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From what the internet tells me, The Force Unleashed was discarded from the Star Wars canon after Disney acquired Lucasfilm and it was reassigned as part of the Legends non-canonical stories. The only reason I’m even bringing this up is because this game was part of The Force Unleashed multimedia project which attempted to bridge the first two Star Wars trilogies and is supposed to be an origin story for both the Rebel Alliance and Galactic Civil War. So it seems significant. Developed and published by LucasArts, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was released for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in September, 2008. It was also released for a bunch of other systems including PC, released in 2009, which is the version I played for this review. And these other versions were worked on by different developers. If you do decide to play the PC version, specifically the Steam version, I would recommend you consult the game’s PCGamingWiki page. It does include instructions on activating cloth simulation which is disabled by default for some reason and apparently some levels are missing sounds. The page will direct you to where to download the missing sounds and includes instructions on how to install them. The PC version, or at least the Steam and GoG versions, were dubbed as the Ultimate Sith Edition which includes all previously released downloadable content.
Set after the events of Revenge of the Sith, Darth Vader leads a search for a Jedi survivor on the planet Kashyyyk. He finds and kills him and takes his son, Galen, and raises him to be his apprentice. Galen is given the alias “Starkiller” and the plot centers on him and his quest to eliminate the remaining Jedi survivors as a final test to prepare him for assassinating the Emperor so he and Vader can rule the galaxy together. There are several elements in the story that feel like outright nods to the films and the DLC levels Hoth and Tatooine are simply alternate depictions of certain events from A New Hope and The Empire Strikes back. Overall, it’s a decent tale and there are multiple endings. One thing I didn’t care for is the abrupt ending of certain cut scenes. There’s no seamless transition from cut scene to gameplay or vice versa or fade or anything. It’s just very abrupt. I can’t say it ever caused a problem but it did catch me off guard a few times.
For some reason, I went into this game thinking I would have to make choices that would determine if I aligned with the Jedi or Sith kind of like Knights of the Old Republic but it’s not like that minus one choice you have to make at end of the game. I was a little disappointed because I think it would have been cool if the developers wrote it that way, allowing the player to use powers and abilities based on the choices they make. I was thinking I would play through it twice. One time leaning as a Jedi and the second leaning towards Sith, with different powers for each or some kind of combination. But, no, it’s not like that at all.
The Force Unleashed is an action game. It’s like a hack and slash game but in the Star Wars universe. The story plays out in missions or levels and you earn force points for defeating enemies and completing bonus objectives. When you earn enough points or experience, you level up and are rewarded with spheres that can be spent on Force Upgrades. You can unlock new moves and improve your force powers and talents. The force powers are cool and are the real highlight of the game and there is a Training Room mode where you can complete training exercises and practice using your powers. You can use the force to push and throw objects and enemies around, destroy things, and unleash lightning. The game does showcase some neat physics and it can be fun jumping around throwing your lightsaber and experimenting with different combos and powers.
The biggest problem with The Force Unleashed is that, no matter how powerful you become, you never feel overpowered. It’s fine from a gameplay or game design perspective but in the Star Wars universe, it doesn’t always make sense. To put it simply, a trained Jedi or Sith is basically a powerful wizard with a laser sword. That’s a very basic description but it should give those that don’t know shit about the franchise a basic idea of what they are. That said, a trained Jedi or Sith typically has no problem defeating the average Rebels, Militia, Stormtroopers, Droids, etc. in any kind of combat situation. In The Force Unleashed, Starkiller can defeat lower-tier enemies fairly easily but it doesn’t matter how powerful he becomes, many enemies always seem to be on a level playing field because they can tank damage or block your lightsaber strikes or force powers. Much of the challenge comes from being outnumbered and overwhelmed. What really gets me is that he can use the force to pull a Star Destroyer down from the sky at one point, but throwing around an AT-ST is just not possible.
Starkiller is equipped with a Lightsaber and can perform a variety of moves. One thing I think is cool is that when he’s being shot at, he’ll swing it around automatically and it will deflect the lasers. It’s a nice little detail. Pulling off some combos in this game will require practice and I found the more complicated combos not worth pulling off. I sometimes found it hard to get a chain or flow going because many times, my moves would be interrupted by attacks so I found it best to simply pull off the basic moves and combos and then run, jump, block, and/or dash around to avoid attacks. Then I would either go in for another combo or use a force power. With how many enemies are often around, it’s not always easy to pull off a lengthy combo.
The Force Unleashed can be challenging but also frustrating. There are multiple difficulty modes and I played through the campaign on Sith Warrior which I equate to Normal. I did struggle getting passed some encounters but not all my deaths were simply because I suck. For one thing, the auto-targeting or lock-on mechanic blows. You look in a direction, and if you’re close enough to an enemy or object in the environment, a target will appear on whatever it is. There’s also a target or lock-on button and with all the enemies and objects around, it’s not always easy to target what you want and this can really suck if you’re trying to target a sniper for a lightsaber throw. The camera isn’t always the greatest, either. Most of the time you’re outnumbered and I often had to manually move the camera around so I could see incoming enemies and attacks as I’m simultaneously trying to fight and avoid attacks. You know what else sucks? All the quick time events. They pop up during boss battles and for certain enemies. You’ll also enter lightsaber and force locks from time to time. These require you to mash a button or a complete a minigame to overpower your foe.
When using the Force Grip power, Starkiller can’t move and trying to target an enemy or group of enemies for a throw can be a pain in the ass. Certain attacks can cause you to drop whatever you’re gripping so you don’t always have a lot of time to manipulate an object and get it into position for a throw. With enough practice, you can quickly throw things around but you can’t do it while moving so you just need to be quick. For many encounters, especially later in the game, it’s wise to keep moving and Force Grip is not always ideal for these situations despite it being one of the more useful powers to use against certain enemies.
