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PLATFORM: Xbox 360, PS3

ESRB RATING: E
DEVELOPER: Lucasarts

PUBLISHER: Lucasarts
 
(Note- this review is based on the Xbox 360/PS3 versions. There are PS2, Wii, DS and PSP versions that all contain different levels and extras, although the basic story remains the same.)

Lucasarts is pushing The Force Unleashed
like few projects of theirs. The game stunned fans at first
sight, with promises of being able to play as ridiculously overpowered Sith who literally bring down destruction upon their enemies. But can the force be
strong with this one? Has Lucasarts unlearned what they have learned?
Could its overconfidence be its weakness? Could it be a drag? Aren’t
those stormtoopers a little short? Do you have a bad feeling about
this? How’s your lack of faith doing? Can you release your anger? Will
this author ever shut up?


THE PITCH

As you certainly already know, The Force Unleashed attempts to bridge the gap between both Star Wars
trilogies, and actually manages to do a pretty great job of it. The
story starts you off as Darth Vader, who’s still trying to hunt down
all the Jedi in the universe that weren’t eliminated during that
awesome “Order 66″ moment in Episode III.
One Jedi he decides to hunt down personally because he feels the power of
someone strong with the force. After killing the Jedi on the
Wookie’s home planet of Kashyyyk, Vader realizes that it wasn’t his power he felt after
all… it was the Jedi’s kid.

It’s years later and Vader has
acted as somewhat of a father figure to the nameless apprentice. He’s now
older (and stronger beyond measure) so Vader decides it’s time for him to
get out there and do his bidding. He’s working on making his apprentice more battle ready and keeping him secret even from the emperor, for plans that are not for the apprentice to know…




“Don’t even try- you’ll never be as badass as me.”


The story is actually one of the strongest portions of the game.
I’d hesitate to say that it’s better than anything in the prequels, but
there’s no doubt that Lucas would have been smart to make an animated
film of this rather than another friggin’ Clone Wars story. Like any good bridge story it manages to tie both trilogies together, and has a few big reveals about events to come that will definitely please fans of the series.

Besides
an obvious and jarring bit of fan-service near the end of the game
(involving a certain character who looked more menacing than he really
was) it really does a perfect job of feeling like a Star Wars film. The cutscenes are great and it was amazing to be sitting down and enjoying a Star Wars product for its story.

  


THE PLAY
 

But how does it control? Well, if you’ve played the demo you
know- it’s a little too twitchy for its own good (the apprentice jumps
around like a flea) but otherwise it’s easy enough to use your
force powers on your hapless enemies.

The power that you will use most is called Force Grip, which allows you to grab onto enemies and objects and fling them around using both analog sticks. It’s fun to slam enemies through doors and watch the metal bend and warp realistically, or grab explosive crates and hurl them at groups of stormtroopers.
 
But the powers that are
supposed to be unleashed (and get stronger as you go on) have been
greatly overrated. Sure, you’ll unlock some new powers (like
force lightning, or a force shield) but for a game whose first trailer
showed the apprentice pulling down a Star Destroyer all by himself, there’s
a really noticeable lack of anything so big and cool. The aforementioned Star
Destroyer destruction ends up being a boss battle near the end of the
game, and right afterwards you’re back to fighting storm troopers one
at a time, like nothing happened. It’s a real cop-out.

Sure,
you need some challenge in the game, but it’s lame when every goddamn
enemy from the second level on has some sort of force power themselves,
blocking your lightsaber or throwing up shields to prevent you from
grabbing them with force grip. You begin to feel like less and less of
a badass, no matter how cool the apprentice’s grip on his lightsaber may
be.


“Did I mention how badass I am?”


But the biggest problem with the game has got to be the
level design. There are only 9 levels in the whole game (plus the
quickie opening Vader mission) and I suppose the developers tried to
make up for the lack of levels by making them incredibly long. But
they’re so long that they takes you well past the realms of enjoyment; so much so that you’ll start to get irritated and bored and itching for a cutscene.
This is how your playtime will go. First level- Darth Vader. You’re playing
as an unstoppable Sith with a flowing cape and have a ton of fun
slaying wookies left and right. You’re blasting apart wooden structures
and flinging everything and everyone around with your force powers.
It’s awesome, exciting, and you’ll be stunned at just how powerful you
really are.

Second level- the Apprentice. This is the level that was (briefly) shown in the demo. You’re enjoying throwing
stormtroopers around, giggling when you get them to hold hands in mid-air. You are amazed at how the metal bends and glass shatters, and love crushing your
enemies with Tie Fighters and other huge pieces of debris.

