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The Force Unleashed

Developer: Lucasarts | Publisher: Lucasarts
Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 09/16/08 | Genre: Action

LucasArts has unleashed the Force with their latest Star Wars title, but does it live up to the hype? There’s no doubt that this game is one of the most anticipated titles of the year; months of gorgeous screenshots and action-packed videos has worked gamers into a frenzy and even non Star Wars fans have been looking forward to this one. Now that the game has landed on store shelves, we’re going to give you the information you need to decide if its really worth the $60 price tag.

First off, let me tell you that Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was definitely one of my “must play” games of the year. In fact, after various screenshots, videos and demo play-throughs it was already looking like a strong Game of the Year candidate before its release. After playing through the game, there’s one word that comes to mind before all others: disappointment. The game is marred by problems from beginning to end; some technical, others just poor design choices. You don’t have to play long to start seeing the problems; within two minutes of playing on the first stage I had already encountered visual tearing, sluggish framerates and audio cutting in and out during the action.

Despite these issues, I would be lying if I said the game wasn’t fun. In general, combat is a blast. Picking enemies up and throwing them at objects or one another just doesn’t get tiring. You have a variety of other Force based moves at your disposal as well including Force Push, Force Lightning, Force Repulse and others. All of which account for the majority of the fun to be had in the game. You can, of course, also go for close quarters combat with your lightsaber and as you play you’ll be able to unlock dozens of new combos and abilities with which you can decimate anything in your path.

The Force Unleashed employs an RPG-style level up system which allows you to customize your character and upgrade various abilities as you see fit. There are three main categories to upgrade: lightsaber combos, Force powers and general items. The lightsaber combos are self-explanatory, you just use points to buy new melee-based attacks. The Force powers are your general Force moves such as Lightning and Grip. You can upgrade these to new levels for maximum power. The general area is where you can upgrade your maximum hit points, defense and your force energy levels. You begin with a fairly limited move set, but you’ll unlock new talents as you progress. Some of our favorites are the Force Repulse and lightsaber throw.

All of the Force abilities and lightsaber combos combine to make for an entertaining pwnfest in normal combat. As you power your character up, you’ll begin to see the gap widen between you and your opponents. There are times when you’ll completely obliterate several enemies in a matter of seconds and that’s when the game is at its best. You can combine your Force moves and combos for truly spectacular results and if you’re creative, you can improvise and utilize your surroundings to come up with tons of swell ways to destroy the enemies. You might, for instance, use the Force to toss an enemy out a window and into deep space. Or perhaps you’ll just use Force Push to send him sprawling into a forcefield which vaporizes the fool on contact. The developers really did do a good job on implementing the Force powers; this is one of the finest examples of Force-based gameplay in the entire line of Star Wars video games (which is quite large).

The story in the game is also quite good. You begin as Darth Vader on Kashyyyk where you stumble upon the young apprentice. From there you play as Vader’s underling and follow his orders as he commands you to seek out and kill the remaining Jedi in the galaxy. We won’t give away any spoilers, but the game does allow you to finish on the Light Side of the Force or the Dark Side, so some choices you make will have an effect on the story and the ending you receive.

So why then is the game disappointing? Well as mentioned above, there are bugs all over the place. The visuals, while gorgeous, are somewhat less impressive when the framerate cuts in half or when the screen is tearing and stuttering. At one point, the game simply stopped rendering enemies and the environment so I was left running into a black abyss with targeting highlights popping up randomly to indicate where an enemy should be; to resolve this I simply backtracked for a while and when I turned around everything became visible. Graphics aren’t the only issue, the audio cuts out frequently and the AI leaves a bit to be desired; it wasn’t uncommon to come up on enemies running straight into a wall or corner. While that sounds bad, it is perhaps preferable to an enemy with “good” AI, which the developers seem to have confused with cheap AI. The boss fights in the game were rarely fun, but always frustrating. One in particular had me fuming and pounding the controller as when her life was nearly gone, she would stand at the opposite end of the battlefield and simply throw an impossible to dodge lightsaber. Even when the saber passed clearly above or below my character, it still counted as a hit. The game can be beaten in about 10 hours, but without the annoying boss fights, it would probably last around four or five.

One other gripe I have with the game is the use of QTE’s. Introduced in Shenmue, this poor excuse for gamplay has invaded all types of games since. The QTE’s in The Force Unleashed make you stare at the bottom of the screen to watch for the next button press while your character is doing some of the most badass stuff in the game. QTE’s even managed to botch what could have been, and should have been, easily one of the most epic moments in gaming history: pulling the Star Destroyer out of the sky. Instead of making this a simple “hey, I’m a badass moment” the developers opted for some painfully slow system where you have to match a series of analog stick presses to bring the ship down. This wouldn’t be a bad system if they hadn’t made it so excruciatingly slow. Also, if the ship turns to a certain point it is literally impossible to bring down as it never lines up properly and the game never signals for you to begin pulling it down. I spent nearly two hours repeating the same thumbstick motions to no avail. I finally gave up and restarted the fight and ended it in about 10 minutes. So instead of thinking about how awesome that just was, I was left bored and felt only relief at the fact that I wouldn’t have to do that again any time soon.

It’s really a shame that the game shipped with so many problems. I feel that if the developer had spent some extra time solving these issues and polishing the gameplay, this could have easily been one of the greatest games of all time. However with so many blatant problems, it’s difficult to give the game a glowing recommendation or even call it a finished product.

Real Life Ratings
Star Wars is a franchise that has been loved by both young and old. This title will probably be especially popular with younger audiences. The rating is meant to show that the player is controlling a "dark side" character and uses force powers to inflict harm on others. Besides this, the game is relatively safe and should be considered fun for younger players as long as they can understand the difference between fantasy and reality.

By Ryan Schaefer - 09/21/08
ESRB Details: Violence Star Wars is a franchise that has been loved by both young and old. This title will probably be especially popular with younger audiences. The rating is meant to show that the player is controlling a “dark side” character and uses force powers to inflict harm on others. Besides this, the game is relatively safe and should be considered fun for younger players as long as they can understand the difference between fantasy and reality.
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Screenshots for The Force Unleashed

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