Review by AWing Pilot
"A mess from start to finish."
During its development Star Wars: The Force Unleashed enjoyed a massive marketing campaign that rivaled those for its on-screen cousins. The game was billed as the official, George Lucas-approved bridge between the Prequel Trilogy and the Original Trilogy features. For only the second time in history a piece of the Expanded Universe had received the official nod and was welcomed into Star Wars canon. Expectations were high as the game was finally set to be released on all major platforms short of the Gameboy Advance. Unfortunately for owners of the Nintendo Wii, The Force Unleashed turned out to be the worst piece of the Star Wars universe since Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Since the day the game was first announced we had all heard how the game was not only an official part of Star Wars lore but that the story would match the theatrical efforts in terms of emotion and relevance. It was clear that this game was being developed for the hardcore Star Wars fans that itched to know what happened between the films as well as the newer fans that have latched on to the saga with the recent Prequels.
The Force Unleashed tells the story of a young man, known only to us as Starkiller, raised by Darth Vader himself to be his secret apprentice with the goal to one day overthrow the Emperor. As the movies themselves lay out, there can only be two Sith, no more no less, so we can already begin to see where the conflict of the story is going to come from. The game opens with Lord Vader assaulting the planet Kashyyyk, home o the Wookiees, in search of a lone Jedi that slipped through the fingers of Order 66 in the waning days of the Clone Wars. After battling his way though legions of Wookiees, Vader finally comes face to face with the Jedi he was sent to Kashyyyk to destroy. After a fierce duel and as he is about to deal the final blow, his weapon is yanked from his hand by a small child brimming with the Force. In a split second decision, Darth Vader kills the Jedi, who we now know to the be the child's father, and kidnaps the child off planet to make use of his latent Force abilities for himself. Fast-forward sixteen years and the main chuck of the game picks up. As Starkiller your main task is to bring Darth Vader's enemies to justice while finishing your training. This falls into the form of killing the survivors of the Jedi Purge all over the galaxy. You'll visit memorable planets such as Coruscant and Bespin as well as run into a familiar face or two from the films and even the Expanded Universe. What starts out as you being nothing more then Vader's hit-man turns into something much more important as you see Starkiller betrayed by his master, through the formation of the Rebel Alliance and an eventual showdown with the Emperor himself aboard the Death Star.
So by now you are probably thinking Wow, sounds great! Why the 4 out of 10 then? Well, like many video games since the turn of the Century the problems don't fall with the premise but rather the execution. From production values to controls, this title manages to drag gamers out of the experience at every turn. What you are left with is the feeling that, while the story may be interesting, you'd rather just read about it then have to suffer through the monotony of each portion of the game to see the next cutscene. The typical third person action game template seems to have been copied pixel perfect from just about any mediocre game seen since the launch of the Playstation 2. You'll control Starkiller through over ten levels using the Wiimote and Nunchuck controller option. Like many third party Wii titles the controls just don't seem to cut it when you need them too the most. You'll control the characters with the analog stick while trying to manage the control with the Wiimote's D-Pad. Attacking with the lightsaber requires swinging the Wiimote in different directions with the rest of the buttons holding your Force abilities like Lightning and push.
While the ability for fancy saber work is present, the hand work required to perform combos is overly sensitive and prone to a need for over-exaggeration with your movements. Instead, you'll find yourself simply waving the Wiimote side to side. Not that this is an issue as you can defeat all the enemies in the game with a few saber strikes. You can attack them in a more Jedi like fashion but way put more work into a situation where the minimal effort will get the job done? That is the main problem during gameplay. Here you are this amazingly strong apprentice to the most fearsome man in the galaxy and it feels like you are wearing a leash the whole time. Can you leap? Yes. Can you big up bad guys and toss them around? Yes. Can you simply just cut and run? Yes, so why bother with the rest of the options? On the other hand, if the enemies and puzzles in the game actually required you to think your way out of a situation you might find yourself playing differently but instead the enemies are mindless fodder that reminds me of the enemies in the early Spyro The Dragon games. If they aren't going to challenge me, then why are they even here? With no option to increase difficulty this is a question you'll ask yourself the whole ride. On a small plus side, lightsaber wielding enemies provide a more intuitive challenge but still fall short to other lightsaber experiences found in much older titles like Jedi Academy or Jedi Outcast.Even worse the Artificial Intelligence is the pacing of in the game. You'll barely spend a half hour on each world and the whole time you are there you'll do nothing but grind through the same inept enemies, face a boss, then exit. Once again, you'll start questioning the reason you are even trying. While other titles offer something, anything to break up the gameplay, like the swoop races in Knights of the Old Republic, The Force Unleashed offers none. It's just you swinging your hand around from start to lackluster finish.
