Monday, March 23, 2009

Star Wars The Force Unleashed (video game)

Platform: X-Box 360
Also On: PS2, PS3, Wii, PSP, Nintendo DS
Developers: Lucasarts
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating: Teen
Release Date: September 16, 2008

Video gaming has been very kind to Star Wars. Reaching all the way back to the Arcade rail shooter based on the Star Wars run on the Death Star in Episode IV, Star Wars games have a long history noted not just for being around about as long as video gaming but for having about eighty percent of the titles released being good. It's impressive. For me, that's lead to a certainty when a Star Wars video game project is announced; the certainty that it will be at the very, very least worth a play.

The latest in the storied history of Star Wars video gaming is The Force Unleashed. Created as a gap between the Star Wars trilogies, the game see's you take on the role of Darth Vaders secret apprentice, tasked with wiping out remaining jedi stragglers as well as preparing for, as Vader claims, a team up to kill the Emperor. Of course, it's far from that simple, as you find out as time goes on.

The story itself is absolutely fantastic, from the opening Prologue where you play as Vader to the final battle of the game. Above anything else, this games story feels truly worthy as a bridge between the trilogies; one that easily could have been a film of it's own. The game sticks largely to some of the classic Star Wars themes, the main one in particular being redemption, as well as being very tightly plotted. Being a big Star Wars fan, I actually did not see any continuity issues with the films and I honestly hope that it's sen fit to adapt the games story into a film, because it's certainly worthy.

The story also reveals a surprising amount of answers to mysteries never elaborated upon in the films. For instance, through the course of the story, we learn how the Rebel Alliance of the original trilogy came to be; along with the significance of the symbol they use. We also learn more about the machinations of Darth Vader, more to the point that he always had ambitions to destroy the emperor.

One point of the plot that I know some people were groaning over is the entire "secret apprentice" bit with Starkiller, the games protagonist. In truth, it works far better than one might expect. Over the many different avenues of additions to Star Wars lore, from books to video games to comics, the Sith have been shown to be very secretive, treacherous and bloodthirsty. The pursuit of greater powers leads them to backstab each other, which in many instances, especially in the Knights of the Old Republic games, has shown to be thier downfall. It makes sense that Vader might try to have a secret apprentice for his own purposes, even if everything is not as it seems; his actions near the end also make sense given how the Sith are.

On a personal note, I was glad that they used a redemption theme in the game. Unlike a lot of people, I have a bit of a hard time playing evil characters in video games. Even in Star Wars, where they tend to have cooler powers. Hunting down Jedi in the first third of the game was good enough fun, but I was happy to have Starkiller slowly regain some humanity after getting out from directly under Vaders thumb.

The sound is classic Star Wars, which should come as no surprise. We start out with music more from the prequel trilogy side of things but start moving into the original trilogy by the end. The orchestrated music, as always, sets the mood for everything from the cutscenes to the battles themselves. But it's a Star Wars product; you know going in that the sound will be fantastic.

The gameplay, however, is where the game suffers a bit. The game is set up largely similar to games such as Devil May Cry and God of War in it's combat system. Meaning, different combo's, many purchasable, with Force powers replacing the Devil Trigger or magic, respectively. While there's nothing wrong with using a system like that, as those games are quite varied in their combat which is half of why they're so fun, The Force Unleashed suffers a bit in this area.

Unlike either of the aforementioned franchises, there is only one attack button here; this leaves combos a bit more limited in nature. While you can do some interesting combo's with your Force Powers, you're never going to pull off the sort of long combo's you could in said games. The length and abundance of those combo's were what made the other games stay crunchy in milk; The Force Unleashed givs you four button combo's at best, letting it get all soggy on you.

The Force powers help keep things from getting too bad, however. Many of them are fun to use and once you get the hang of using them in the heat of battle you'll find quick use of them will save your ass on more than one occasion. Force grip in particular is a highlight as always; grabbing a stormtrooper and then throwing him into a bunch of his buddies for massive damage or into a pit just never gets old no matter how many Star Wars games you play. Also, using your environment to kill enemies is also something that helps keep the game from getting too boring. Breaking a window on a ship to suck enemies out into the vaccum of space is both hilarious and a practical way to save your bacon.

Level structure definitely needed some work as well. This game is horribly, agonizingly linear. You're pretty much going from point A to point B whether you like it or not, with no real secondary paths to be found. There are thankfully collectibles to be found in the form of Jedi Holocrons, which give you things like different color lightsaber crystals and costumes, but they are generally very easy to find thanks in part to how linear the games levels are. Some are even more or less in plain sight.

The game is also, sadly, somewhat short. By the time I finished the game, I was kind of flabergasted that it was over. I had expected maybe three or four more full levels. There's replay value to be had for sure, thanks in part to the collectibles and such, but it still feels like there should have been a few more levels especially considering the games linear nature. I guess they must have been deserate the extend the games playtime though, because there's a sharp spike in difficulty in the last level. Surviving the beginning of the level can be almost asinine no matter how skilled you are as a gamer or what difficulty you have the game set at.

One last side note; I absolutely loved one of the secret achievements. On the prologue with Darth Vader, be sure and kill twelve stormtroopers. If you watch internet videos at all, you'll probably get why the name of this achievement had me laughing.

The Score: Dramatic Thumbs Up

This was a hard game to pick a score for. The story is absolutely fantastic and the replay vaue is pretty good, but the gameplay was rather disappointing and the overly linear nature of the levels kind of hindered it; this game probably would have been better as a film. Still, it is indeed a fun game to play through, but it relies heavily on the story; meaning once you've done most of the things in the game you're probably only going to pop it in to relive the story every once in a while. Still, it's a good time worth a playthrough.

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