It's no secret that over the past few years the Star Wars franchise has been somewhat of a joke. Three movies that the fans didn't really appreciate, plus a whole lot of mediocre games have meant that slapping Star Wars on a game box no longer ensures a large amount of sales. Lucasarts have somewhat recognised this and, with The Force Unleashed, gone back to the drawing board. They have realized what people like about the Star Wars franchise games including force usage and have produced a fairly impressive third person action game.
The story fits in between Episodes III and IV of the Star Wars Saga (or in other words between the 1970s movies and the recent ones). Anakin has become Vader and the fate of the universe is undecided with the Empire building its forces without much resistance. We don't feel it's much of a spoiler to mention that the first mission is played as Vader and concludes with Vader kidnapping a Jedi child. Fast forward fifteen or so years and we take control of that child having been trained in the dark side. The story has many twists and turns but does have a very predictable conclusion.
A good way to describe The Force Unleashed and its gameplay is Star Wars: Tomb Raider edition. Played from a third person perspective, at the crux of the game you run from point A to point B, killing enemies, solving puzzles and generally being a total bad ass. You begin with only limited force powers but these increase throughout. Also, there is a small element of RPG mechanics with force points earned allowing you to improve either force powers or character traits such as the health limit of the main character.
There are a few missed opportunities with this title. First of all control is performed with the buttons rather than the analogue stick. There is no doubt that the light saber combat is one of the strengths of the game but directing the action with the sticks would have been better. As well as this, the gameplay does not really change throughout with the game having a fairly old school level design mechanic where you complete a level, take on a boss character and then move on.
However the game does excel where it matters most with the force powers really giving a strong sense of the Star Wars universe and allowing players to utilise the environment. Many objects in the environment are destructible and the euphoria physics come to the fore here with glass shattering in many different ways depending on how the object is thrown. It is also nigh on impossible to get stuck. There are times that you may get stuck as we did but chances are you are over thinking the puzzle. Many times we felt a puzzle had a very complex solution, only to find it was ten times easier.
The combat is also enjoyable although after a while it can feel like a hack and slash. The force powers mix this up somewhat and do add some variety to the gameplay but if you don't like the first level, you won't find much to enjoy in this game. There are some truly incredible moments though during combat with enemy characters throwing objects such as Tie Fighters towards you. As you progress though the game you become more and more in tune with the force and can lift larger objects. The only real downside on the combat is the poor camera employed during the one on one saber fights.
As mentioned before the level design has its good and bad features. It is fairly linear which allows easy progression and the mini map generally always points you in the right direction. There is also a wide variety of environments the action takes place. The environments are also interesting with locations such as a desert planet, fluro mushroom world and tie fighter factory just to name a few. By the time the story concludes you will have also visited the under construction Deathstar which makes up just one element of the pure fan service elements included in the game. The visuals are also well done with the game very much giving a next-generation feel and the voice acting and cinematics are of a quality you would expect from the Star Wars universe.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is no doubt one of the better game releases from that universe over the past few years and really takes what is cool about that franchise and amplifies it in the game. While there are many things to like about the game, the repetitive nature of the action, linear levels and old school level design keep it from being a must have, but it is clearly one of the better diversions until something better comes along. We hope for a sequel so that the team can really produce the next AAA Star Wars game.