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Looking Back at 2008 - The Force Unleashed

Title: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
Publisher/Developer: Lots, read in the review for the skinny.
Platforms: PS2, PS3, PSP, Wii, Xbox 360, DS, and Mobile Phones
Release Date: 9/16/2008
Number of players/Multiplayer: Single-player (though the Wii version will have duel-mode)

Another piece in our “Looking Back at 2008″ series takes us back to Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. If ever there was a game in 2008 that evoked such passionate debates between the “lovers” and “haters”, The Force Unleashed is most definitely up there on the list. Considering the hype surrounding the game that’s really not much of a shocker. I fall into the former group, not the latter. For my two cents on The Force Unleashed read on.

Well the storyline is pretty well known by now. But for those of you living under rocks or on remote islands I will give you the brief version. You play as Starkiller, the son of a Jedi whom Vader takes under his cape as his new apprentice. We all know by now that Vader really was never too keen on being the Emperor’s bitch. This leads the Dark Lord of the Sith to begin his plots to overthrow the Emperor.

Now, some may know, some may not, but the name Starkiller was actually Luke’s original name when Lucas penned Star Wars. Not only does the game give Lucas the chance to finally put the name to use but the story is canon. That means what happens in the game is official lore for the Star Wars universe.

In short, Starkiller is trained in secret by Vader to assist him in his goals as well as hunt down the remaining Jedi. As Starkiller you will face several Jedi foe, militia (remember, they’re not “rebels” yet), imperials, rancors, and only Exar Kun knows what else might be tossed your way. You’ll also see some familiar faces and names within the game, though I have to say the age of one of these familiar faces is a bit off. I won’t go into details because I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone.

Now, above I noted that there are several developers behind this game. The reason for that is the different companies worked on some of the different platforms. Just a short list for you:

Playstation 3 and Xbox 360: LucasArts
Playstation 2, PSP, and Wii: Krome Studios
Nintendo DS: n-Space
Mobile Phones and N-Gage: Universomo

Now for those of you who don’t own a PS3 or 360, don’t fret. Several of the other platform versions are getting bonuses features like extra missions or bonus content.

The game uses basic RPG-lite gameplay in which you level up through Force Points, Force Power Spheres, Force Spheres, and Combo Spheres. On top of that you will gain access to new abilites as you progress through the storyline. Abilities such as Force Lightning, Sabre Tossing, and Force Repuslion (big bubble push on everyone around you). Keep in mind that to avoid players using the same attacks over and over and over you get bonuses for “style” in combat. If you vary up your tactics and attacks you get more Force Points and level up faster. Yes, you can get through the game using the basics, but half the fun is mastering all the moves.

Of course, your primary weapon is your trusty lightsabre. Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand artistic license and all but I am going to tell you right now that the reverse-hand stance Starkiller uses would be utterly impracticle in the real world. Then again, I don’t know anyone who can toss Stormtroopers 100s of yards with a flick of their wrist and simple thought, so yeah, as one of the readers here pointed out “Anything is possible with the Force”. But I won’t get into that too much, really. If you want to read more about the stance Google up the “seven recognised” stances shared by the Jedi Counsel. I will tell you that you are able to modify your sabre trough-out the game.

There are two systems of modification for your sabre:

The first are colour crystals which are only asthetic changes. They come in purple, blue, gold, green, yellow, red, and black. Yes, I said black. Trust me, it’s intersting looking. For the most part, each of the colours have variations as well. The blue crytal gives you the typical blue sabre, but the unstable blue crystal will give you a blue sabre that looks like it’s covered in lightning.

The second modification are power crystals. Now these do more than make your sabre look pretty. They add stats to your blade such as: added blocking, added damage, reduction in force power cost, and PROC (chance to on impact) effects that may add damaging auras or lightning.

The great thing is that you can change all these crystals on the fly. There’s no stopping by a workbench to swap anything out. It’s just a menu-based change that sometimes provides for tactical usage.

You can also change your costume as the game progresses. I will put these two areas in one shot since it’s the a similar system. The crystals are given as rewards for completing bonus missions or finding holocrons. The costumes change each new mission you take. Once you have unlocked the costume you can swap between them on the fly as well.

As to the mission system it is a purely linear system. You do not get to choose where you go and when you go. It’s is a simple point A to point Z system. Usually with Vader sending you after a Jedi or just out to cause some random destruction.

During boss or liuentent battles the game employs the QTE, Quick Time Event, system. If you’re unfamiliar with the term you’ve probably played it and just didn’t know that is one of the many names for the system. Basically, during cinematics you will be prompted to hit certain buttons in certain sequences are precise times. Some people can’t stand QTEs, but I personally like them better than the “hack, hack, hack, die” system. It puts your skills a bit more to use. However, I DO wish they would have varying sequences. The only reason I say this is because once you have fought a certain boss you know the QTE button sequences. Also, failure to complete the sequences offers to danger. In fact, you just get to start again.

