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Destructoid review: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

4:16 PM on 09.15.2008 // Dyson

One of the many things that can tie a generation together is their shared memory of pop culture. One can easily distinguish another person from their generation by comparing such things as movie quotes, theme songs, cartoon knowledge, or even commercial jingles from their time.

The Star Wars franchise is one of those generational watermarks. Beginning in the late 70s, the original trilogy left an indelible mark on most of the moviegoing world. Adults and children alike shared in the knowledge of the Force and how it aided a young Skywalker in his quest to save a princess and redeem his father.

While the original trilogy will always bring about certain memories to the people from that era, the Star Wars franchise didn’t end with Return of the Jedi. Countless books, graphic novels, toys, and even four more movies have provided continuation to the universe that George Lucas built, and it has all kept alive the Star Wars mythos for newer generations. Along with these additions, there have also been many entries to the Star Wars canon in the form of videogames, which brings us to LucasArts’ latest release, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.

Set in the time between Episode III and Episode IV, The Force Unleashed details the adventures of Darth Vader’s secret apprentice and the events that led to the forming of the Rebel Alliance.

Hit the jump to find out if The Force Unleashed lives up to its heritage while still providing a worthy videogame experience. 

[This review contains no spoilers]

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (PS3, 360 [reviewed], Wii, PS2, PSP, DS, mobile)
Developed by LucasArts
Published by LucasArts
To be released on September 16, 2008

Not too long ago, I went to see Star Wars: The Force Unleashed at LucasArts' studio. In my preview, I mentioned that The Force Unleashed looked to be shaping up as a true Star Wars movie wrapped in a video game. From the opening Vader intro to the first boss fight, what was shown displayed top-notch production values along with a very positive nod towards satisfying any series fan. With the final release of the game, I can say that my opinion has not changed.

From beginning to end, the attention to detail and presentation is absolutely phenomenal. Each and every cinematic that you see has an almost movie-like quality to it. The quality of the animation and the (believe it or not) outstanding voice talent combine to give the illusion that you are playing an actual movie -- not just any movie, but a Star Wars movie. The Force Unleashed seamlessly interweaves these gorgeous cut scenes into and out of gameplay so well that the usual marked difference between playing and watching becomes very pleasantly blurred.

One of the reasons for this blur is that the same amount of effort used to make the cut scenes is also apparent during gameplay. While some games only look good in their cut scenes, The Force Unleashed looks great all the time. Whether it be the detailed environments, the costumes, or just the fluid movement of the unique in-game characters, no penny seems to have been pinched in making everything as visually stunning as it can be. But while the entire visual package is, bar none, some of the best I’ve seen in awhile, a game cannot rest on its appearance alone. 

By now you may have noticed that everything about The Force Unleashed’s presentation is impeccable. Since I’m the one telling you that it is, I certainly won’t try and argue against myself in telling you that the game is almost a movie in its own right. As a movie, it’s amazing, but The Force Unleashed also happens to be a videogame. You know, something that is played. And it’s upon playing The Force Unleashed where certain negatives begin to show.

As I mentioned in my preview (and as is unmistakable by looking at the game’s box), the entire thrust of The Force Unleashed's gameplay is centered on using, surprise, the Force. While I certainly had my issues when viewing the preview, I had figured it was just my newness to the controls. At the time of writing this, I’ve completed the entire game twice, and I still have issues with the Force controls.

A type of floating lock-on determines what your Force powers will be used on. Where the lock-on "square" positions itself is dependent upon what’s in front of you and the direction that you’re facing. This sounds like it should work fabulously, but the AI that the lock-on uses needs some more work. The reason that it needs more work is because the lock-on will shift -- not only when you move, but when the enemy moves, too. Since the Force target square doesn't distinguish between the type of objects you can apply the Force to, consistent and accurate usage of the becomes a trying experience. 

Allow me to explain. Countless times throughout the title, you’ll be trying to use the Force Grip on an enemy that is right in front of you. More times than not, the enemy will move in a way that will change where or what your Force Grip will attach to. You would think that the next logical choice would be the other enemy that is right in front of you, but you’re wrong. Nine times out of ten, you’ll end up locking onto a crate, or even worse, a crate that isn’t even on the screen. Meanwhile, said enemy and his cohorts, who are still right in front of you, continue to shoot you in the face. This outcome is persistent throughout the title and is most frustrating during any sort of fast action or boss fights, of which there are many.

The highest degree of frustration derived from this game also comes from the general use of Force powers during play. While you intentionally start off very limited in the usage of the Force, you eventually gain more experience and more abilities in its use. None of this will actually help you in the melee combat, though. Almost every enemy has attended the “school of cheapness” and has brought its diploma to The Force Unleashed.

Enemies swarm, attack, and shoot you incessantly while you are in fighting range, and this makes using the more impressive (or even useful) Force powers somewhat impossible. When dealing with any group of enemies, I found that the best tactic for not dying over and over again was to find something to hide behind and whittle the number of enemies down by blindly throwing them, or throwing something at them, until their numbers were less fatal. The enemy AI is brutal to a fault, and takes away from the game’s intention of using the Force to deal with situations while relegating a majority of the combat to lightsaber melee tactics.

I would also like to mention that the second boss battle is, by far, the cheapest boss battle I’ve played in the last ten years. Only upon the second playthrough (with almost fully maxed out Force powers) was he more manageable -- just a warning for your first time through.

As you play, you will find yourself routinely irritated by the loose Force controls and the brutal and occasionally unbalanced enemy AI. You may also notice some inexplicable frame rate freezes during the game, especially while playing as Vader, but all other issues are minor and not worth mentioning.

Now while it may sound like the entire experience is marred by these control issues, that is somewhat not the case. While these issues are persistent throughout the title and, in my opinion, certainly detract from the overall enjoyment of the game, those who are longtime Star Wars fans will be more than satisfied with their Force Unleashed experience. Without a doubt, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is a masterpiece of storytelling and fits magnificently into the Star Wars universe. Unfortunately, as a video game, the gameplay issues in The Force Unleashed are extremely noticeable and hinder a lot of the enjoyment that is derived from the narrative. 

Score: 7.25 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)

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