Set between Episodes III and IV, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed tells a fantastic tale for fans of the series. The art, dialogue and acting are all top-notch, but because of some glaring technical issues the game itself feels unfinished.
The story begins with Darth Vader tracking down one of the last remaining Jedi Knights on the Wookie planet of Kashyyyk. While on this world Lord Vader comes across the young son of a rogue Jedi Knight and claims him as his own apprentice, whom he dubs Starkiller. Years later, he assigns Starkiller to track down and destroy the remaining Jedi with the help of pilot Juno Valentine and a training and communications droid named PROXY. Read More…
I don’t want to reveal any more of the plot of The Force Unleashed because it is without a doubt the highlight of the title. This is the best story that Star Wars fans have been offered in quite some time and it’s pretty much the only reason I was able to complete the 5-6 hour game.
After a brief training session that introduces players to the basic force powers of push and lift, Starkiller embarks on the first of the nine story missions found in The Force Unleashed. It was at this very early point in the game that the experience started to unravel for me. I’m going to get as many complaints as I can out of the way now.
The Force Unleashed suffers from a myriad of technical issues that undoubtedly arose from a rocky development cycle during turbulent times at LucasArts as well as using a patchwork of several middleware engines to create the title.
I encountered several, major bugs and glitches during my playthrough of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed including, but not limited to: Clipping into Walls, getting perpetually stuck in a jump animation, level goals and checkpoints not triggering and falling through the game into nothingness. Not only did the game crash at least four times on me but once even locked up my Xbox 360, requiring me to actually unplug my console.
How faults like these make it through QA into a retail product is beyond me, but it is certainly clear that this game was pushed out the door in a half finished state to make a set release time. A full three weeks after the release of The Force Unleashed there is still no bugfix patch available, suggesting the game is a “dead product” as far as the development team is concerned. Star Wars fans have had to endure mediocre content for some time and unfortunately this game is no different.
Aside from the technical issues there are a number of design choices that can really detract from the experience as well. This already short title feels even shorter because of an extremely linear progression through the story and there is very little incentive to explore some of the large and elaborate sets found in The Force Unleashed.
An overuse of quick time events (QTEs) like those found in Resident Evil 4 or the God of War series really takes away from the feeling of immense power associated with being a user of the force. Some of the game’s great boss battles come down to nothing more than mashing a face button two or three times. Allowing the player to finish these battles on their own or requiring skilled use of the game’s force powers would have been much more satisfying.
Other times QTEs seem to trigger themselves randomly when fighting larger enemies like an AT-ST walker or a Rancor monster. At these points, QTEs offering a simple kill animation become more of a nuisance than fun. Often I wished I could just finish off an enemy with one or two more swipes of my trusty lightsaber. There is a point towards the end of the game when everything wrong with the QTE system combines into what I will describe as a 10-20 minute hell that completely sucks the fun out of what could have been the coolest video game experience ever for a Star Wars fan.
My last major complaint is about the force power system. While there is some genuine fun to be had from throwing objects and imperial stormtroopers around or pulling a TIE Fighter from the air, very little about this system feels different from abilities found in older PS2/Xbox titles like Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy or Second Sight.
The controls found here are of the standard action game variety. Jumping, melee combat and the oft-used force push and force lightning are all mapped to the Xbox 360 controller’s face buttons. Camera, force lifting and targeting are all mapped to the right analog stick which can cause some issues when trying to select a specific target, especially one at close range.
Despite all of the technical and design issues, The Force Unleashed does do some things right. The art direction in this title is superb from a Star Wars fan’s point of view. Everything from the planets players visit to Cloud City and the iconic corridors of the Death Star truly evokes the art style established for the Star Wars universe more than 30 years ago.
The voice acting is quite a bit better than average as well. Matt Sloan does an excellent job replacing the legendary James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader. Starkiller is voiced and also modeled after actor Samuel Witwer, who also voices Emperor Palpatine. The cast is well rounded, including veteran voice actor Adrienne Wilkinson and Jimmy Smits, who reprises his film role as senator Bail Organa.
The actors were certainly aided by the quality of the dialogue written for The Force Unleashed. Quite frankly as a life long Star Wars fan, I found the writing found here was of better quality than at least two of the feature films in the series as well as the recently released Clone Wars animated film.
The music and sound effects found in The Force Unleashed are of similar, high caliber. Composer Mark Griskey expands on the work established by John Williams and the team at Skywalker Sound has created a fluid, dynamic soundtrack that establishes the mood while feeling comfortably familiar.
Filling in some of the details in the mostly unexplored time between Episode III and Episode IV is a real treat for fans. There are even a few videos downloadable free of charge from Xbox LIVE Marketplace that provide greater insight to the “dark period” in the Star Wars timeline. Unfortunately, even the above average writing, acting, music and art cannot save The Force Unleashed from being a mediocre video game experience.
The basic combat is shallow and even with some upgrades the force powers feel underwhelming at best. Add to this a brief run time and a host of technical issues and you’re left with a game that is very hard to recommend as more than a rental for Star Wars fans. For someone just looking for a decent action game or someone not interested in the source material I’d suggest avoiding this title altogether.
+ Excellent story, dialogue and acting
+ Art direction and music are above average
- Numerous, serious technical issues
- Shallow combat, underwhelming force powers
- Overused, substandard quick time events
Game Forward score: 3/5
Brian J. Papineau > Game Forward
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (X360) Quick Facts:
Genre: Action, Adventure
Release Date: September 16, 2008
Price: $59.99 USD
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)