The Review:

Graphics:

Clean, crisp, detailed. No matter which platform you play it on, The Force Unleashed pushed the envelope for the graphics area. Putting each platform’s full power to its maximum use seems to have been the way of The Force here.

Okay, this is a tricky area to cover because the bloody game is hitting every possible gaming system known to man…except PC, sorry. But for the sake of this review I played the game through on the Playstation 3. Graphically, the game is top-notch. There are some texture issues here and there, but honestly, nothing to really detract from the glory of the game to me.

Obviously the PS3 and 360 are going to be the graphical power-house versions of the game. In fact, they are the only two to put to use all three pieces of software that makes the game what it is: The Havok physics engine, Euphoria AI, and Digital Molecular Matter.

Gameplay:

Basic hack-and-slash controls wich some Force powers added. There’s nothing wrong with the “controls” in the game play as much as there is a distinct issue with the camera and lock-on systems. This could ruin the game for many.

Story:

Could someone please make a movie out of this? Please? If you could subject us to Jar Jar you owe us this much. The story is beyond description when it comes to calling it “great”

Music/Sound:

Two words: John Williams. Yes, the game has additional music composed by a musician whose name I cannot find right now and this person did a fantastic job creating the new themes for the new characters

Overall:

It rocked. As I have told you time and again here on the site, it is just my opinion. I can’t “score” a game really because I can’t create a game. I can, however, tell you if I liked the game. And the answer to that question is a resounding yes.

It’s really hard for games like this to live up to the hype that they generate, but I feel The Force Unleashed did damned well by what we were promised. Star Wars fans will LOVE the game. Hack-and-Slash gamers will enjoy it. People who like crushing large vehicles with the Force will love it.

Either way, it is definitely worth a look. Being a single-player only game may keep some people from buying it, but if you enjoiy it then let the developers know with your wallet.

The Good:

Oh where to start? The music is superb, mixing all 6 films audio tracks with a few new tracks that alter or remix some familair tunes (expect to hear a variation of the Imperial March theme). The graphics are fantastic on the power-house systems and even on some of the lesser powered systems they are optimised to push the envelope.

The story is well written. So much so that at times I felt as if I were playing the movie. It’s a great tie-in story between Episodes 3 and 4 as I mentioned above. Some basic details of how things came to be in Episode 4 are answered within the game.

The voice acting was well done and well written. However, I will note that a couple times Vader’s voice was just a little more Anakin than I would have liked to hear (whiney and bitchy rather than imposing).

The Bad:

Okay, I am a pragmatist if nothing else. So that means yes, I did find some things in the game that weren’t perfect. The most dreadful and powerful emeny you will face in the game has haunted many games in gaming history: The Camera.

This all-powerful, omniscient thing loves to mess with you sometimes. During some boss fights you are stuck with a fixed camera view and other times the camera is free moving but gives us the old “Uh, why is the camera stuck in the wall and I can’t see diddly?” action. One of these days, perhaps, a developer will actually get it right. But, it wasn’t the worst I have had to play with.The only other major complaint I had is the Force Grip control system. Choosing which target you wish to lock on to is shoddy at best. You’ll get used to it, but you will NEVER master it. In fact, you are probably going to fall prey to several “No! Not that dammit! THAT!’”moments. The other area with the Force Grip issue is aiming the “flinging” manuever. Yoda knows that a lot of times you will want to toss a crate at some obnoxious AT-ST and instead of flying forward at the two-legged prick the crate goes flying off to the side…usually to run some other poor, unsuspecting Stromtrooper down. I guess that’s not so bad, but really, I would have liked a little cleaner control. It kind of defeated the purpose of having phenomenal cosmic powers when you couldn’t even hit the broadside of an AT-ST at times.

The Ugly:

Short and simple one ugly is that the game ended. That’s right, I am a greedy bastard. I could have stood another 30 hours or so of just slicing things in half and visiting some more planets. A multiplayer aspect would have been nice, but the game itself really didn’t lend itself to anything along those lines. The Wii version does have “Duel Mode” which is exactly what is sounds like, players can take on the roles of some of the enemy and duel each other.

Other than that, the camera will be your worst enemy all day long. Strong in the Force is the camera. Weak in the Force are you to control it.

Final Vote: 7.75/10

What Others Thought:
TestFreaks: 7.1/10
MetaCritic: 7/10
GameRankings: 7.2/10

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