‘Star Wars: The Force Unleashed’ Xbox 360 Review

June 12, 2009 § Leave a comment

Score: 3 out of 5

When it comes down to it, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is a very average third-person brawler with a decent story. It likes to talk big, impress you with epic set-pieces and grand gestures, but, ultimately, it can never fulfil upon its promises or overcome its fundamental flaws.

The story takes place between Episodes III and IV in the Star Wars universe, effectively bridging the gap between the new and old saga. You play as Starkiller, Vader’s newly crowned Sith apprentice. Having killed Starkiller’s parents and left him an orphan, Vader raised the little tyke behind the Emperor’s back with the idea of one day turning against the wrinkled, pasty, hooded goth himself, senor Palpatine, and claiming the Empire for both him and his little protégé.

The gameplay is of a traditional third-person beat ‘em up. You go through a series of levels, kill loads of dudes using your array of lightsaber skills and force powers and complete set objectives along the way – usually involving the killing of more powerful dudes or blowing some shit up, yo. Along the way you can level up your force powers, unlock new combos and attribute bonuses, and upgrade your lightsaber. They’ve injected a kind of RPG-lite element into the gameplay, preventing you from having access to all the powers right away (thanks for that) and implemented a combo system which acts as a multiplier towards gaining experience points.

The graphics in The Force Unleashed, admittedly, are pretty good, but what really hits you when playing this game is the grand sense of scale of the levels. Surely, this is one of the game’s best features as while the levels are very linear they appear a lot larger than might normally be expected. They do feel like worlds in themselves. In fact, the game’s presentation, on the whole, is pretty much excellent. The Force Unleashed presents a story which is not only compelling and intriguing, but which directly ties into the Star Wars universe. Despite some discontinuity with voice actors (Vader and Princess Leia’s vocals are way off compared to their movie counterparts) most of the new characters introduced have some really nice voice work behind them. Further, the dialogue is well written, and they come across as believable human beings – instead of real-life impersonations of CGI mannequins.

Force Unleashed 2

It looks a lot more impressive in motion, trust me.

But, however good the story is, and however awe-inspiring certain parts of the game are, The Force Unleashed is still a fairly shallow, flawed product. It’s the gameplay that’s the problem, and it’s frustrating, repetitive and badly thought out. The controller bindings are okay, for the most part, but they’re still a little awkward. It is fortunate that there are very few platforming sections, too, because the floaty jump motion doesn’t help make the game any more fun. The combo system they have in place is also problematic. To pull off certain moves you have to input a dozen separate button-presses that nobody in their right mind is going to remember. So, what you end up doing is just hammer down the ‘x’ button until the fight is over, throwing a little Force Lightning in there beforehand to soften your targets up.

And then you have Quick Time Events. Why, Lucasarts? Just, why would you do that? They are not fun and are annoying as hell every time the game forces you to do them. They reduce each of the best moments in the game to banality. One of the worst moments – and which goes to illustrate my point – is in the much advertised “bringing down the Star Destroyer” bit you see in the game’s trailers. How they made this event not fun, painful, boring and tedious, I don’t know. Oh, wait, I do: it’s because they made it a Quick Time Event.

If you want to take down a Star Destroyer, press one; for customer services, press two.

If you want to take down a Star Destroyer, press "one"; for all other customer inquiries, please press "two".

You can see why they made some sections of the gameplay only interactive via Quick Time Events. The gameplay simply isn’t sophisticated or straight-up good enough to allow you to pull off these feats normally. The controls just aren’t accurate enough for you to do these things, and this is no more obvious than when you are surrounded by enemies or fighting in a one-on-one duel. In the first instance, trying to get the camera to look-on to an enemy isn’t as quick as it should be, and so you get hit; in the second instance, enemies can sometimes be cheap with their attacks – being able to block your moves while you are unable to block theirs. It doesn’t feel fair, and that’s because it isn’t. Also, while not a major issue, the AI isn’t particularly smart and is a little glitchy; so, you get the impression more and more that it’s not because the game is hard that you are losing, but because it’s not giving you a chance to win.

Not helping all this is that half-way through the game, you have to return to three levels you had previously left. While the level layout may have changed, the art assets being used are identical. When you’ve probably experienced a fair amount of annoyance by this point, this really comes over as lazy and insulting – as if we wouldn’t notice if they used the three same levels twice over but slightly differently.

But, you know what? It’s Star Wars. And, as much as I hate to say it, this makes a difference. Being able to take part in that universe, asphyxiate a stormtrooper, electrocute him and then fling him towards his comrades huddled behind him is priceless. It is fun the first time you do it; it’s still fun the one thousandth time you do it. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is not a good game, but it’s the Star Wars-zy bit that ultimately saves it, for me.

(972 words.)

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