Who among us hasn’t tried to use The Force on occasion? Remote control just out of reach? Use The Force! Hell, if Yoda can make the X-Wing rise you should at least be able to retrieve six ounces of plastic from the far side of the couch. Or maybe use that Jedi mind trick on the cop writing you a speeding ticket? “This is not the jalopy you are looking for, officer. Move along.” Sadly it proves to be much more difficult than the movies would lead us to believe. Fortunately here in the 21st century all things can and will be simulated, which brings us to LucasArts’ latest Star Wars game, The Force Unleashed.
In The Force Unleashed, you take on the roll of Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, a grimy little moppet who goes by the name Starkiller. The story, which takes place between Episodes 3 and 4 of the movies, starts off as pretty standard video game fare with Vader sending you off to smoke some Jedi general, but eventually through a series of twists and turns winds up telling one of the great previously untold tales of the Star Wars universe and should be considered one of the game’s real strengths. Sure it falls victim to some of the usual genre contrivances, but for a video game this is pretty decent stuff, and there’s plenty here for even a casual Star Wars fan to appreciate.
Gameplay-wise, TFU is pretty much as advertised, giving you control of a great number of Force-based abilities with which to torment your enemies and your environment alike. Starkiller lives up to his billing as a “Force wrecking ball”, whether it’s tossing Rodians around like rag dolls, electrifying Imperials with lightning, or impaling Felucians with lightsaber combos, and it can be a great deal of fun running around as a Force-powered bad-mamma-jamma.
There are some disturbances in The Force Unleashed however. There are a great number of objects that you can affect with your powers, which would be really cool except for the mushy targeting system that often times makes it difficult to get exactly what you want when you want it. The first time you pick up and toss a rock instead of a stormtrooper it’s just slightly irksome, but by the tenth time you’ve accidentally toasted a particularly dastardly enemy crate with lightning instead of the jerk blasting you with a heavy repeater it achieves full on Hutt-sized aggravation.
Throw in Starkiller’s annoying tendency to get knocked on his ass with great regularity and you have a game that is unnecessarily burdened by inconveniences to what is otherwise a really fun casual action game. Things only get worse on the game’s harder difficult settings which trade true increased difficulty for just giving every baddie a huge hit point boost along with the firepower to kill you dead in just a couple hits. It does less to make the game challenging than it does to make it dramatically more tedious and diminish the effectiveness, and ultimately the entertainment value, of all of your cool powers.
What you wind up with when all is said and done is a neat little chunk of Star Wars fiction wrapped up in a mediocre action game package. As a casual action game on the lower difficulty settings it actually plays pretty well. Improving your Force powers and using them creatively to dispatch an array of foes is good fun provided a sufficient margin for error. Unfortunately on the higher difficulties when that margin thins out, so does the fun. Stormtroopers with the durability of The Terminator and cheap-shotting bosses who snuff you in two hits are very few people’s idea of a good time. Still The Force Unleashed is worth checking out for its story alone, and who knows it might even be instructional. Doesn’t the remote look just a little closer than it was before? Oh yes, The Force is strong in this one.