Star Wars: The Force Unleashed – out now

Ever since Nintendo unveiled their wireless white wonder to the world (the Wii), practically everybody who saw the infra-red WiiMote control in action at some point thought the same thing: ‘Wouldn’t it be totally sweet if someone made a Star Wars game which allowed you to use the controller as a lightsabre?’

Well, turns out that someone did. The Star Wars ‘Expanded Universe’ – that is, stories set before, beyond and in between the narratives of the six films – is huge. There are hundreds of ancillary novels, comic books and video games set in the Star Wars universe, some of them great (see the Battlefront and the Knights of the Old Republic series’) some of them not so great (Empire at War). The Force Unleashed looks set to neatly slot into the former category.

The action takes place between Episodes III and IV, (so it’s technically Episode 3.241407 or something like that) and see players assuming the mantle of one Galen Marek, the secret apprentice of Darth Vader who is charged with hunting down the remaining Jedi after the Emperor orders their extermination.

The plot of the game neatly fills in the gaps between the two films, and unlike a lot of the extraneous Star Wars titles, which are mostly composed of characters who bear little or no relation to anyone in the films (and therefore you don’t really care), The Force Unleashed boasts a compelling storyline that even the most pedestrian of Star Wars fans will be able to appreciate and enjoy. The quality of the scriptwriting is also of a noticeably high standard, as is the voice acting.

As the existence of the main character is supposed to be a secret, one of the core mantras of the game is to ‘leave no witnesses’. This means ‘kill everything that moves’. This is undoubtedly one of the most violent Star Wars games ever released, and it is unashamedly retro in terms of gameplay; you race around levels armed with your red lightsabre, picking up heavy objects with the Force and hurling them at enemies, frying Wookies and Stormtroopers with Dark Side lightning, slamming Jawas into walls… there’s not exactly a stealth element involved.

With the Force, you can pick up virtually anything in the playing area and use it as a projectile, from crates, to large rocks and boulders to droids and even the bodies of your foes themselves. It doesn’t stop there either; you can even call upon the force to lift airborne TIE Fighters out of the sky and send them crashing to the ground.

Whilst the controls on the Wii are responsive enough, the WiiMote motions didn’t live up to our lightsabre fantasies. Despite this, controls are as intuitive and easy to pick up as those to be found on Zelda. Obviously, other formats don’t benefit from this, hands-on hack and slash approach, but needless to say, the visual output of the 360 and the PS3 outstrips that of the Wii by a considerable amount.

The main downside include how limited you start out in terms of abilities. After the initial rush of the training level on the Wookie homeworld of Kashyyyk which gives you free reign of all the available Force powers and abilities, you end up starting the game proper with not even half of these available at your disposal; the game relies on a tried and tested ‘unbinding’ process, where you start off with relatively few abilities and gradually unlock more skills as the narrative progresses (Metroid, Zelda, etc); at times it feels like it should have been called The Force Prohibited instead.

The game also follows a linear path, compounded by its storyline and doesn’t come with the same sense of grandeur, freedom and scale that the Knights of the Old Republic games did.

Combat after a while can also become tiresome, once the novelty of moving down enemies wears off. As an all powerful agent of the dark side, you begin to feel disappointed as wave after wave of unworthy enemies come after you only to die easily at your hands. Locking on to items or objects is also choresome; sometimes instead of targeting up a desperately needed phial of health during a frantic boss battle, you end up picking up a chair and hurling it uselessly against a wall by mistake. End of level bosses, otherwise tense, cinematic affairs, are frustrating collisions of bad camera angles and mis-spent Force powers, and, perhaps most annoyingly, QTEs – Quick Time Events – the kind of Simon Says where you have to press/move buttons in time with the on-screen prompts, the kind of thing which ruined some of the key moments in Resident Evil 4.

Though you could easily complete the game in a single setting, you’ll want to go back and do the whole thing through again to fully explore the possibilities of using the Force to take down enemies; TFU is still one of the best Star Wars games to emerge in recent years.

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One Response to “Star Wars: The Force Unleashed – out now”

  1. says:

    These screenshots look wicked. The game is even better.

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