Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Review
Today, we're playing a Star Wars games that utilizes a number of different engines to calculate a variety of different tasks. Yesterday, we were playing a mixture of God awful games like Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi and Star Wars: Obi-Wan, or superb games like X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter and Knights of the Old Republic. There once was a time when a lot of Star Wars games just weren't any good. There were the occasional blips on the radar ages ago, but the majority of Star Wars videogames weren't received very well; some in fact, have appeared in "Worst Ever" lists, such as Teras Kasi.
Thankfully, the PlayStation 2, GameCube, and especially the Xbox, have given us some of the finest Star Wars games, such as the Rogue Squadron games (GameCube), Knights of the Old Republic (Xbox), and the Starfighter games (PlayStation 2). There's also the very cool Lego Star Wars franchise, which may not be everyone's cup of tea, but they're still decent games. Now here's the much anticipated Star Wars: Force Unleashed, a game that prides itself on utilizing multiple engines. What we originally believed to be a point for the good Star Wars games ends up falling somewhere in between.
Off the bat, it's worthy to mention that Force Unleashed is not a bad game. On the other hand, it's a rather decent Star Wars title. It boasts some pretty impressive gameplay mechanics that really make you feel like you're part of the dark side, or that you really are part of the Star Wars universe. Having force powers such as the ability to Force Grip, Force Lightning, Force Dash, and Force Push is what Star Wars games should've had long ago.
These abilities allow your character, the Apprentice, to feel like a proper and complete fighter. Star Wars fans should know what these abilities do, but in case you need a crash course: the Force Grip is the same telekinetic move that Darth Vader has, allowing the player to grab objects or people. You'll be able to use the Force Grip to pick up and throw objects, enemies, open doors, and so on. Force Lightning is precisely as it sounds, it allows the player to expel a wave of lightning as an attack. The Force Push allows the player to release a burst of energy as an attack, or as a means of breaking down obstacles. The Force Repulse is a stronger version of the Force Push, as it unleashes a blast of energy from all around the player, and not just forwards. Lastly, the Force Dash is a simple quick burst of speed forwards.
When you're not using your limited Force powers, you'll largely engage in melee combat with your Light Saber. The Light Saber allows for various combos, which you'll be able to gain more of as the game continues, and will be your primary means of recourse. Now, the combat is directly involved with the engines running in the game, as the have a direct effect on the action.
First, there's the Digital Molecular Matter system, which makes physical objects in the environment act as they would in real-life, under various conditions. For instance, wood will crack like wood should, and glass will shatter appropriately, as opposed to all of that just being pre-determined. The Euphoria system by NaturalMotion is what LucasArts calls a "behavioral-simulation engine." In other words, the characters you interact with will act, move, and even think like human beings. The point is so that they come off feeling as realistic as possible, and adapt their behavior on the fly. All of this is then sealed with Havok's physics engine. So you'd imagine with all of that flare powering the game, you'd be looking at a Triple-A title, right?
Well, when you've got the combat abilities down and actually begin to engage, things don't seem to hold up quite as well as expected. For one, the first immediate problem I noticed is that if you're using the Force Grip, you can't move your player. It'd have been nice for LucasArts to at least let you walk slowly, otherwise, you end up a sitting duck for attacks from all around you. Second, melee combat doesn't feel fluid; going back and forth between Devil May Cry and Force Unleashed makes that much more apparent. You simply never feel like you're in total control over your character, as the actions feel sloppy, lacking precision and fluidity.
Third, the Force Grip can exhibit some annoying issues, as sometimes it doesn't catch the object you're targeting. I often found myself having to press the R2 button numerous times until the Apprentice finally gripped the object - and this occurs even if the reticle is highlighting said object. Fourth, there are colission detection issues; for example, I could use the Force Push to blow the door open, the opening I've created is obviously large enough to get through, but you won't be able to, requiring you to perform another shot. Fourth, the game eventually becomes repetitive, and you'll often feel like you've done much of the tasks more than twice.
If you can overlook these issues, Star Wars: Force Unleashed can still be an enjoyable game. It won't win any prizes, but it does feel satisfying enough to not be considered a bad Star Wars game. You're encouraged to keep trekking on, as throughout the game your experience will help earn upgrades for your character, granting him new abilities and moves, so you aren't stuck with the same range of attacks. Additionally, the story is actually rather good, and would've made for a fantastic movie, to be honest. So there's reason to play through the game. Unfortunately, 10 hours later, there's no reason to come back to the game when you're done with it, there is no multiplayer to speak of, not even co-op.
Visually, Force Unleashed is a good looking title with a very clean picture. The PlayStation 3 version fares a bit better, as it's framerate doesn't stutter, and there is little-to-no screen-tearing. As you'd expect, Force Unleashed runs at a standard 720p resolution, and it looks solid thanks to good use of anti-aliasing, and quality texture work. Lighting is well done, as reflections and eye-candy are nearly everywhere you look. Additionally, stages have a very proper Star Wars look and feel, by sporting the necessary epic qualities. Character detail could use some work, though, as they all feel rather small and not quite as detailed as they should be, and animation isn't as spectacular as I'd hope it'd be.
Being a story driven Star Wars game, there's a good amount of voice acting to be found, most of which is rather solid. The audio presentation is definitely great, as the game makes use of a wide assortment of Star Wars sounds to match the sights all around you. If you find yourself enjoying the game, I suggest turning the audio up and raising the bass fed to your sub-woofer - there's a lot of rumbling sounds to be heard...and felt. The audio is definitely this game's strongest point.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed won't be one of the games I'll remember as being poor, but I also won't look back on it years from now and feel nostalgic. The end result of this ambitious title feels rather average, as the gameplay suffers from redundancy, lack of fluidity, lack of speed, and lack of multiplayer. The story is solid, using your force powers is fun, the audio is great, and the visuals are decent...but those don't fix the core issues of The Force Unleashed. Rent this one, play it for the story, and return it. It's a 10 hour game, with not much else after the story.
9/23/2008 Arnold Katayev