Then, something happens. The level
keeps going and going. You start to realize that there’s only a few
objects in the environment that you can interact with, and that each
area looks exactly the same as the last. You’ll find it less and less
fun to kill large groups of enemies. You’re mashing the same combos
over and over to kill your enemies and beginning to wonder if you’re
almost at the end.

Over the next few levels you’ll start to
realize that each one plays the same. There really is nothing much new
introduced in the game… each world is basically identically laid out, just with a
different look to it. It also seems that there’s a bit of an invisible
wall plague going on in these worlds. Dozens of times I tried to jump
to a place that looked accessible to only be knocked back by nothing.
After that many times I finally learned that they didn’t want us
experimenting or exploring. Stick to the route, shut up, and enjoy your
game. It doesn’t get much more linear than this.



The apprentice accidentally stumbles over a Rancor Bukkake shoot.


There’s also
a bunch of irritating design choices in the game, like how the force
grip power only targets objects that your character is facing rather
than what the camera is pointing at. This makes you move your character around which will doubtlessly screw up the camera due to the jerky controls. One
weird choice that works in your favor is the fact that any progress into the secondary missions you have made (which are usually incredibly
simplistic, from “destroy 5 tie fighters” to “destroy 10 of this”)  doesn’t reset when you die, so you can easily finish any goal. There’s no real challenge to the game, unless you pick the hardest (and truly unforgiving) difficulty level.

What else can you expect? Tons of load times, such as whenever you try to go to the menu to learn power-ups and new moves. You can do that during the middle of a level, which gave
me a laugh. Not because of the annoyingly long loading screens to get
to those menus, but because the idea of your character saying to
everyone “Hey! Time out! Hold on a minute. I need to learn some moves.” and then researching lightsaber combos.

There’s a lot of epic
boss battles but they’re all over the place in terms of difficulty. One of the hardest bosses in the game comes in the 3rd level, while later ones are a breeze.
The camera switches to a farther view for these, which does nothing but
make it harder for you to see things to force grip.

Gamers will also soon get tired of the God of War/Shenmue-style
Quick Time Event parts, where you hit buttons as they appear on screen
to kill your enemies in stylish ways. It’s not bad for the end of boss
battles but any enemy of significant size (AT-ST, Rancor, etc.) is taken
down with them, and they’re generally the same button presses and moves
every time. It gives a feeling of simply going through the motions
than engaging in a vicious battle.

There’s no doubt that there’s great moments in the game, portions that make you feel like the powerful Sith you’re playing as, but the game just lacks polish and makes some really stupid decisions along the way.


THE PRESENTATION
 
Graphically
the game is beautiful, but like with the gameplay there are lots of weird glitches and
problems with it. So many times
you’ll see enemies or pieces of the environment glitching, floating off
the ground or spinning or going off in weird directions. It’s also a letdown to see how any enemies or objects you destroy will
disappear soon after hitting the ground. Why can’t we revel in our destruction? As mentioned before, though- the physics are perfect- with every single material acting (and breaking) realistically, from plants to bridges to metal doors.


 
But I’d be
surprised if you could find a fault with the sound. A lot of
John William’s score from the films is included but the game also
featuers over 90 minutes of original score composed by Mark Griskey (KOTOR 2). It simply sounds like a perfect Star Wars score, and if they were to release it by itself it’d definitely be worth picking up. Epic and sweeping and brings back memories from your childhood. You know, when Star Wars was the best thing ever.
 

THE REPLAY




Basically none. There’s a chance you might want to unlock some more
Achievements but once you’ve played through this game you’ve seen all there is to see. Note that there are no Trophies in the PS3 version. There
are two different endings to the game (light and dark, natch)  but
they’re dependent on a decision right at the end. There’s no
multiplayer mode, nothing gained for completing the story.

Expect to spend no more than 10 hours with the game.


The Secret Apprentice was a MONSTER at Donkey Konga.



THE VERDICT
 

I know this review sounds really down on the game, but it’s more
because I was hoping for so much more with this one. It is incredibly
fun (if not so original, see Psi-Ops
for more on that) but only in spurts, and the horrible level design
does nothing to help hide that you really don’t have any freedom in the
game. It would have been something else to see the physics and powers
of this game used in a wide open world with missions you could carry
out at your own pace, instead of ushering you down corridor after
corridor.

Still, worth a rental for Star Wars fans if only to see the story.


7.0 out of 10