By Drew D. / March 16th, 2017
|Title||Star Wars – The Force Unleashed|
|Developer||Krome Studios/ LucasArts|
|Original Release Date||Sept 16, 2008|
Xbox360, PS3, PC, PS2, PSP
Much has changed in the Star Wars universe since the release of Star Wars – The Force Unleashed. A vast amount of content from the Expanded Universe was retconned and categorized under the Legends brand, allowing the production of new canon media to fill in the spaces around the films. Unfortunately, The Force Unleashed was victim to this mass elimination of EU content. It’s a shame because The Force Unleashed provided a true origin story of how the Rebellion came together. We are currently seeing the first campaigns of the Rebel Alliance through Star Wars Rebels, as the series attempts to bring to light events between Episodes III and IV. However, the series has yet to (and may never) address how certain key senators and members first joined together as The Alliance to restore the Republic and to cooperatively act out against the Empire. The Force Unleashed told an incredible story, as it not only introduced these authors of the Rebel Alliance, but also told the tale of how they were first brought together and eventually all united in cause.
The Force Unleashed is centered on Starkiller (no, not the First Order’s weapon/base/planet), the secret apprentice of Darth Vader. Unbeknownst to the Emperor, Darth Vader kidnapped Starkiller as a child and raised him, teaching him the dark ways of the Force for the seemingly eventual overthrow of Vader’s master (remember, there can only be two Sith). Starkiller must prove himself as a Sith and departs on a final test that includes the hunt for the remaining Jedi that survived Order 66. From there, events unfold that introduce the whereabouts of key Rebellion authors, such as Bail Organa, Princess Leia, and Mon Mothma, to name a few.
The overall story The Force Unleashed tells is surprisingly strong. In terms of Star Wars history, I believe the birth of the Rebel Alliance is exceptionally important, as it heavily influences almost every event that comes afterward. To tell such a significant piece of Star Wars lore through a video game rather than a novel or movie was an extraordinary chance to take but fortunately, the execution worked. Without spoiling the plot, what I can say is that the story is strong and the characters all have development and depth that immerses players. You’ll definitely start caring about these characters as they pour their emotions out during their struggles. Sam Witwer, the voice of Starkiller and whose likeness is borrowed, does an excellent job of bringing the role’s pain and frustration alive. Add to that a supporting cast that’s just as deep and personal, the shocking twists, turns, and surprises the plot is just waiting to reveal, and the fervor that saturates it all, and you have a story worthy of telling such a momentous point in the Star Wars timeline.
Since the story of the game is so strong, one would hope the devs followed up with gameplay that is just as impressive. At its core, The Force Unleashed is pure action with platforming mechanics. Combat consists of using a lightsaber along with different Force attacks. These consist of pushes, pulls, the throwing of objects and enemies, Force Lightning, and other skills. These Force attacks can all be upgraded for more power and increased range. What’s especially satisfying is the variety in combat, as players can choose from close quarters battle to long-range to anything in between. While some may prefer dispatching enemies with the lightsaber with a few pushes and pulls along the way, others may favor using objects or other enemies to fling and clobber their assailants. You can also choose just how dark and violent you wish to be, with the addition of skills such as the Force Choke and the impaling lightsaber throw.
Combat is further enhanced by the Wii remote and nunchuk setup. I’m purposely reviewing the Wii version of the game because I believe this is the definitive version; the reason being its superior control integration and use. Slashing your lightsaber with the Wii remote is simple and natural. Swinging horizontally, upwards for an uppercut, or forward for a stab all read fairly accurately by the Wii and is much more engaging than the simple button presses of the HD versions. Pushing, pulling, and slamming with the nunchuk is also natural and easily mastered. Finally, the devs made an excellent move to focus motion controls solely on combat. Gameplay isn’t slowed down or dragged by having to stop to interact with a fancy door or overly needy switch or handle. Since combat is the majority of play and because of how well the motion controls are tied to it, the Wii remote and nunchuk setup really take this version of The Force Unleashed to a much higher level.
Outside of combat, gameplay consists of platforming and using the Force to meet mission parameters. Many objectives involve violence and while pure destruction and chaos can always make for a good time, most of the trekking from one point to another can be dishearteningly linear. There are clear paths or platforms to take with little in the way of exploration or effort. Typically, a double jump or dash gets you to where you need to go without much thought involved. Occasionally, players will find a branching path or hidden nook that houses a collectible, but these are very few. Most collectibles are found through destruction along the forced path. It was a lost opportunity to further expand and bring to life areas from the films and EU or create more challenge and reward to the collection aspects. Not much challenge (or anything of benefit, really) is added in the way of gameplay outside of combat and the drop-off between action versus slogging across a level can be abyssal.
The aesthetics of The Force Unleashed tend to follow this unfortunate inconsistency in quality throughout. While there are incredible bright spots in aesthetics, there are also steep drops in quality. The visuals for the game are one of those drop-offs, as there is a severe lack of detail in the level design and artistry. While this Spartan style does work well to represent the minimalistic form of Imperial installations, it falls flat in floral heavy environments like Felucia or Kashyyyk. That’s not to say these levels lack any detail at all; Felucia, for example, definitely resembles the locale depicted in Episode III. We do get to see those giant flowers and leaves that form the vividly colored canopy that we know from the film. However, when on the ground, it’s mostly an overly bare, colorless plane failing to show that this planet is full of flora and fauna. These scarcities aren’t limited to the Wii version either; both this and the HD versions suffer from a painful lack of detail.
The quality of the graphics is also inconsistent and suffers its moments of mediocrity. In terms of character models, I appreciate the designs of Proxy and Darth Vader, as these 3D models exhibit their defining characteristics and structure that is aesthetically pleasing. However, the quality drops in regards to the models for Starkiller, Kota and Juno, as their models possess noticeable sharp edges and very bland facial constructs. There is no excuse for the insipid, dull faces these models were painted with. Again, this is in regards to both versions of the game and we’ve seen better from other Wii and HD productions that successfully push their hardware. Here, we see glimmers that the designers are indeed capable of so much more, so the inconsistency and corners cut comes off as pure laziness.
The graphical highs and lows are all too present in level design as well. Jagged edges, sharp corners, and straight cut-offs just do not work in natural settings. It all comes together to paint an overall dissatisfying portrait of infuriating mediocrity. I strongly believe that if it weren’t for the Star Wars moniker and the aesthetics and locales it brings from the films and EU, these levels and world designs would be utterly unmemorable and forgotten as soon as they were played through.
Fortunately, the audio is truly outstanding. The brightest point in terms of aesthetics, the soundtrack for the game is as impressive as the films, since it draws directly from the movie scores. Each track has purpose to the events unfolding on screen and is full of the brilliance John Williams invokes in his works. The voice acting is incredibly strong and everyone is on point when conveying the characters’ emotions of anger, frustration, hopelessness, and even those few moments of compassion and tenderness. The dialogue is strong and there are no questions as to what is happening or what is to come story wise. The voice actors and the soundtrack arrangers really did a fantastic job of pumping much needed life into the game and it works exceeding well to strengthen the story.
The Force Unleashed tells a monumental piece of history in the Star Wars universe and comprehensively does a satisfactory job. What the game possesses in storytelling, combat and audio is more than enough for me to recommend it to any fan of Star Wars or the action genre. What is lacking in polish or effort is still not enough to deter gamers from playing it. It’s an excellent attempt for what it tried to accomplish and it’s definitely worth a playthrough. The only real regret is that this story is no longer canon and my hope is that somehow, someday, it is reintroduced or reincorporated into the canon timeline.
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