Star Wars. The name conjures up images of epic space battles, mystical energies, the battle between good and evil, and even the conflicts that rage between children and their parents. A bit about me: I was less than pleased with the latest trilogy of movies and just displeased as possible with the CGI Clone Wars film. I did, however, love the animated Clone Wars series and, of course, the original trilogy (Han shoots first dammit).
So you can imagine my apprehension when sitting down to play Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Oh sure, the preview stuff had looked interesting and sometimes blew me away (the Emotion demo vids for instance) but you can’t always tell when it comes to a Star Wars these days. How are we to trust Lucasfilm, LucasArts, Lucas* when we, as fans, have received such a spotty track record of both awesomeness and lameness? Anyhow, so I start the game and the main theme kicks off with the Star Wars logo. It slowly moves into the cosmos and the title crawl begins. I am already hooked. Why is it that just this alone is enough to fire my geek engine like nothing else? So at this point I am very excited to get past the opening crawl but remember Master Yoda’s teachings and utilize some of this mystical mojo we call ‘patience’ to see it through.
And then LucasArts might as well have shot me with a dart of pure adrenaline because you start the game playing as ‘the man’, Darth Vader himself. And, it does not disappoint. Without spoiling it for you guys, the situation in which you find yourself in and what you must do during the first level are the things of geek legend. I kid you not.
Enter ‘Starkiller’, a young boy who Vader finds and takes as his own apprentice, we assume raising him (how much of an extent is not really seen) as well as Vader could given his busy schedule of slaughtering Jedi and being the errand boy for Emperor Palpatine. Now, it finally dawned on me where I had seen this character’s face before. I am sitting there and I blurt out, ‘Hey, Starkiller was on BSG!’, much to the funny looks from my two cohorts beside me. You see, Sam Witwer, who played ‘Crashdown’ on the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series is Vader’s young apprentice. He not only voices the character but also lends his face to the game. They have modeled it extremely well and, unlike Kristen Bell in Assassin’s Creed, is very recognizable even without a lab ID card on his bosom. Not only that, but Witwer puts in a great performance and is a total credit to this game.
Vader is voiced by none other than Chad Vader’s Matt Sloan (who voices Vader in that series of shorts too). This guy is incredible, the BEST Vader in a video game or movie since James Earl Jones. I did not hear one line uttered from him that did not sound spot-on. If the guys at LucasFilm and LucasArts were smart, they would hire him from now own as Vader’s voice in any future film or video game. It is scary how good he is.
The aforementioned actors as well as the rest of the cast all put it incredible performances and I can’t think of anyone who came off as ‘wooden’ or unbelievable. The rendering of the cutscenes is equally incredible and makes me wish LucasFilm would have focused on turning this into a CGI film instead of the Clone Wars. And guess what? There is not a single fart joke in this entire beast, imagine that!
The gameplay in SW:TFU is done in the third-person ala God of War or Viking: Battle for Asgard, and is far more action-oriented than what you might have played in the demo. In the actual game, you will find yourself using your lightsabre a ton more as force grip requires you to stand perfectly still while controlling an object and, if you get hit, you lose that control. It is just not combat viable in hordes of enemies. Now, force lighting, THAT is an ability (especially when maxed out)! That’s right, as you progress through the game, you will gain points with which to customize your character – learning new force abilities and attack moves. The boss battles can be fun, however the game’s finishing system used to dispatch most is a bit awkward. Unlike God of War’s finishing system, this does not feel fluid or timed like you would expect, causing many missed attempts in the process.
Unfortunately, the camera can be down right awful at times, especially when in narrow passages or caverns. This is not only an issue in confined spaces, but the cinematic camera used when you fight Jedi is, again, awkward. They have tried to make it feel like you are watching a duel from one of the films, but it ends up just making everything difficult to see. The camera will zoom out from behind you and move to some angle to try and frame the entire room in which you are fighting. Problem is, that when zoomed out, it is easy to lose your character (or the enemy’s) when the objects really start getting knocked about. Additionally, targeting between anything becomes more difficult as your perspective is off from your character’s (on which targeting is based). Aside from the camera, levels seem to spottily move from easy to insane in terms of difficulty level. While an increasing scale of difficulty is to be expected in most games, these seemingly random patches of insanity definitely keep you on your toes.
Overall, I cannot recommend Star Wars: The Force Unleashed enough. The game provides a much needed does of quality Star Wars story and excitement. The gameplay is not perfect, as I have stated with regards to the camera and whatnot, but these imperfections are a small price to pay for the wealth of goodness that otherwise lies within the title. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed…Do it, you know you want to!
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