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The Force Unleashed OR What you wish Obi-wan did to that jerk in the Cantina

There is a sad sad history of games based on movies being terrible.  The Last Airbender? Yuck (although, apparently, better than the movie!). Iron Man? Yuck. One good movie, two bad games. Luckily for us gamers in recent times the trend has started to get a little better. Star Wars lends itself quite well to video game land and the franchise has spawned enough games to have some hits and misses. With Bioware hard at work on The Old Republic, the potentially awesome Star Wars MMO we’ve been waiting for, I decided to revisit another part of the Star Wars universe via Xbox360 in the Force Unleashed.

What I found fascinating about the Force Unleashed is how easy it is to overlook the games flaws. Honestly if this same gameplay/engine was used to make a standard sci-fi style action game, I probably wouldn’t want to spend much time playing. However, as it stands, the game nails some of that Star Wars mystique so well that I almost can’t help myself.

Stare at this picture for 4 seconds after every paragraph and you will have an accurate idea of navigating the games menus

The worst part of this game is the menu system. I realize this might not be high on your list of stuff you care about in video games, but this stands out for being bad. The main menu screams lack of effort as a generic blue spacey background just bears the Star Wars logo and the options to select. Again, this isn’t a huge deal, but when you look at a game like Borderlands that makes the main menu FUN TO WATCH , it kind of bugged me. The blue spacey background becomes a good friend because you will be staring at it for large amounts of time. Every single thing in this game requires a loading screen, which is the generic spacey blue background (GSBB) with a small “loading” message at the bottom of the screen. Going into the options menu? GSBB! Going into the lightsaber sub menu? GSBB! Changing costumes? GSBB! Upgrading force powers? GSBB! Each of these things requires a solid 2-3 second loading screen to get into and out of. This time adds up. I installed the game to my hard drive which seemed to help a little, but it still stuck out as being annoying.

Part of the reason the loading screens are so unfortunate is because you will be in the menus a lot because character development and appearance are two things that Force Unleashed does quite well. As you progress through the story new costumes and lightsaber crystals unlock, which lets you look like a badass sith with the iconic red lightsaber or a heroic Jedi with the equally iconic green. Throw in purple, yellow, or gold as well as crystals that add a flicker or shimmery aura effect to any of those colors and its something that becomes fun to play with throughout the entire game. It may seem like a small thing, but with the costume and lightsaber options and the solid animations for the main character Force Unleashed just does a great job of making you feel like a powerful Jedi.

The story puts you in the role of Starkiller (terrible name for sure, but its rarely used for most of the game, just ignore it like me!) an apprentice sith under Darth Vader himself. Vader basically kidnaps the boy at a young age (after murdering his Jedi father of course) and secretly trains him, without the Emperor’s knowledge. I won’t spoil the storyline of course but I will say its solid. Lucas has approved this as canon, which it makes it interesting because the story actually deals with important characters and events you know from the Star Wars universe and is generally told pretty well. The writing and voice acting range from meh to pretty good but you figure that ends up being better than the prequels, which ranged from “NNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!11!!!1” to “Why did George Lucas shit on my childhood?”

Visually, Force Unleashed does some thing extremely well and others not so much. As I mentioned before, Starkiller himself looks and moves well. The various alien species, droids, and Imperial cannon fodder (the whole secret apprentice thing means you have to kill even the Imperial dudes who see you) don’t quite reach that level. While never bad, you will see the same animations often, as well as some clipping issues and occasional wonky environment stuff, like getting stuck on a corner. The game will also occasionally struggle with the framerate when large amounts of enemies appear on screen at once. It was never to the point where it was unplayable, but I felt like between the loading screens and the chugging the engine working behind the scenes on this game could use some fine tuning.

The bosses of Force Unleashed are almost all excellent. One thing the game does really well is live up to its name, which is particularly evident in these encounters. Most end level fights involve you taking on another Jediand the game absolutely nails them. Lightsabers work well off each other with the combat system occasionally dropping you into button mashing mini games that result in some totally badass animations. Objects fly, force lightning sizzles, and the environment usually ends up totally destroyed by the time the fight resolves itself. This is how Jedi fights should be!

Jedi vs Jedi fights are awesome

Like any good Padawan, you gain force powers and experience throughout the game. Spending the power spheres you earn will net you new powers, health, force energy, combos and other Jedi goodies. Scattered about the levels are collectables called Holocrons, which are basically giant yellow glowing squares that net you bonus experience, lightsaber crystals, or costumes. The requisite achievement for collecting them all is there as well of course. The sense of gaining power as a Jedi is done well, as new and upgraded force powers aren’t just cosmetic, and will definitely change how you can approach combat situations.

A quick note about game versions and DLC: Two versions of this game appear in retail land, the standard version and the Ultimate Sith Edition. The only differences between these versions is the inclusion of all the post release DLC in the Sith Edition, as well as an exclusive bonus level set on snowy Hoth. The missions pack for the Jedi Temple and Tatooine are the other two inclusions. I own the original version and only have the Jedi Temple DLC, which was a fun if short ride. The standard version of the game is priced at $20 now, with the Ultimate Sith Edition priced at $30. The extra ten bucks is worth if your looking to check out this game, as each DLC probably adds about an hour of gameplay, adding about three hours to the game, as well as a ton of new costumes.

Force Unleashed is not a perfect game. I wouldn’t even say it is a great game. If you can look past the absurdly long load times, sometimes sketchy voice acting, and technical difficulties like the framerate chugging and a few AI issues though, you have a very worth addition to the Star Wars mythos. Even with those flaws, its easy to get into the game. It hits that space in your brain that made you love the original trilogy and ratchets up the visceral elements of lightsabers and force powers. If your not a fan of Star Wars, this probably won’t be converting you. If you do harbor a love for the force, its an enjoyable romp that is better anything Lucas has given us since Return of the Jedi.


3 Responses

  1. The Star Destroyer battle might be the most horrible boss fight ever. I have haven’t been so infuriated at a game since fighting M. Bison in SFII back in the day. The entire neighborhood was subjected to my angry 45 minute, stream of conscious, curse word combo as a plodded through that fight. Still loved the game, though. Warts and all.

    • I know! The controls on the 360 version infuriated me so that I chucked my controller at the couch and sent the game back to Gamefly without beating that part. I thought for sure aneurysms would be forth coming. At my funeral pyre Luke would claim me as another victim of the Syth Lord’s evil schemes. My brother-in-law got the wii version complete with lightsaber wiimote attachment and I was curious to see if the motion controls worked better than the freaking 360 controls. I never got around to trying it though.

  2. I will agree with the Star Destroyer thing, that could have been done much much better. Once I understood the exact controls for how to do it, it wasn’t so bad, but the way the game presents them is confusing as hell. Warts indeed!

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