Visually, the game is just barely a Wookiee hair above horrible. With artistically beautiful games like Metroid Prime and Super Mario Galaxy running on the Wii, these barely above Dreamcast standard graphics are insulting. You'll routinely run into ugly textures and be forced to stare at the same horrible animations repeatedly. Simply put, there is no excuse for this. Wii titles should at least look on par with what is already out on the market, especially with the massive Lucasarts Company behind the title. I can pull out ten games from my Gamecube library that look ten times better then this mess and even a few from my Dreamcast library as well. It's been said that the Wii is only two times as powerful as the Gamecube hardware(and even contains the Gamecube hardware) so shouldn't our games look at least as good as a GCN title? It's like the developers didn't even bother to try and it shows. Even worse then the in game graphics are the horrible cutscenes rendered using the games engine. For a game with the word Unleashed in the title the characters show very little(see:none) emotion on their face.
Luckily, your ears will fare better then your eyes to some extent. The sound effects and music are all top notch. Blaster bolts will ricochet around and your lightsaber will hiss as it makes contact with another. It has to be mentioned that 99 percent of what you will hear is already established sounds from the Star Wars universe so the developers deserve credit for merely not screwing up this up rather then a good effort. Voice work is markedly ok. The voice actors seem to be a fine choice and they give their performances well especially Juno but ultimately the whole affair falls to the mediocre range due to weak dialogue and the already mentioned horrible visual quality. It sticks in your mind when you can hear the pain in the voice but the face is motionless. The dialogue ranges from ok to that doesn't make sense. In a few short seconds you'll see Starkiller go from serious, killing mode to joking around, Luke Skywalkerish palling around with his droid.
Now, it deserves to be mentioned that for all our troubles on the Wii the developers have offered a consolation prize in the form of Wii-exclusive levels and duel mode. The exclusive levels turn out to be tacked on and offer zero in the way of story advance meant. You can tell they were added for no reason other then to be an extra. They all revolve around tests you'll go through at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant and you'll even find yourself stopping the story to a halt to head back there yet again. When I think extra I think something that furthers the plot that nobody else has seen yet, not tiny side quests that offer no reward. The duel mode, on the other hand, is actually an effort you can tell they put some time into but ultimately still falls short. You can choose between many different Jedi and Sith characters that you unlock through out the game and then battle it out on a few familiar arenas based on locations in the game and the six films. The duel mode would have benefited greatly from different move sets for each character but instead all we get is each of the characters controlling all the same with minor variations in four separate categories like speed and Force Push. What this leads to is one of two things, either spamming of the most powerful moves like Force Lightning until one person falls or having to resort to using the arenas to score a win by forcing your opponent into one of the many traps littered around. The duel mode can be fun for a few matches but once the realization that you are basically playing a prettier version of Rock Paper Scissor, the excitement dies quickly.
The Force Unleashed is ultimately a good idea gone horribly wrong on the Nintendo Wii. It stands as a blatant cash in on the primarily young Wii audience and a slap in the face for the older Wii owners that have stood by the console from day one. What makes this pill so hard to swallow is that we know the Wii is capable of so much more in terms of controls and graphics yet they still gave us only this. Since the very first announcement of the Wii and its intuitive remote we have all dreamt of swinging it around like a lightsaber and it looks like we'll have to keep waiting for it to be done right. If you must simply see what the fuss is about then go ahead and rent this title or check it out on the Playstation 3 or Xbox 360. It can't be any worse on those platforms then it is on the Wii, right?
Reviewer's Rating: 2.0 - Poor
Originally Posted: 10/14/08
Game Release: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (US, 09/16/08)
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