Review by Scottie theNerd
"Don't Force yourself to like this one."
Yeah, you've probably heard every Star Wars pun by now, and then some more. You've also probably played every type of Star Wars game on the market, from action-shooters to strategy to role-playing. You might not be the biggest Star Wars fan in the world, but you have to appreciate the scope of the expanded universe and the games that spawn from it.
I admit, a title like The Force Unleashed screams more of Hi! I'm a gimmick! more than a classic game (compare: Knights of the Old Republic), but it does have its appeal to the casual gamer who wants to swing a lightsaber around and watch stormtroopers hopelessly fire at you. In fact, you probably want a bit more than that. All this telekinetic pushing and pulling is for wimps.
Fire up Force Unleashed. You get a noticeably long loading screen (more on this later) and a fairly impressive title screen. Start a new game, and who do you play as? Darth Bloody Vader. Hell yeah. What do you think of when you see the Dark Lord of the Sith? If you're thinking of walking through a rebel army, throwing lightning from your fingertips and hurling Wookies to their doom to the tune of the Imperial March, you're spot on. Add a duel with a rogue Jedi and you have the tutorial mission, I guess?
It shouldn't come as a huge surprise that you won't be playing as Darth Vader in Force Unleashed. Instead, you are quickly introduced to the main character, Vader's secret apprentice, codenamed Starkiller, and Vader's goal of taking on the Emperor with Starkiller's help. The plot is told in typical Star Wars fashion, with the cutscenes, dialogue and voice acting to a commendable standard, though a bit skinny in some areas.
You'll be sent to various planets to do battle against Imperial forces and rebels alike. Gameplay is primarily hack-and-slash with some fancy combos along the lines of Jedi Knight meets Devil May Cry. You start with a lightsaber and some basic moves, and as you progress through the game you unlock more abilities and powers, which can be further upgraded through gaining levels and finding bonus pickups. You get the usual Force Push and Grip, but also get access to Lightning and other powerful ligthsaber techniques.
Mission progression is fairly linear. You start at point A, hack your way through squads of enemies until you reach the boss fight. Along the way you'll encounter foes of various sizes, including AT-STs and Rancor beasts, which can often be defeated using a button-pressing-sequence for some extra-flashy kills. Boss fights take the form of duels, pitting your Force and lightsaber powers against formidable Jedi and Sith opponents with their array of abilities. These battles fall into the pattern recognition type of fighting, with each boss having clear attacks and counters that, with some patience, can be easily beaten.
Wait, let's backtrack a bit. Remember how I said that you use lightsaber and Force powers to get through the missions? Let's refine that to just Force powers. No, drop the plural. Force power. That's more accurate. Why? In theory, you can choose to invest in either, but it seems that the game is far more easily beaten using one-shot skills that you can fire off without thought. Honestly, it's difficult to understand why the game offers more complex skills when the starting ones work so much more efficiently.
Here's a typical battle scenario: you run into a room and get shot at by stormtroopers. Now, you could just stand there and automatically reflect lasers back to them, but that's kind of boring. So let's run in like a swashbuckler and lay the smackdown in lightsaber fashion. You get several combos that work like Dynasty Warrior chains, including some impressive aerial assaults that look quite painful. Unfortunately, it seems that your lightsaber is made out of plastic, as enemies don't die from one hit, and it seems that Starkiller only knows how to target one foot soldier at a time. So while he's letting off behind-the-back slashes, he gets knocked down by another trooper with a rifle butt, kicked in the ribs until he flips back up, and the process repeats until the enemies are more dead than he is. You also come across the paradox where enemies either die way before you get your combo off, or they're immune to it and can knock you through mid-animation with impunity.
Alternatively, you can look at the enemy and right click.
While it doesn't (quite) send death lasers to them, it does let you pick them up, where they are helpless until you let them go. Plus, with some upgrades, you can pick up several soldiers and other items that are lying around the level. Then you can hurl them off cliffs or into other enemies for masses of instant-kills. Or you could grab one, impale him with your lightsaber, charge his body with lightning and slam it into a mob for an explosive effect. Not only is it cooler, it's just so much easier than trying to fight in melee combat. Each time you enter a new area, just grab the nearest object and fling it.
Believe me; I really wanted to use the lightsaber. The only enemies I frequently encountered that could stand up to a full combo, unfortunately, didn't like taking more than one hit; and the only way I could get past their defence was to shock them with lightning and it was far easier to kill them by holding said lightning button until their health drained to zero. Heck, I killed Rancors, AT-STs and Jedi the same way. It's just so much easier to fry opponents or fling them into inevitable death than it is to attempt the flashy combos the game tries to push into your face.
