Back before the house of mouse took control of the Force, LucasArts wanted to tell a new Star Wars story, the story to fill the gap between the two movie trilogies. Their vision was immense, partnering with Dark Horse comics, Hasbro, LEGO and Del Rey Books, this would be a multi-platform event with the main launching release being a video game, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Also Available On: PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360, iOS, mobile phone, N-Gage, Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X
Release Date: September 2008
The game was released in 2008 and told the story of Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, codenamed Starkiller. Set after the events of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith, Vader is sent to hunt down the remaining Jedi taking refuge on the Wookie home planet. During the carnage, he discovers a young boy with a strong connection to the Force and spares his life, taking him as his apprentice.
Trained in the ways of the Force, Starkiller grows up to become Vader’s perfect weapon for defeating the Emperor and taking control of the galaxy himself. Unfortunately, all does not go to plan when the Emperor learns of Starkiller’s existence and orders Vader to kill him. Hurling his apprentice into space to appease his master, Vader secretly sends droids to revive Starkiller with the goal of fostering a rebellion against the Empire so that Vader can make his move.
With a new found loyalty for the Jedi, Starkiller joins forces with a motley crew of survivors with the ultimate goal of returning to take vengeance on his former master and the Emperor.
The Star Wars: The Force Unleashed story is more than just the narrative to lead a video game, it was the chance George Lucas wanted to tie up the loose ends, string the two trilogies together and tell the story of how the rebellion came to be and it is a fantastic achievement from the perspective alone – the ironic twist being that Darth Vader was, in fact, responsible for the creation of the rebellion which ultimately destroyed him.
The story is what keeps you entrenched in the game, it isn’t just emotionally evocative and engaging, but a vital missing piece of the Star Wars puzzle which hardcore fans have been screaming for. Over the last few years, the storytelling in a game has become just as vital to its success as the gameplay. Take The Last Of Us as an example, without such an engaging story it never would have reached the heights it did, The Force Unleashed did this back in 2008.
Interestingly, it is the interactive gameplay that lets down the video game.
To say this game is not fun to play would be a lie, as a Star Wars fan there is nothing more exhilarating than taking control of a Jedi and going full Force on every bad guy in sight – especially when the character is as powerful as Starkiller.
The mission environments are fantastic, each taking some influence from the Star Wars movies and all looking unbelievable stunning. The games development was benefitted significantly by the involvement of Industrial Light and Magic, who were heavily involved in the art direction and graphical design of the game. One of the highlights of the story campaign is a mission set on the Death Star, which not only provides a fantastic battle arena but also gives the Star Wars fan playing the game the chance to explore one of the universe’s most iconic sci-fi creations. The attention to detail is incredible and provides a much more engaging experience thanks to the large array of source material to draw from.
As you progress through the game, you unlock a number of Force upgrades, this is the game’s way of leveling up. The abilities on offer are fairly extensive and can definitely vary the gameplay considerably. The main three powers that you’re likely to use the most are Force Push, very handy for knocking a bad guy or two off the edge of a platform to their doom, Force Lightning, because who doesn’t want the power of the dark side, and Force Grip, to grab those enemies from afar and toss them into the abyss.
Where the gameplay is at its strongest is in the combos, the way you can string together force powers and lightsaber attacks is nothing short of pure ecstasy and thanks to the Digital Molecular Matter system there are plenty of ways to interact with the environments as well. The DMM itself is a remarkable achievement in this game, designed so that objects react in the way they would in the real-world and it adds some much to the experience, especially when you’re up against other force-powered foes.
Unfortunately, the gameplay is considerably hindered by a poor targeting system as you find unleashing the force (see what I did there) on a particular foe can be incredibly frustrating. The system is unpredictable, sometimes working perfectly with a flick of the trigger, and at others it is almost impossible to do a force grab, made more difficult by the control layout which requires dual thumbstick controls to direct the force, sometimes you need luck on your side to pull off your objective.
Prior to the game’s release, a lot of attention was given to its use of Euphoria, the advanced AI system. In many ways, this adds a level of detail much needed when grabbing bad guys and flinging them to their death over and over again – which I’m not going to lie, is incredibly fun. Watching the Stormtroopers struggle, call for help or run away after seeing what you’ve just done to their comrades brings in realism which only makes the experience more engaging. The developers, however, seem to have taken the technology a little too far in places with the Emperor’s elite guard tripping over wreckage, or Stormtroopers hiding away behind containers in the heat of battle, this sadly has the opposite effect, instead creating comical moments in the middle of dramatic action.
Graphically, this game was impressive in its day. As I’ve already mentioned, ILM were heavily involved in the art direction of The Force Unleashed and it shows in every pixel of the game. From the cut-scenes to the large landscapes of the mission levels, there is so much of the Star Wars movie universe in here recreated in amazing detail, it is very difficult to find a flaw here. Similarly, along with a stellar soundtrack, well it is a Star Wars game after all, the voice acting is up there with some of the best of the day. High among the talent is Sam Witwer, who nails the ethos of the Secret Apprentice perfectly.
Overall, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed feels more like an interactive movie with some hack and slash thrown in than a fully fledged gaming experience in its own right.
A lot of work went into the look and feel of the game in order to deliver a fantastic new Star Wars story, but ultimately the gameplay suffered as a result. Despite being an incredibly fun gaming experience with a number of great innovations at its core, the gameplay is hindered considerably by a number of flaws which turn an otherwise enjoyable game into a session of frustration and anger.
Despite its faults, though, this is definitely a game for Star Wars fans and a lot of love and attention has gone into recreating some of the most iconic aspects of the franchise universe. The gameplay can be fun, but ultimately it is the story that will sell this for many. Sadly, Disney has since come out and said that the extended universe outside of the main saga is no longer cannon so it seems that Starkiller’s story has been wiped from the Star Wars history, bad form Mickey.