It’s been a tough decade for Star wars fans.
Even the most ardent Lucas enthusiast could barely watch the last three films (episodes one-three for the Padawan learners out there), much less support them. The first three films are considered (episodes four-six) gospel, an epic space opera with size and scope unseen prior to Lucas with few reproducing since. Despite how epic the first three films were, recent episodes have pandered to the whimsy of kids and the business of selling toys than reaching for the stars. In fact, it’s that lack of real focus that has hurt the franchise and made fans feel that Lucas was needlessly milking Star Wars rather than expanding on what originally made it great.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed does nothing to change this feeling.
For every good aspect this game presents in helping fans recall the first three films (you know which episodes), there is a negative aspect due to lazy production or haphazard design that drags the game back into the depressive present that the less than stellar sequels have created.
On the light side, the game’s story is truly an engrossing affair. Playing the role of Darth Vader’s apprentice, Star Killer (a more unimaginative name could not have been thought up) and raised by the Dark Lord of the Sith himself, the player is tasked with routing out the Emperor’s foes and finishing them off for the betterment of the Empire. The ultimate goal, however, is to build enough power to eventually overthrow the Emperor and join your master in ruling the galaxy. A very dark-side-of-the-force thing to do, indeed.
As the player goes about the universe doing Vader’s bidding, Star Killer grows in power and strength. As well as gaining new force abilities such as lightening and telekinesis with every completed level, the gamer can customize Star Killer, allocating points to defensive and aggressive stats. Star Killer is a believable protagonist and the struggle with his loyalties make for an entertaining storyline. It helps that the plot is also firmly grounded in the Star Wars universe, establishing the game story as canon.
On the dark side, the story is, unfortunately, the only reason to play this game. There are few moments where Star Killer, turning away from the dark side of the force, even feels like a true Jedi. As you level and open up additional skills, the enemies seem to do the same. It’s disheartening to allocate points to offensive abilities only to have peon storm troopers, your quintessential Star Wars fodder, defeat the character. The game suffers from a poor targeting mechanic, which can be crippling in later levels and the camera seems determined to select the worst possible angle of action. Worse still, boss fights with various Jedi are mundane and can be powered through with button-mashing tactics. Dark Vader, Sith Lord and Master, stood no chance against my “virtuoso” ability to press the X-button, over and over again.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is incredibly frustrating. It is rare to see a game get so much right only to trip in execution. In a later stage, Star Killer is tasked with pulling a Star Destroyer out of orbit and into a planet (the viability of this feat I leave to Star Wars gurus more knowledgeable than myself). While doing so, Star Killer must also contend with tie fighters. While a lone Jedi pulling down a star cruiser is questionable, it is a cool idea. Unfortunately, the scene is terribly marred in execution as it forces the player to switch back and forth between battling tie fighters and pulling back on the thumb sticks and waiting.
Cool concept, nice ideas, failed execution. Lucas’ losing streak in this galaxy continues.