Monday, September 16, 2013

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed review

    Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is, with the exception of the Knights of the Old Republic games, the best video game adaptation of the Star Wars universe. Yes, even beating TIE Fighter. It manages to tell a coherent three-act story, hit all of the right dramatic beats, and is fun to play. You can't really ask more from a game and I've got to say that it's a steal at its current price of $20 on Xbox Live. Those who buy it used will get it for even less, allowing more money to be spent on its extensive DLC.

The opening section of the game has you play Darth Vader on a Jedi Hunt. This is an immensely fun experience but only the beginning.
    The premise of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is you are the secret apprentice of Darth Vader. The game never calls you a Sith Lord, a curious omission, but that's more or less implicit. Darth Vader has informed his apprentice, codenamed: Starkiller, they'll overthrow the Emperor soon. To prove he's ready, however, Starkiller must hunt down and destroy  the remaining Jedi Knights of the galaxy. The game doesn't have you solely on the side of evil but it's interesting to see Starkiller match himself up against the surviving legacy of the Jedi.

    What makes The Force Unleashed fun is the sense of power it gives you. Starkiller is a Sith Lord so he has no hesitation in slaughtering hordes of enemies with the Force. You can use Force Lightning, throw rocks into TIE Fighters, and hurl enemy soldiers off cliffs with impunity. Really, it's a testament to how well-designed this game is that using your lightsaber is actually the least fun way of dispatching an enemy. I mean, getting a lightsaber was my favorite parts in Knights of the Old Republic, so making it more fun is amazing.

Luke Skywalker never got to electrocute a dozen Stormtroopers before dissecting them with his lightsaber. Admittedly, that was for good reason.
    Starkiller's story arc is affecting, chronicling the death of his Jedi father through his early missions to his slow realization that (*shock*) Darth Vader doesn't have his best interests at heart. I won't spoil the ending but it completes the main character's arc in a profoundly satisfying way. It also fills in the blanks as to how everything got into place for A New Hope. I always felt the Prequels not describing the creation of the Rebellion, outside of deleted scenes, to be one of its greatest failings.

    Darth Vader's treatment in the game is also something I have to give my approval for. Too often, the Dark Lord of the Sith gets ignored in the Star Wars Expanded Universe or treated as a second-rate patsy to Palpatine. Given Darth Vader was the embodiment of evil for a lot of thirty-somethings' childhoods, this is a crying shame. In The Force Unleashed, we get a sense of his plotting against the Emperor and the immense power he wields. How powerful is Darth Vader before the Pre-ANH period? Hunting down the remaining Jedi isn't worth his time.

Yes, I'm torturing a Rancor with Force Lightning. Bad-ass.
    The supporting cast is great too. The last time I really enjoyed the entirety of a Star Wars video game's side characters was Knights of the Old Republic 1 and Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight before it. Too often, the casts in these games are either annoying or you have one really good character and a lot of bad ones. It's one of the major flaws of The Old Republic that the adventuring parties have good and bad members rather than a bunch of consistently good ones.

    Juno Eclipse, PROXY,  and General Rahm Kota are fun additions to the franchise and all have interesting relationships with Starkiller. Sadly, I think the romance between Juno Eclipse and Starkiller doesn't have enough room to breathe. They barely interact before things start getting romantic and that's a serious flaw in the narrative. The presence of Darth Vader and several other important movie characters carries the narrative over these rough patches. I will say Vader and Leia's voice actors didn't sound like their movie selves, which can be a disconcerting. It's a small flaw, however.

     Star Wars Expanded Universe fanboys, like myself, might be hesitant about the extensive canon-changing elements to Starkiller's story. The game makes it clear Starkiller is one of the most important heroes in the franchise and this may bother some people. I, for one, was entirely okay with it. I was also okay with the over-the-top level of Starkiller's abilities. After all, the ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

    The gameplay of The Force Unleashed is fast, enjoyable, and never gets too repative. If you got bored of the myriad ways you could kill Stormtroopers, which is nearly impossible, there was always a different type of enemy to amuse you. Save points were frequent and the game was never not-fun. For this, it deserves the highest score I can give it.


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