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It's time to kick some goody-goody Jedi butt in this latest Star Wars title from LucasArts. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (TFU) sets you as the amoral young Sith warrior, apprenticed to our favourite baddy, Darth Vader.
Here, you explore the period between episodes III and IV; filling in the gaps between Anakin's demise and the creation of the rebel alliance. With some nice story development along the way, the occasional meeting with a familiar character, and a neat twist at the end, the plot will certainly satisfy those Star Wars addicts out there.
After a short intro where you play Darth Vader wreaking havoc on a Wookie world, you start your journey as his apprentice with some fairly basic force-powers as well as a couple of light-sabre moves. As you progress you'll enhance these by spending credits obtained during the levels - both from killing enemies and finding hidden items. Even though you're hunting Jedi, you are also Vader's ‘secret' apprentice, and that means you have to kill everything in site, including various grades of Imperial Stormtroopers.
Using the dark side of the force to pick up enemies and throw them through the air is great fun - especially when you can get your aiming right and use one as a bowling ball to take down a few others. These sorts of ‘trick' moves even give you extra bonuses, so it's useful as well as fun. You can also pick up one of the myriad of crates etc. that are always lying around and fling it at an opponent. This can be a little tricky to master though and in a hectic combat situation you'll be hard pressed to pull it off. You'll also pick up various other upgradeable powers as you progress - like the awesome force-lightning attack, as well as force-push and so on. When you get the sabre throw skill you can hoist a stormtrooper into the air and skewer him while he's there with a quick throw - great stuff.
Using the dark side of the force to pick up enemies and throw them through the air is great fun.
Enemy AI can be somewhat lacking: you'll rarely find yourself pursued, or face ducking and weaving opponents; and overall most of the basic enemies are all cannon fodder before your powers. The beefier enemies unfortunately often have some sort of force-shielding which render your coolest powers rather ineffective; forcing you to fall back to button mashing as you assail them with various light-sabre attacks. These are also upgradeable but in the end just turn into the usual X-X-Y-Y type combos (that I can usually only ever remember a couple of), though light-sabre combos are always going to be cooler than any others! Fights can be occasionally annoying, especially against the bigger opponents, because you can often be hit, then hit again before you've had a chance to get back to your feet. When your health is dangerously low it's doubly annoying to die (and have to replay a section) in this way.
After recently playing Too Human 360 and Braid 360 with their forgiving approach to death in battle / mistimed jumps, I found TFU rather dated in the way it insisted on making me fight the same battles over and over again until I'd worked out how to approach a boss (or indeed how to avoid accidentally falling off the edge of a walkway). With even some of the early bosses quite a challenge (at least for me) to defeat, it sorely tried my patience to have to go through the same ten minute battle so many times before sneaking victory with my health bar perilously low. Though my eldest child claimed he didn't have quite so much trouble as me, I still heard exclamations of angst from the den as he experienced the same sort of frustration. Add to this the rather lengthy load times and your going to need to do some of those deep breathing exercises your anger-management coach taught you.
The seemingly ever-problematic issue of targeting opponents crops up again in TFU. I've bemoaned it in several reviews and I'm going to have to do it again here. One of the problems perversely arises from your ability use your force powers to manipulate an awful lot of the scenery - there are always crates and explosive containers lying around, or floating through the air. And because of this you'll quite often find yourself wasting your force-lightning on an innocent lump of trash in the corner rather than at the Jedi right in front of you. You can maintain target on your opponent by holding down the shoulder button but this feels awkward after a while.
TFU is certainly a good looking game, with typical Star Wars settings providing the battle environments, and both the cut-scenes and voice acting obviously having had a lot of work put into them. Even the lip-synching is almost spot-on, which makes a nice change from some rather amusing efforts from other recent games. While our hero looks good when acting mean and moody, he did take on a rather gormless look in some of the scenes which detracted slightly from the overall effect.
The Star Wars faithful will revel in the plot and will probably forgive the occasional dodgy moment.
There's a fair bit of replayability to TFU - if you can press through those frustrating sections: three difficulty levels are immediately available, plus one which is locked until you have completed the game. After a single play-through you will have probably got the hang of some of the neater moves and want to go back to utilise them a bit more effectively than you did first time around. This is especially the case if you tended to dash through the levels avoiding enemies (which is certainly possible a lot of the time).
The Star Wars faithful will revel in the plot and will probably forgive the occasional dodgy moment, while others may be a little too frustrated to get as much enjoyment out of the game as could be expected. I wouldn't count myself in the first camp, but I definitely had a good time playing TFU (albeit interspersed with bouts of intense frustration).
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