Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

Developer: Lucasarts
Publisher: Lucasarts
Release Date: 9/16/08
Genre: Third-person, Action
Consoles: Xbox 360, Wii, PS3, & PS2

review

Written by William D.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed casts players as Darth Vader’s “Secret Apprentice” and promises to unveil new revelations about the Star Wars galaxy. The expansive story, created under direction from George Lucas, is set during the largely unexplored era between Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope. In it, players will assist the iconic villain in his quest to rid the universe of Jedi – and face decisions that could change the course of their destiny.”

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (TFU) is one of two games in LucasArts history to get ‘movie-like’ treatment. Lucasfilm released tie-ins in the form of books, comics, music, action figures, and more. While each platform The Force Unleashed is available on has unique features, they all have the same basic story.

Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3: high-definition graphics, Digital Molecular Matter (DMM), Euphoria, Downloadable Content (DLC)
Wii: motion controls, bonus level, multiplayer
PS2: exclusive content, multiplayer
DS / PSP: exclusive content
iPhone: touch screen, accelerometer
Mobile: available on your phone

Our review will focus on the version for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

story-long

One of the best parts of The Force Unleashed is the story. You play as Starkiller, Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, who is tasked with eliminating the last of the Jedi. Accompanying the Secret Apprentice are Imperial pilot Juno Eclipse and the loyal, if slightly strange, droid PROXY. Eventually, Starkiller gets caught up in the Rebel Alliance and must decide whether to stay with the Empire or join the Rebellion. The choice is yours.

The story takes a few unexpected turns, and really keeps you on the edge of your seat. Along the way, you’ll meet many famous characters from the Star Wars saga and witness major galactic events. The story alone makes this game a must-play. Luckily, the gameplay is also good!

gameplay-long

Most of the gameplay in The Force Unleashed is very good, but sadly, there are also a few major flaws. You play the game from a 3rd person perspective, which means the camera is set behind the Secret Apprentice Combat and movement are simple and flow very well. There are six basic abilities: jump, attack, block, Force Grip, Force Push, and Force Lightning. These abilities can be combined to create even better combos. For example Force Grip, Force Lightning, and Force Push can be combined to lift an enemy in the air, shock him with Force Lightning and slam him into a wall, creating a huge explosion of Force energy.

Most of the game consists of running through linear levels and eliminating enemies along the way. Each level concludes with a boss fight. For some people, this could become repetitive, but LucasArts’ new technologies – Digital Molecular Matter (DMM) and Euphoria – keep the gameplay entertaining. DMM, a new technology from Pixelux Entertainment, allows materials in the game to react realistically to your actions. Wood will splinter like real wood, glass will shatter like glass, metal will bend, etc. Euphoria, from NaturalMotion, imbues enemies with realistic movements. They will move realistically, and when you pick them up, they will attempt to grab nearby surfaces or characters in the hopes of ‘saving themselves.’ These two technologies create endless hours of fun.

But The Force Unleashed is not without flaws. While not horrible, the camera could have been a little better. The biggest flaw rears its head during what could have been one of the coolest parts of the game. At one point, you are forced to pull a Star Destroyer out of the sky. While the premise is cool, the controls are horrible. You essentially stand in one place using the thumb sticks to reposition the Star Destroyer until it’s directly facing you. As soon as you start to pull it down, TIE fighters attack and you have to eliminate them before repeating the process. Depending on how good you are with this sequence’s finicky controls, it could take you a long time to complete the task. This is the only ‘bad’ part of the game.

While playing the game, you have to watch your health and Force power. If you use the Force too much in a short period of time, you’ll have to wait a few seconds to let it recharge. Defeating enemies helps restore lost health and also earns you more experience. Collect enough experience, and you can level up new abilities, powers, and moves. Sith Holocrons hidden throughout the game will give you a temporary bonus, such as unlimited Force energy, invincibility, etc.

Personally, I was able to overlook the gameplay flaws and I have a great time.

level-design-long

The level design for TFU is very linear. If you chose to, you could just run through most of the levels… but that would ruin the fun of the game. The many diverse environments look great and have many breakable objects courtesy of DMM. Obviously, the ability to break everything in the level could cause huge problems, but there is enough stuff to destroy that you don’t notice it too much.

graphics-long

The graphics in TFU are very well done. The game was developed entirely in-house at LucasArts and took advantage of a new collaboration with ILM. This allowed ILM to help LucasArts achieve better graphical quality. The lip sync isn’t perfect, but what game is? Personally, I would have liked to see a slightly nicer menu system. The one in the game feels a little ‘old.’ I would have preferred something more like Halo 3 (example) or Call of Duty 4 (example). But, that’s just my opinion. Overall, the graphics are amazing. The best graphics we’ve ever seen in a Star Wars game!

multiplayer-long

Sadly, there is no multiplayer available for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions.

unlockables-long

The Force Unleashed is full of unlockables. Jedi Holocrons, hidden on every level, unlock new lightsaber crystals (colors), give you access to new costumes, or help you advance toward new abilities by giving you extra experience. There are many different lightsaber blades to choose from: the usual colors from the movies, as well as new colors like yellow and black. Each color has three variants: normal, unstable, and compressed. These variants are only for visual effect and do not effect gameplay. Costumes are just different skins for the Secret Apprentice. The game comes with many costumes, but more can be purchased online (see DLC below).

The Xbox 360 version of the game also comes with achievements. The achievements are balanced pretty well. There are some easy achievements, as well as some harder ones. One play through will probably net you about 475 Gamerscore, but with a little effort, you can get all 1,000. For a list of the achievements, click here.

dlc-long

Downloadable Content (DLC) looks like it will be a huge part of the post-launch TFU experience. At the time of this writing, LucasArts has released two character packs and a new level, the Jedi Temple. In the Jedi Temple level, the Secret Apprentice heads to the ruined former home of the Jedi, now under the control of the Empire, to learn more about his father. The costume packs allow you to play as many characters from the game, as well as from the rest of the EU. Sadly, most of the DLC costs a few dollars. For a complete list of all DLC for The Force Unleashed, click here.

the-force-long

My final complaint with The Force Unleashed is the load times. Just opening the menu to choose a lightsaber color takes about 15-30 seconds to load. The menus are just slow. Level load times are slow too, but not quite as bad. Luckily, if you have the free New Xbox Experience on your Xbox 360, you can cut the load times in half! For more details, click here.

The Force Unleashed comes with four difficulty levels: Apprentice, Sith Warrior, Sith Lord, and Sith Master. For casual gamers, Apprentice allows you to play the game and experience the story without too much trouble. For hardcore gamers, Sith Master provides a fun challenge.

To sum it up, here’s a quick rundown of the good, the bad, and the ugly:

  • The Good: Story, DMM/Euphoria, DLC
  • The Bad: Menu load times
  • The Ugly: Star Destroyer sequence

Overall, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is a great game. It has an awesome story, great graphics, fun gameplay, and only a few flaws. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend buying the game. Non-gamers might find it cheaper to just rent it for the weekend in order to experience the story, but with the constant stream of DLC, you might want to buy it anyway. LucasArts did a great job on this fun and entertaining addition to the Star Wars universe!

Review Score: 5.0
5.0/5.0 Kath Hounds

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