Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Force Unleashed - Review

It somehow always feels like a long time since we've had a good Star Wars game, though looking back always seems to tell me otherwise. I have fond memories of plenty of titles, from Shadows of the Empire to Rogue Squadron to Dark Forces, and way back to Empire Strikes Back on the Atari. The Star Wars series has never slacked off, yet each entry seems to hold the promise of being "the" definitive great Star Wars game. And most are, for their time.

This game is the story of Darth Vader's secret apprentice. You complete missions for the Dark Lord, and take part in the history of the rebellion against the empire. The story is pure Star Wars, from characters to locations it has the feel of the classic trilogy, standing out against much of the nonsense that passes as Star Wars of late. As a Star Wars fan there is much to love.

The Force is a powerful ally to any up and coming Dark Lord and is brought to the forefront in this game, though the real star of this show is the environment itself. Many objects react realistically, metal bends and twists to your characters dark will, TIE's are plucked out of the air mid flight and destroyed, characters desperately grab at railings and each other before getting sucked into vacuum as you blast the contents of a room through a window. Though it may bind us all together, here The Force can wondrously tear everything apart.

What holds this title back is when the developers forget about the interesting systems they've put into place to make this game so special. The thrilling opening levels make way for a fairly run of the mill selection later on. One disappointing boss fight takes place in a pit with giant, sharp looking bones and debris lying all around. You can't manipulate any of these items and many of your moves don't hurt the boss at all. The whole fight plays out counter-intuitively to what you may have come to expect, and later environments in general feel lacking in the interactive elements that sell this game so well at the outset.

Basic enemies continually gain new armor and weapons that counter your specific powers, effectively negating your progress against them. The more skills you learn, the less you can use against any given foe. Combat reduces to button mashing a series of vaguely similar combos, avoiding relentless enemy fire that can get you stuck in the occasional fall-down loop, resulting in awkward player deaths. These gameplay inconsistencies and recurring bugs and control issues are glaring against the detailed production value and technology behind the rest of the game.

I don't recall Luke Skywalker ever having to fight force-resistant-armor wearing laser sniper stormtroopers, and it shows a lack of imagination in the later encounters by simply stacking the deck against the player in every way possible. It often closes you out where you should feel the game opening up.

Through its problems The Force Unleashed does occasionally deliver on its premise and should still be worth a look for series fans and less discerning action gamers, it's proud early moments of conceptual originality and overall artistic polish manage to keep this game from being a complete missed opportunity.