Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
For: Wii, Xbox 360
Genre: Action, Hack 'n' Slash, Sci-fi, Tie-in
ESRB Rating: Teen (13+)
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.... the iconic words (with bad punctuation) flash across the screen in the opening cinematic of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed like bait for your breath.
Star Wars games have had a long history of sporadic quality, and this latest iteration has the decency to come out swinging, right from the get-go. Then it keeps on swinging. And swinging. And swinging. See where this is going?
In the game's playable prologue, Darth Vader stumbles across a pint-sized force master (who isn't Yoda) on the Wookie planet Kashyyyk (gesundheit). After killing the child's father, Vader trains the kid as his apprentice, "Starkiller."
Coming of age, Starkiller undertakes the missions of his master, and the story twists and turns and warbles a bit as it follows the characters through a series of galaxy-changing events.
The main cast isn't overly interesting -- aren't we done with the whole angst-addled anti-hero thing yet? -- but the supporting cast is a fanboy's wet dream of Star Wars characters on a birthday guest list.
Surprisingly, the narrative fleshes out the birth of the rebellion as it came to be known in Episode IV: A New Hope rather nicely, including some insight into the rebel's unwavering faith in the all-powerful Force.
Appropriately enough, the mysterious Force (ignoring stupid magic bacteria hokum) is by far the most prominent element in the game. A number of Force power cornerstones like Force lightning, grip and push, are used liberally by the Apprentice sith. Dude's got it going on.
Force-shoving is the standout power thanks to the game's deliberate design of Storm Trooper-torture physics. Sadly, the novelty of it all, while always good for a chuckle, wears thin rather quickly.
In fact, that can be said of the whole game; the fun factor decreases as you play. It holds the promise of wide-open, sandbox-style feats of the Force, but gameplay devolves into your standard hack-'n'-slash with a sprinkling of side-show Force tricks on top.
It does illustrate exactly how powerful how exciting the Force could be thanks to a number of canned animations executed via timed-button presses (a la God of War et al), or quick-timed events. But while the animations are gorgeous to gaze, you get tired of watching the fun you'd like to be having.
Then again, even at the lowest difficulty setting, pulling off even basic Force power tricks can be annoying as controls are downright unruly -- especially in the Wii version with the patented Wii-mote waggle working almost counter-intuitively. In fact, one of the game's marquee moments involves a mano-a-Star Destroyer smackdown, but it's ruined by the difficulty of the game's Force throwing mechanic. If you can put up with it, mind you, the eventual cinematic conclusion is pretty fantastic.
Still, add a frustratingly bad camera, too many jumping puzzles, and mostly-boring enemies, and your enthusiasm for The Force Unleashed will flatline faster than ship with a damaged hyperdrive motivator.
Star Wars has a long videogame pedigree with quality that has long ping ponged across a bell curve with the puerile stupidity of Jar Jar Binks at one end to the pinnacle of the rogue-cool Han Solo at the other. The Force Unleashed weighs in somewhere around Luke Skywalker - earnest and likeable but a tad too predictable and pubescent to rank up there with the scruffy lookin' nerf herder.