A couple of days ago I was offered the opportunity to meet up with Adam Kahn, the senior manager of Public Relations from Lucasarts, to get a taste of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. He had a pretty swanky set-up in a hotel in Times Square, and got right into showing off the beginning of the 360 version of the game.
As many of you already know, the game will bridge the gap between the original and new trilogies, and starts off right after Episode 3. Well, not like the minute after, but it’s right after Order 66 has been executed and the Jedi have all been massacred. Annakin Skywalker’s been chopped to pieces and refit with robot parts and the Empire is still mopping up the remaining Jedi around the galaxy. In the first level you start off playing as Darth Vader, and in an awesome cutscene (that’s based on in-game graphics, but slightly advanced) you see Vader landing on the Wookiee’s home planet of Kashyyyk and striding off with purpose into the middle of a massive battle, as everyone around him gets riddled with laser blasts. It’s a incredibly awesome scene and gets you pumped to inflict some damage on the tree dwellers.
It’s here you start the game for yourself, and immediately realize just how great the game looks.
The two big systems that have been talked about endlessly about this title are the Euphoria and Digital Molecular Movement engines. Euphoria you’ve already gotten a taste of in GTA IV– it’s the AI that makes characters smarter than before, and also concerned for their own welfare and property… like how they grab onto their cars (and get dragged) when you jack them. The Digital Molecular Movement engine makes it so that every object reacts realistically… or at least, as realistically as a Star Wars game gets. But woods breaks and snaps like wood, plants will bend when you walk over them, and glass will shatter differently every single time depending on where you shoot it and from what angle.
So it’s no surprise that the game in motion is absolutely beautiful. It’s pretty stunning, actually. As you move Vader towards the doomed Wookiees his cape flows in the breeze and the world around you really feels organic. There’s a massive ship battle raging in the background, and a huge ground fire-fight. Tons of trees and wooden structures litter the forests of Kashyyyk, which of course you’ll be able to destroy in lots of fun ways. Adam showed how you can use a force blast to knock bridges apart or the bark right off trees, and got to showing me one of the features that still makes me giggle. Thanks to the Euphoria system, when you pick an enemy up with the force (in this case, a Wookiee) he’ll grab onto whatever or whoever’s there to try and get himself down. This Wookiee grabbed one of his friends by the hand, who was lifted up himself, looking very annoyed, until Vader force blasted both of them off into the woods.
Walking toward the enemies, it seemed like Vader was repelling laser blasts without effort, and that turned out to be the case. Since you’re playing as these bad-ass Sith, weak enemies’ fire won’t get past your light saber that frequently. Your character will automatically block most of their attacks, although holding down the left trigger allows you to block pretty much anything, of course slowing your character down in the process.
Vader will be impeded by plenty of wooden structures the Wookiees have apparently thrown up to block his way, but a force blast will quickly turn them into splinters that seem to disappear when they hit the ground. There are two meters at the top of the screen, one for health and one for force powers, that you’ll fill back up by collecting orbs of the same color that enemies leave behind.
At the end of the stage you’ll find what you’re here on the planet for, a Jedi in hiding, and engage him in a battle. The Jedis in the game act as boss battles of sorts (more on that later) and once you strike down this man, a cutscene emerges that I can’t fully talk about. But basically Vader finds out that the Jedi’s son is much, much more powerful than his father, and after killing the man Vader takes his kid under his wing to train him in the ways of the Sith.
The very next scene, the new “secret apprentice” is much older, and is being ordered by his master to go to a space station to kill anything that moves- Empire or Rebel. Vader wants to keep things quiet, you see… even from the Emperor, who he’s plotting on taking down with the help of his apprentice in the future. Adam took the apprentice around the area and started showing how powerful you are even at this early stage, grabbing a tie fighter off of its rack on the ceiling and throwing it towards some stormtroopers, who were blasted away in very fine manner. This also showed one of the sub-objectives (destroy 5 tie fighters) that will be in the game and completely optional… but seem like goals that you’ll want to go after, just because they’re so much fun. He walked around just destroying everyone with saber strikes and force blasts, showing just how cool it is to have carte blanche and being able to kill anyone and everything, without having to break down crying to Padme afterwards.