The Lightning Shield can boost your lightsaber attacks and can reduce some of the damage you take. You can use the Force Repulse power to send nearby enemies around you flying back which can often be helpful if you get surrounded. Some attacks will knock you down and enemies can still attack you when you’re on the ground. One thing I wish I knew sooner is that you can recover in the air. This can be done by tapping or mashing a button at the right time. I had no idea it was possible until I was at the end of the game and watched a video of someone doing it. Anyway, towards the end of the game I would repeatedly get knocked down and sometimes right after getting up and that shit becomes annoying because you feel like you can’t move. And if you get stuck in the environment or behind objects, that doesn’t help matters. Enemies are shooting at you, projectiles are homing in on you, explosions knock you down, and then comes a bunch of foes with shields that protect them from some of your powers or baddies that can block your lightsaber strikes and can also knock you down. It can be very easy to get overwhelmed. I found the Lightning power to be the most useful power in the game because it not only does damage but also stuns foes, making them vulnerable to attack.
Enemies like the AT-ST and Rancor can utilize area of effect attacks. They’ll stomp on the ground which not only knocks you down if you’re on the ground near them but also inflicts a decent amount of damage. The Rancor also has this sweep attack so getting near bigger enemies like these is usually never a good idea. I found performing hit and runs to be rather effective. Your lightning power can be very effective on the big types as is using lightsaber throw or force grip to throw things at them, that is if you’re not attacked before you can throw the item. Lower-tier enemies can easily be dispatched with only a few strikes or basic combos with your lightsaber. Performing longer combos is great against enemies that can tank a lot of damage but as I mentioned earlier, I often found it hard to get a flow going mainly because the enemies can and will interrupt your attacks. Even if you stun them with lightning first, they can recover quickly and fuck your shit up or another enemy nearby will interrupt you.
Using Force powers consumes energy which does replenish automatically. How much energy you have and how fast it replenishes will depend on what talents you spend your spheres on. Health is replenished by defeating enemies and you would think with all the enemies running around that running low on health would rarely be a problem. But when you’ve got projectiles and lasers flying at you, AT-ST’s or Rancor’s stomping towards you, and snipers aiming at you – you can die fairly quickly if you’re not careful. Scattered throughout the levels are Sith and Jedi Holocrons. Most Sith Holocrons grant you temporary bonuses like invincibility, unlimited energy, and increased damage. Some simply restore your health. Jedi Holocrons are more like collectibles and can reward you with points, spheres, and lightsaber crystals. Color crystals allow you to change the color of your lightsaber and power crystals grant you additional benefits like increased damage or the chance to syphon health from enemies, among some other things. Not only can you customize your Lightsaber but also change Starkiller’s appearance. There’s a shit-ton of costumes or skins you can unlock and select from and a lot of them are characters from the films.
The levels are linear with some branching rooms and areas. The story takes you through a bunch of different environments like a TIE Fighter Factory, Cloud City, Felucia, Raxus Prime, Kashyyyk, and the Death Star. The Jedi Temple DLC level grants you a lot of upgrades from the get-go and gives you some spheres to distribute and you start maxed out in the other DLC levels; Hoth and Tatooine. Most levels play out the same. Fight your way through a bunch of baddies until you reach a boss and be on the lookout for Holocrons which is your only incentive to explore. There is some platforming here and there and hazards to avoid but most levels are straightforward action romps from beginning to end. Needless to say, after a while the gameplay can feel repetitive.
One thing the game nails is the Star Wars look and sound. From the environments to the John Williams scores, from the character designs to the sounds of the blasters, it all looks and sounds great for the most part. The art style is a good reflection of the franchise. Pop-in is often noticeable and the visuals are definitely showing their age but the presentation doesn’t look terrible by any means. In terms of audio, it definitely sounds like Star Wars. In fact, the soundtrack is probably one of the best parts of the game. On the technical side, the frame rate is capped at thirty. The game’s PCGamingWiki page does include a link to a fix that can increase the frame rate but it can come with issues which is why I didn’t apply it. As mentioned earlier, there are some missing sounds in certain levels for some reason. Also, the game crashed on me once.
I do think The Force Unleashed is a fun game, but as a Star Wars title, I’m conflicted. From a gameplay perspective, it has problems but experimenting with combos and powers can be a lot of fun and the challenge ramps up nicely as you progress, even if things can get a little frustrating. On the other hand, I feel like The Force Unleashed should have awakened the Star Wars kid inside of me. The kid that used run around the house or outside with a toy lightsaber or stick and swing it around pretending to be a Jedi. I feel like this game should have fulfilled that fantasy but it doesn’t. I just never felt like Starkiller’s power grows to awesome levels. In fact, some of the upgrades feel trivial. The Star Wars novelty kind of wears off pretty early on which only exposes the repetitive and sometimes frustrating action. It’s a shame because the Force powers are cool but they’re just not enough to carry the experience or make up for the game’s other shortcomings. Power is what this game should be all about as far as I’m concerned. And outside of the prologue level which lets you play as Vader, I never once felt like a super powerful Sith.
I would recommend The Force Unleashed if you can find a cheap copy because despite it’s problems it is a decent action game. It’s fun cutting through enemies with a lightsaber and using the force powers on offer to destroy them. Unfortunately, the game never reaches its full potential and is marred by some poor design choices. There are better action games out there but if you find a cheap copy and are a Star Wars fan, it’s definitely worth checking out.