September 25, 2008

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Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
(PS3/360/Wii)
LucasArts, Sept. 16, T
By Glenn "Jedi Holocron" Given production@hippopress.com

While The Force Unleashed’s protagonist Starkiller and I share many traits (hair style, wide array of violent force abilities, way with the ladies, etc.) When I pull a Star Destroyer out of the sky and smash it into a bustling metropolis, it’s never as frustrating as depicted in this latest Star Wars foray.

Let’s get this out of the way. The Force Unleashed is better than the three prequels, story-wise (yes, I know that is faint praise). The tale of a Jedi orphan raised by Darth Vader as his secret apprentice (which I suppose is like being secret boyfriend and girlfriend in elementary school or something) and sent out to hunt down stray surviving Jedi is actually pretty interesting. In short order we have more facets to Darth Vader’s motives than we got in nine hours of drunken Lucas idiocy. Don’t tell Emporer Wrinkle-puss but apparently DV wants to overthrow him and is molding the player to assist him. In between killing glow-in-the-dark Rancor beasts and fighting old Jedi who’ve gone a bit nutty, Starkiller is sowing the seeds of rebellion (THE Rebellion) and saving Jimmy Smits.

That’s the good — oh, also, blowing the poop out of everything with force explosions and whipping stormtroopers about with the Havok/Euphoria/DMM physics is great.

The bad is pretty much everything else. Targeting and camera-control are more than your normal third-person mess as lock-on is based of Starkiller’s orientation rather than the camera in defiance of every other 3-D brawler. The combo system is a tad redundant as jamming the slash button (which I suppose makes the other button the hack button) mixed up with a few bolts of force push is perfectly serviceable throughout the game. Sure I could chain a series of attacks together and imbue my lightsaber with lightning attacks, but why? Most enemies are dead after the first few slashes anyway. The lackadasical combat is worsened by the liberal sprinkling of quick time events into the fights. I mean why enable balletic combat akin to the wire-fu space swordsmanship of the movies when we can just have a whack-a-mole timing game to do it for you? For future reference, developers, playing Simon annoys the crap out of me.

If you want to add player-initiated cinematic moments of flair to a fight, just slave it to the triangle button like Kingdom Hearts did. Most of these annoyances swat your giddy-with-Force-power puppy nose in the game’s varyingly frustrating boss battles. While cool in concept, many, especially the trailer-hyped Star Destroyer showdown, are needlessly frustrating or glitchy. In contrast, the pre-boss levels are universally milquetoast on any but the highest difficulty. Forgivable, you say, given the growth of the player’s force abilities over time, but, and here is the key, the first and last levels are equally hard. The Force Unleashed walks the middle of the road like a career politician, afraid of challenging players like a Ninja Gaiden would and refusing to allow the player to simply toggle god mode with the square button. I’m sure that somewhere in the study of game design somebody said that enemies should present a challenge equal to the capability of the protagonist. Fair enough, but that’s boring. Either make them better than me but with some exploitable twist or let me slaughter wave after wave of them with my lightning bolts. Fans of the universe should really go grab a copy just to fill in the RoTS to New Hope story gap alone, and God of War clone fanatics will blindly enjoy the button mash. But frankly, The Force Unleashed is not a buy; it is a fun, awkward glitchy ramble that earns the unforeseen “George Lucas was associated with a good story” recommendation. C+ — GG