work these Force powers into lightsaber combos, as well as using them to electrocute people or toss them into walls. With the large number of enemies being thrown at you at any given time, fighting your way through most levels is a joy that any science fiction geek should cherish.

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“What would be the best course of action? Grab the TIE with The Force and knock it off course? No, says the targeting system, he should pick up this completely useless barrel that just happens to be floating around in front of him.”Key word: should. While the combat system looks good on paper, the rest of the game doesn’t complement it very well. Considering the controls are perfect for a game like Devil May Cry or God of War, it feels odd that the designers opted for a third-person camera mapped to the right stick when a fixed camera would have made a lot more sense. Trying to aim at a specific item or enemy when there’s a practical army of people in front of you is a nightmare, and all too often you’ll find yourself picking up something with The Force that is entirely useless. One level is entirely ruined by this problem; whilst trying to bring down a Star Destroyer – you know, those gigantic space ships? – Imperial TIE fighters attack Starkiller and he is forced to fend them off. What, then, would be the best course of action? Grab the TIE with The Force and knock it off course? No, says the targeting system, he should pick up this completely useless barrel that just happens to be floating around in front of him. As well as making for a finicky targeting tool, the camera makes the already bad level design worse. Oh boy, a jumping puzzle through a tiny chasm! I’m sure glad the camera just got stuck on that piece of scenery so I can’t see where Starkiller is landing! It also doesn’t help that the jump button is so unresponsive it literally takes this Sith wonder a second to jump after you’ve pressed the button. Some levels are just painful thanks to these problems.

Box titleRemember those great character death animations from Grand Theft Auto IV? Euphoria, the system that creates realistic reactions on the fly, makes some parts The Force Unleashed a treat. Those poor Stormtroopers won’t know what hit ’em.It’s a real shame, too, because the rest of the game is so good. The graphics, while simple, are gobsmacking from an art direction perspective. Things like the glowing neon forests of Felucia or the haunting, rust-colored sky of Raxus Prime make some parts of the game look like a painting. It’s seriously beautiful, and it helps that, for the most part, the animation is great too – especially when Euphoria kicks in. As well as the basic Havok physics engine, The Force Unleashed uses Euphoria to model character reactions – much like Grand Theft Auto IV – and a new engine called DMM to render destruction of certain materials. This means that, in some places, metal will actually bend like it would in real life, and wood will chip away in real-time, rather than falling into predetermined pieces as they would in the last big physics-based game, Half Life 2. It’s a mind-blowing concept, and it shines in certain areas – seeing glass break is absolutely shocking – but unfortunately, it just isn’t used enough. While it doesn’t feel gimmicky, the system feels underused – after the first level of the game where practically everything can be destroyed, the amount of damage you can inflict on the world seems to drop sharply. Still, what is there is impressive, and overall the presentation of The Force Unleashed feels right at home alongside the movies.

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The Force Unleashed is ahead of its time. That’s not necessarily a compliment, however. Let me explain; with all of the new technology implemented within the game, it feels like a mediocre game from the future. The camera is rubbish, and the controls are hard to wrestle with thanks to that; and of course, let’s not forget that the level design tends to hover between infuriating and boring in some places. Still, there’s nothing else quite like it on the market, and the story really is worth experiencing for Star Wars fans – it’s clear that a lot of effort went into it, but the resulting gameplay problems just knock the emotional and technical achievements down a peg. If this had been released sans Star Wars label in 2012, nobody would care – but with the brilliant script and impressive engine, it’s hard to pass this one up. It’s sad to see a good game bogged down by such simple problems, but that’s just how things work. Yoda lied; there certainly is try. It’s evident in The Force Unleashed.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in October 2006.

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