8.5 / 10 Banzai!s
Released in September of 2008, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was the next big thing to come from the Lucas conglomerate. It was more than just a video game – which happened to be ported onto everything, from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo consoles to smartphones and the PC. It was a huge marketing project, complete with comic books, novelizations, and even action figures. It was treated with nearly the same marketing and advertising care as the Star Wars films themselves, with commercials running day and night while posters and standees littered electronic shops. The game utilizes newly developed game engines, such as Havok to create rigid body physics to the characters, Digital Molecular Matter which creates more realism when destroying different objects, and Euphoria to enhance the AI of the NPCs. Force Unleashed sold quite well, despite receiving a wide mix of reviews ranging from negative to average.
The story takes place between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. You play as Starkiller (Lucas’ original name for Luke, which changed to Skywalker) who, as a child, was taken by Darth Vader during an Imperial raid on Kashyyyk. Time passes, and Starkiller is trained as Vader’s apprentice, learning the ways of the dark side, now becoming a full-fledged assassin to hunt down and destroy the remaining Jedi knights hiding throughout the galaxy. Secretly, Vader wishes to use Starkiller to do away with the Emperor. During the course of the story, we see the birth of the Rebellion born out of a complex plot devised by the Emperor himself, while Starkiller begins to question his purpose and Vader’s motives.
Before continuing with the review, I’d like you to know a little something about this reviewer. Yes, I am a Star Wars fan. As a child in elementary school, I grew up playing with the Kenner toys while waving plastic lightsabers around. When the Star Wars craze returned, so too did my childhood passion for the films, reading some of the authorized novels such as those by Timothy Zahn, collecting a few of the new action figures in hopes they’ll become valuable one day, and yes I stood in line on opening day to watch The Phantom Menace with the excitement of a teenaged boy about to lose his virginity.
But though I’m a fan, I am not a fanboy. Yes, I walked out of the theater after having seen Episode I, feeling confused and disappointed. I saw Attack of the Clones with less anticipation. I felt that Revenge of the Sith was better than the last two, but still couldn’t compare to the fun and excitement of the original Star Wars films. Why is this important? Maybe it’s not, but it might help understand where I’m coming from, and the point-of-view of a reviewer who scored this game an 8.5 Banzai!s – which is averagely higher than most game critics.
What I Liked:
What impressed me the most of The Force Unleashed was the story itself. If Episode I had been more like this than the dazzling mess it became, The Phantom Menace would have been a far better movie. The characters are interesting, and develop like any good story, and is full of action and excitement. This all occurs over a backdrop of political intricacies which spiral out into two sub-plots: one is the possible assassination of the Emperor, the other deals with the birth of the Rebellion. The story is not a simple connect-the-dots. Instead, the premise is set up, and things develop as you partake in different missions, swinging your lightsaber while enhancing your force powers. While The Force Unleashed is just a game, and meant only to bridge the events between Sith and Hope, I would be so bold as to say this story grabbed my interest more than the plots in the Star Wars prequels. Yes, that’s right. I said it. I enjoyed the story of this video game more than the plots of Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and possibly even Revenge of the Sith.
The graphics and overall presentation are excellent. The Star Wars films are famous for taking you to different worlds, and The Force Unleashed is no exception, ranging from strange jungle planets filled with killer plants and rancor monsters, to ones used as the intergalactic junkyard. For the most part, all those new game drives work. When you use a force blast against a huge door, it will bend and distort depending on where you hit it and with how much power you use. Against a tree, it may burst into splinters of wood and bark. Or you can shatter glass. It’s all relative to the physics of where your character is standing and the direction you strike. And the NPCs, such as the stormtroopers, behave and move in accordance to what’s happening. In other games, when you play the same level over again, the NPCs will come from the same directions and perform the same actions. Not so in The Force Unleashed. Sometimes they’ll run screaming, or they’ll take cover and fire, or call for reinforcements. It all depends.
I also liked how Starkiller can upgrade his force powers, turning him into quite the bad-ass by the end of the game. As you collect experience, you can chose to either obtain new powers, or improve the ones you already hold in your arsenal. While you may develop favourites, it’s fun to try out new ones you’ve gotten. And there will be circumstances in which one power works better than another, depending on the situation. This isn’t one of those games where you’ve got one or two good powers, and the others you just ignore. They’re all useful and fun to unleash.
What I Didn’t Like:
A common flaw, which many other critics have noted, is the control of the “Force Grip,” which is a major part of the game’s battle. Essentially, you’re using the force to pick up and either hit or throw the item – or person. When you select the power, the target appears over an object. You can either select that target, or move to a different one. The reason this is flawed, is because sometimes it’s difficult – in the heat of battle – to select the object of your choosing. The game was developed in such a way that whatever object is within your direct line of sight is what will first be targeted – but this is not always the case. However, to be honest, I never found this to be a major flaw. Yes, sometimes I found the Force Grip to be awkward, but not too often throughout the game.
The other common complaint is the Euphoria game engine to enhance the NPC’s AI doesn’t always seem to enhance it. Occasionally, you might get stormtroopers just standing there, or waiting for their turn to attack. Yes, this is a minor flaw. But in the game’s defence, the stormtroopers were always of the “weak mind” in the films.
After having played Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, I’ve often wondered why other game critics gave it such low scores. Perhaps, like myself when standing in line to see Episode I for the first time, they fell for all the hype and excitement, but were let down by some of the technical flaws.
Overall, I thought Force Unleashed was a great game. A must-have for Star Wars fans out there, yet still fun and exciting for those who aren’t. The replay-value is high, as I enjoyed going through a second and third time on the harder difficulties without feeling bored.
While I found The Phantom Menace to be a huge disappointment, it taught me an important life lesson: Never allow your expectations to exceed to an unmatchable level, otherwise you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. Now that a few years have passed and all the hype for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is over, I recommend giving it a try if you initially passed on it. Hopefully, you won’t be disappointed.