Support Andy, click to buy via us...
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed represents the latest attempt to bring that galaxy far, far away to a console near you. Faced with the usual problem of how to make a game with broad appeal that also satisfies the demands of the ultra-devoted fans, LucasArts doubled down by deciding to make The Force Unleashed the vehicle for a major new portion of the Star Wars back-story. While this represents an undoubtedly bold move, one question looms large: is it possible to create a genuinely good game under the pressure of such powerful forces?
You play as Galen Marek, captured as a small child by Darth Vader - something you experience via an over-blown prologue level in which you control Vader as he ploughs through an onslaught of about two billion Wookiees to reach a duel with a powerful Jedi. After killing the Jedi, Vader discovers that the force is strong with his young son, and decides to keep and raise him. Jump forward sixteen years and Galen has become 'Starkiller', Darth Vader's apprentice, and is ready to go out on his first Jedi hunt.
The whole thing looks and sounds delicious.
I won't go into the details of the elaborate plot that unwinds from here on, but suffice to say that it is enjoyable and engaging enough to inject the game with the necessary impetus, and it narratologically dovetails Episodes III and IV in an interesting and believable way - a worthy achievement in itself.
Besides the storyline, there are many other aspects of the game for which its makers should be rightly praised. For a start, the whole thing looks and sounds delicious. Both the lavish, if rather long and indulgent, narrative sequences and the actual playing environments are vivid, expansive and, at times, jaw-droppingly handsome. The impressive combination of the visuals and soundtrack create an appropriately cinematic feel from the off. Having said that, nothing dispels the sense of cinema in the cut scenes more effectively than close-ups of characters 'talking'. The designers must know how ropey the attempts to mimic speech look, and yet, several times, close-up speaking shots appear at the crux of otherwise engaging sequences.
Next, and probably most impressively, there is the physics, which represents (at least in principle) an outstanding achievement. The game sets a new benchmark in terms of the way Havoc, DMM and Euphoria coded objects interact (which is super-nerd for "you can smash loads of stuff up and it looks proper"). Besides your lightsaber, you have an expandable arsenal of force attributes, and this is where all the technical wizardry really gets most chance to shine. In short, using force push to burst through doors or force grip to pick up objects or people, spin them around and throw them at stuff looks great and is properly fun.
The problem arrives, however, when you have a specific objective in mind. Unfortunately the physics and the detailed, filmic gamescapes just don't play that well together. In a large open space sparsely littered with objects things are fine; but when, as is much more often the case, you're in a confined arena crammed with objects, interacting with specific things and performing specific tasks becomes frustratingly difficult.
Then there is the camera. As you play on, the cinematic feel created by the intros and early stages descends into near-farce as things begin to look more like Challenge Anneka than a slick motion picture. It's like a cameraman has been told to follow you closely, but neither of you knows where you're supposed to be going, so he is forever at the wrong angle or tripping over you as you turn around.
While the fights are initially fun, as the difficulty increases it becomes impossible to approach them using any sort of creative style.
The gameplay and level design hold little in the way of innovation; so much so that the game has quite a retro feel. The lack of novelty is not helped by the fact that the potentially interesting physical puzzles that are dotted about are among the elements worst effected by the interaction and camera issues described above.
While the fights are initially fun, as the difficulty increases it becomes impossible to approach them using any sort of creative style. Typically, fight sequences tend to necessitate either loads of one-button mashing or several slow, over-complex repeated combos. Additionally, most of the major bouts end with a 'quick time event' so all your pent up frustration must be released through a simple timed button sequence.
While some aspects of the game undeniably impressive, others are massively frustrating (e.g. the fussy menus or implausibly slow-loading upgrade area). Basically this means that the game is fine in small chunks, but will not reward intensive attention. It is, however, fairly short, with only about seven or so hours of play, so perhaps spreading it out a bit is not such a bad idea.
At the outset Star Wars The Force Unleashed promises much, however its glitches, limitations and annoyances are unlikely to make it quite the force that LucasArts would have hoped. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for a strong sequel, but as for now, it seems fairly damning that the most fun I had with this game was while messing about in levels I'd already completed.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: