Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Review - 06/10/2008

LucasArts' Star Wars: The Force Unleashed has to be one of the most eagerly anticipated and hype-generating games the famous licence has ever seen. The crucial question is however, does the finished product live up to that?

Not least from the tech demos, many a-sweaty Star Wars fanatic could be forgiven for throwing up their arms and crying hallelujah as the release date for Force Unleashed came near. It looked, to put it mildly, bloody amazing, with the force powers throwing, grabbing, exploding and destroying beautifully familiar locations from the Star Wars universe. Since those tech videos the hype grew and grew until the release of the demo, which divided gamers like Stormtroopers at a Rebel Alliance Christmas Party. It's probably fair to say that if the demo didn't float your boat then the full game probably won't either, though that is an oversimplification of the extreme variety.

Taking the role of Starkiller, you are Darth Vader's secret apprentice. Entrusted with the role of beefing up your skills and expertise before taking on the hateful Emperor Palpatine yourself for Vader, you must traverse the galaxy and prove your worth by taking out as many Jedi as possible. The story is by far the strongest aspect of the game and while it starts slowly, it's worth putting up with to get to the twists and turns all are sure to appreciate.

You visit some truly legendary locations.

The key to the game are the force powers, and the prologue level that allows you to play as Vader captures this perfectly. While the move from the hulking behemoth that's Darth Vader to the scrawny yet fast Starkiller is a bit of a comedown initially, once you learn the basic controls and agility that he has over Vader you begin to prefer him. My problem with the demo was the difficulty and lack of range. Everything seemed to have to occur at close range. In the full game there has been some tweaking making it easier to get close to enemies quickly using dash (rather than walking through a hail of laser fire to get there) and in allowing you to choose your skills, moves and powers to specialise in ranged combat (e.g. force push, lift and lightning) if you desire.

The gameplay is however far too repetitive. In places it is ridiculously easy (fighting corridors full of virtually defenceless Jawas is never as fun the second time), and others very hard indeed, yet there always seems to be something missing. The satisfaction of killing cannon fodder is only really gained by lifting and throwing, and this begins to wear thin after a few levels. While there are specific ways to defeat some enemies, fighting the repeated larger foes and seeing your newly improved force ability bounce off their seemingly impenetrable hull only to then be able to throw a Stormtrooper 500 metres off the edge of a cliff disrupts any balance to the combat. The better protected infantry units can pretty much all be defeated with one force lift and throw, and it's only with multiple enemies that you will ever feel the need to break out the lightsaber and lightning.

Lightning is underused but still pretty neat.

The animation on both your character and that of the enemies you'll be inflicting lethal pain onto is superb. This makes the force powers immensely more satisfying than they would otherwise be, and suit the game's engine perfectly. The graphical department, while initially really impressive, has a clean sheen to it that is a bit overbearing. Many of the locations straight out of the movies are really well done, but it's when the game takes you to relatively unknown vistas that you start to get a bit nauseous. The relative linearity of the environments and the puzzles on offer put a cloud over the graphics which at times are incredible, rivaling the best this-generation, and at others are merely average.

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