You simply can’t avoid the Star Wars phenomenon in modern culture. Even if you’ve managed to shun all the films, you’re well aware of the basic story thanks to a mass of references in various TV shows. And of course the oh-so-hilarious quips from every comedian under the sun with regards to the relationship between R2-D2 and C-3P0.
Like the quality of the films, the games have wandered between both ends of the critical spectrum. We’ve had some crackers over the years, with the LEGO Star Wars titles, and Knights of the Old Republic. And we’ve had some total rubbish. Anyone fancy a game of dodgy PS1 brawler Masters of Teras Kasi?
So with Force Unleashed attempting to bridge the sizable gap between the two film trilogies, which side does it lean towards?
If you want a swift answer, it sits right slap bang in the middle. Not a brilliant addition to the Star Wars name. But equally not as horrifically embarrassing as it certainly could have been.
Set between Episodes III and IV, you play Darth Vader’s secret apprentice. As "Starkiller" Vader tasks you to hunt down and slaughter the last of the remaining Jedi now the Clone Wars have come to their conclusion. The potential to be a cracking romp packed to the brim with over-the-top action, and shows of power from the dark side.
Which it is, but only to a point. When you’re allowed to use all your Force power toys to their maximum, you’ll be flinging enemies across rooms, bringing down AT-STs, and causing merry hell with your swish lightsaber.
But after the first pair of levels – the first of which you play as Darth Vader himself – things go a little downhill. Suddenly the majority of enemies you come across are almost impervious to your Force attacks. Making you feel about as powerful as, well, someone who isn’t apparently the ultimate bad ass that you’re led to believe.
To an extent, it’s a good thing. Playing through the game’s 8 or so hours, simply using your powers in weird and wonderful ways for the entire length could become a little dull when there’s no real challenge.
But when you can’t use your full powers, things go a little downhill. The targeting system, for example, is a bit loose, meaning you’ll frequently find yourself targeting the wrong foe, leaving you with a bit of laser fire taking off an ear. Or in the worst case scenarios when things are really tight, dragging an exploding barrel your way instead of a powerless enemy. Ouch.
As you progress you do attain experience points which allow you to upgrade and learn brand new abilities. Mainly ones that you used having such fun as Vader in the very first level. It adds a touch of basic strategy, giving you the choice of upgrading your overall health, or generating Force energy more swiftly. But that’s the kind of option you expect in just about every action/adventure title these days.
The boss battles are a bit of a highlight. They’ve taken a hint from the fantastic God of War and had each finish with a button sequence to follow to cause ultimate destruction. Thankfully getting to that stage will test every ounce of your Force power and abilities, which can be oodles of fun when the game lets you.
Obviously we’re not going to spoil the story, but it does go some way to explain how we got from episode III to IV. It’s not the best gaming story out there, but it’s certainly told in an impressive manner. The cinematics that frequently pop-up are absolutely top notch and a real treat to watch.
As are the visuals themselves. Force Unleashed is a truly gorgeous title, with fantastic animation, and a real high quality of visual to ogle. It’s slap bang right up there with the very best on the big consoles. Some levels are better looking (and more familiar to fans) than others, but the art design is universally gorgeous.
It’s a shame that the whole 8 hours of gaming wasn’t quite as fun as the first few levels. Yes you can replay with all the powers you’ve earned (and maybe try for the alternate ending too) but that doesn’t stop the initial play through varying hugely in quality.
Star Wars fans will love it no matter what, but for action/adventure fans, you might be better waiting for the price to drop a touch.