That doesn't mean the game is easy. To quite the venerable LordKat, you will die. A lot. It's usually not because of the enemies. For some reason, the game features some notion of platforming, and that means instant-deaths when you miss jumps. I don't understand. If you're making a game that is based on, well, unleashing the Force, why would you attempt to include platforming? The game's mechanics aren't suited to making precise jumps. The camera doesn't follow at the right angle and distance to leap over death chasms, and the player has no form of ledge grabbing or other failsafe to prevent such an event from occurring. You will hate the game for including these sections because they serve no purpose other than to make you repeat the same large-scale battle because of poorly spaced checkpoints. Sometimes you'll hit the dash button and accidentally fly off the side of a platform; other times enemies will knock you down where you will slide to your doom. Good grief if you get shot while in mid-air. It gets more frustrating than challenging towards the end of the game, for all the wrong reasons.
Most frustrating is an infamous boss fight that shall not be named, but can easily be imagined. It involves grabbing a giant enemy starship and sending it crashing into the planet for massive damage. Cute idea made fun by constant waves of TIE fighters. The problem? The directions the game gives to you on-screen are wrong. Yup. Unless you read a guide, you will have no bloody clue how to get past this section. That's a problem across all versions of the game, but the PC version has the added problem of having to use the mouse and keyboard. While the console versions use the thumbsticks for this part, the PC version requires you to pan the mouse down. Imagine having to keep on lifting the mouse up, dragging it down and repeating several times and you can't do it quickly or else the game won't pick it up.
The game doesn't do a good job of picking things in up in general. Fluidity is a concept that the developers failed to develop. Every time you want to do something productive (destructive, rather), you have to stop. If you attack with your lightsaber, you're locked into an attack animation. If you use a Force power, you're required to stand still. You can't run and throw things at the same time. Considering how much time you spend running and throwing things, it makes sense to allow the player to do both simultaneously. Unfortunately, if you want to fling objects, you have to painstakingly position them so that you can easily hurl them at the desired targets. No flipping things over your head or to the side; the game's target is far too insensitive for that.
Targeting in general is nightmarish at best. The player targets whatever is in front of the character NOT where the camera is pointing, but where the character is facing. There is lock-on button that keeps the camera facing forward and locked onto the target that the character is facing. There is no easy way to tab through each target. You're stuck with having to run circles to realign yourself with the right target combined with the above problem of not being able to grip and run, it's horrendous gameplay. Sometimes you'll target something closer or further than what you want to pick up.
Some of the game's technical features are fairly nice. It makes heavy use of DMM, Havok and Euphoria, so you get some nice dynamic character and environment interactions, though admittedly my first experience was frustration at why doors would inconsistently blow partially open, preventing me from getting through until I blasted it again. It feels that the developers spent more time getting the small details instead of addressing larger gameplay problems.
The lack of polish is evident in the sloppiness and glitches occasionally encountered. Sometimes the AI bugs out and the bosses stand like dummies. The biggest problem, however, is loading. The game has loading times for everything. It tries to mask mission loading screens by using cutscenes that can't be skipped. Each time you open a menu, it goes through a loading screen. You can't swap out lightsaber crystals or even look at mission objectives without loading. To add insult, while you have access to an impressive costume wardrobe for your character, you can't change your outfit without restarting from your last checkpoint. Really, I thought we were done with the loading screens years ago. You'd think the developers made the game for the PS2 and ported it over to every other next-gen platform without optimising the code.
It's sad to see the Force Unleashed fail so badly in gameplay. It's a broken game that doesn't feel finished. The levels are linear and occasionally unintuitive to progress through. The environments are fairly nice, although designs can be mind-numbingly repetitive and some sections are really lacking in the polygon count. The music has some recognisable tunes from the films, although for some reason my game glitches with the sound in the last few missions. If you looked at the game or listened to it, you wouldn't be able to tell if it was a bad game, and that's what makes the shoddy gameplay more painful to bear.
Going through the game and completing it is nothing short of taking the Jedi Knight trials. Consider yourself enlightened and one with the Force it's not an experience you would want to replay on any other difficulty. While the Ultimate Sith Edition comes with all available Downloadable Content, they offer a few one-off missions that are plagued by the same gameplay woes.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 10/04/10
Game Release: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed - Ultimate Sith Edition (AU, 04/14/10)
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