At the end of the board, another Jedi battle. This one I was allowed to see happen, and it was pretty impressive. The camera scrolls back to make the room an arena of sorts, and the guy you’re fighting is much more powerful than anyone you’ve faced on your way there. Your opponent is “unleashed” as well, and uses his force powers to grab tons of objects in the room and try and destroy you with them. Force powers fly back and forth pretty furiously, as well as an awesome lightsaber duel. Watching the sparks fly off of the sabers as they clashed and pushed off each other was pretty damn impressive.
The board ends as the portion of the space station you’re fighting in breaks off from the rest of the station, and thanks to the power of gravity starts being pulled in to the planet below. This means that during the fight the floor will begin to get white hot as you begin to re-enter the atmosphere, and an ideal place to knock your opponent for major damage. The final blows in the battle will be familiar to anyone who’s played God of War– you’ll hit buttons at pre-determined times to finish him off. If you fail the button presses seem to be the same. But it does a god job of making the battle stick out in your memory, and looks like a fun boss battle.
I asked Adam how they were going to explain having all these “unleashed” characters and forces, and he said that’s it’s very simple. They know that this is a game and it’s all about kicking ass and having fun, and it shouldn’t matter if it doesn’t synch up to the film, as it’s a different medium. And he confirmed that yes, you will bring down a Star Destroyer in-game as shown in the trailer… amongst other things that he was very tight-lipped about.
The next level he played was on a junkyard world, full of metal and robots to deal with. Before you get to the planet there’s a cut-scene that briefly shows off two of your character’s only friends in a cut-scene. You’ve got Juno Eclipse, the pilot of his ship (and potential love interest?) and Proxy, his robot and comic relief, that unfortunately doesn’t call him “Meatbag”. Once getting down to the planet you’re given the new power of force lightning, and soon have to use it to power up engines and blow up pieces of equipment. During the start of certain levels you’re given new powers, as well as being able to level up yourself through the use of “Force Points”, which you’ll gain by killing enemies and such, and use to purchase new moves and abilities. One of the coolest was the saber throw, in which your character throws his lightsaber into the chest of a far away enemy, before snapping the saber back to his hand.
One thing I have to mention is the sound. If there’s one thing that almost every single Star Wars game has done right, it’s the
sound. The music is epic, sweeping and just as powerful as you’d hope.
I’m listenening to a CD I was given of selected tracks that I was given
for personal use (and threatened to be force-choked if I put it online
anywhere) right now, and it’s quality stuff. There’s a much darker tone
to it this time, of course, and a lot of everyone’s favorite themes
and tracks are from the dark side are here in new forms.
And that’s really all I’m allowed to talk about! There were a few other tidbits shown for the first time that Lucasarts is keeping under wraps, because they obviously don’t want to give too much away about the game… it’s not coming out till September, after all.
As good as it looked, I still have a few minor concerns with the game. The boards I saw seem a tad linear and while there’s convenient stuff to interact with, there doesn’t appear to be as much interaction with the environment as you’d like. Course, I saw mostly the first few boards, and it does get more hectic later on. They also seem to have made the mistake of having enemies die with the same death animation with the QTE (quick time event) button presses… some of the bigger enemies in the game are killed the exact same way every time when you start the finishing move. It’s a mistake a lot of games have made after God of War, and makes some of the cooler moments feel like you’re just going through the motions after killing a couple of the same enemies in the same way. Hopefully it will be addressed in the final version.
The other concern is the lack of multiplayer. I was under the mistaken impression that the 360 and PS3 versions would have some sort of online mode implemented (how much fun would it be to force-blast your friends across the room?) but it’s a single-player only affair right here. The Wii’s the only version that will have the much-hyped Duel mode, which allows you to use the nifty Wii remote as a lightsaber, finally, and have both old and new Star Wars faces face off, and the PSP version will have a 4-player multiplayer. Check this video for more info on the differences on each system:
So while the developers are convinced that the game is fun enough itself and will offer enough experimentation for a lot of replayability, let’s hope that this is true. There will be many collectibles and different ways of upgrading your force powers on the way. It will also have multiple endings- how many, they’re not revealing just yet, but which could help things greatly.
Still, despite all of these quibbles, the one thing’s that’s clear about the game is that it’s looking to be one of the best Star Wars games ever made, and the next big moment for the series. The action figures are already in stores, and there will be an art book, graphic novel and comic hitting days before the game hits on September 16th. This is going to be huge.