The force is strong with this one.
If you’re a Star Wars geek (like me) or just a gamer who loves great action games (also like me) then chances are you’ve been looking forward to The Force Unleashed since it was announced. It promised all of the great lightsaber swinging, force pushing, bad-assery (hey, it’s my review, I can make up words if I want) an action gamer could want, coupled with a canon story to plug the hole between the two trilogies of movies for you folks who still seethe at the words “Greedo shoots first”. The important question is, does the game live up to the hype, or does it fall short of Jedi Mastery? Despite some aggravating flaws, I’m very pleased to say that SW:TFU delivers on an exhilarating gameplay experience pushed along by a narrative worthy of the Star Wars canon.
As mentioned, TFU takes place between the end of Revenge of the Sith, and the beginning of A New Hope. The first level puts you firmly behind the breathing apparatus of everyone’s favorite Pod Racer pilot all growed up, and let me tell you-this game really does a great job of making Vader feel like an unstoppable killing machine. You’ll guide Vader on a brief tour of the Wookie homeworld of Kashykk that serves as both a beginning to the story, and your introduction to the amazing power of the force. You’ll march through the level, force pushing whole trees down and generally wrecking the place, occasionally swatting away one of the walking carpets that thinks he can stand up to a Sith Lord, making your way towards your goal of killing a Jedi hiding out on the planet. The unexpected discovery of the Jedi’s force sensitive child however, is what really kicks the story into high gear.
The child grows up as Vader’s secret apprentice, who he has trained to help him defeat the emperor and take control of the galaxy for himself. His name is Starkiller (a nod to Lucas’ original name for Luke Skywalker), and you’ll be guiding him through 9 missions in some familiar, and not so familiar territory. Starkiller proves himself a very worthy addition to the Star Wars roster, and you’ll find yourself connecting to his story and motivations very quickly.
Declaring the story as hard canon between the first and second sets of films was a very bold thing to do, especially with some of the events that come to light during the course of TFU, but by the end it’s clear that Lucasarts accomplished their goal. Not only does TFU succeed in accurately replicating the experience of watching a Star Wars film, it feels ingrained into the canon. It definitely plays out like a “missing” film between the two sets of movies, while leaving plenty of room open for more opportunities in this period. The story adds some serious twists to the events that follow in Episodes IV, V, and VI, and features some great cameos and “inside” dialogue.
The fantastic story in TFU would have no legs to stand on if not for some solid action gameplay to guide players through the narrative. Starkiller has an impressive array of Force powers to wreak havoc with, from dark side standards like Force Grip and Force Lightning, to the always impressive Force Push. These powers level up RPG style over the course of the game, and go from being moderately cool to downright amazing as you progress. Adding to the impact of these powers is the implementation of a rock solid physics engine, an amazingly realistic new damage modeling system, and an advanced AI system which will cause soldiers to grab on to nearby ledges, boxes, even each other while you’re flailing them around the environment. I can’t express how much more satisfying these new systems make using the force powers in the game. The first time you Force Push open a metal bulkhead door that bends realistically depending on where you hit it, you’ll be hooked.
Of course, Starkiller also has a trusty lightsaber to aid in combat as well. Lightsaber combat is well implemented, if a bit underpowered compared to the overwhelming destructive capabilities of the various force powers. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself only using it against the tougher, force resistant enemies you’ll meet along the way. There are a lot of great combo’s to unlock, and you can also find crystals allowing you to change the color and attributes of your blade. Boss battles vary from stronger versions of enemies you’ve encountered, to Rancor, to Imperial Walkers, to one on one battles with Jedi. They are mostly well implemented, and utilize a QTE method of “finishing them” which is varied enough to not get old.
Even with all these positive aspects to the game, there are some disturbances in the force. The camera is the primary culprit, and you’ll sometimes find yourself wrestling with its position during hectic combat or the troublesome platforming elements. Euphoria engine aside, there are some problems with the enemy AI. Several times during my experience, enemies would spawn in with seemingly no AI to speak of. They would just stand there, staring at nothing while I hacked them to bits. The targeting for your force powers can be a bit spotty at times as well, as I would sometimes find myself shooting lightning into a nearby rock or piece of debris instead of the enemy firing rockets at my face. None of these problems are common enough to ruin the experience, but they do keep the game from living up to its real potential as a top tier action game.
The sound is everything you would expect from something with Star Wars in the title, and all the seminal John Williams classics are present. The music is incredibly well placed, and never feels out of sync with the action on screen. The sound effects are also well done, from saber to blaster everything sounds as you would expect.
Overall, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is a very worthy addition to any gamers collection. The unlockables and amazing force powers offer plenty of replay value, and the story is top notch. Anyone who calls themselves a Star Wars fan needs to experience this game, if only for the narrative which really adds a lot to the main canon. In the end, the game does exactly as the title promises, showing you just exactly how bad ass the power of the Force can be.