HIGH Force-throwing and crushing things is a blast.
LOW Camera severely hampers you in several areas, especially in small spaces.
WTF How does a stormtrooper with a stick block a lightsaber?
Calling Star Wars a sapped franchise is a bit of an understatement. The Star Wars cow has been ridden, kicked, prodded, and otherwise abused in just about every manner possible. There has been a Star Wars form of just about every kind of merchandise imaginable (along with a host of other junk that never saw the light of day), including a lot of games. Some have been truly great (X-Wing/Tie Fighter games, Dark Forces series, Knights of The Old Republic) others not so much (Rebellion, Force Commander, Galaxies) so to mention a title among the better Star Wars games is actually attesting to its quality, unlike games based on The Simpsons. Fortunately, The Force Unleashed can be listed among the more palatable titles, because one thing the dark side of the Star Wars merchandise machine often obscures is that Jedi stuff is awesome, and the aim of Force Unleashed is to remind us all of this fact. Sadly, while showing a few flashes of brilliance, it isn’t quite the rejuvenation of the franchise that I was hoping for.
The game centers around combat, touting the ability to throw, crush, fry, and otherwise demolish enemies using the Force, perhaps by unleashing it. Picking up hapless stormtroopers (and Jawas, Wookies, and a lot of other stuff that just begs to be Force thrown) and flinging them off a cliff is indeed a blast, along with being able to use the Force to manipulate just about anything that isn’t bolted down, and some things that are. However, the Jedi experience isn’t perfect: Force throwing with accuracy can be frustrating, as there were many times where I thought I was flinging a box right at a swarm of enemies only to send it off into oblivion. The direction of the throw is determined by the last tilt I made on the analog stick, which led to a lot of wild Force-pitches. A system of Force-grab object->lock onto enemy->throw would have really helped here. Speaking of the target lock, there were also numerous occasions where the auto-targeting system would for some reason think that the box to my left was a greater threat than the big Rodian with a heavy blaster right in front of me. The camera was also a real problem in small spaces; I got stuck against a wall or inside a character all to often. A fixed camera in these areas would have been very helpful.
The physics of the various enemies/objects work well the most part, although they do make for a few awkward moments. For example, enemies will often brush up against some random object (or each other) and simply fall over, eager to become your next ragdoll-riffic plaything. There were a few (extremely amusing) instances where a group of four or five enemies would come rushing towards me only to collide with each other and fall down.
The lightsaber battles are also satisfactory, although most of the more advanced combos aren't all that useful. In some respects it felt like I was playing a fighting game: I could use the many different combos I had learned, but spamming the same move over and over was working just as well, so why bother? God of War-style quicktime events are also implemented here, which work well enough but feel somewhat out of place as they usually made my character perform a flurry of DragonBall Z style moves, which don’t really feel like they fit in Star Wars.
One particularly bothersome aspect is that enemies with normal melee weapons can block the player's lightsaber. Near the beginning of the game I found myself surrounded by three enemies who successfully parried my lightsaber attacks with what looked like….sticks. This pattern continued throughout the game, as I usually had much more trouble with normal melee enemies than ranged attackers. I understand that the game has to be challenging, but stormtroopers with sticks should not be able to stand up to a Jedi.
While the story is certainly passable, it wouldn’t really be anything to sneeze at if it wasn’t part of a game. The Star Wars universe outside of the movies, in my opinion, is at its finest when completely detached from the main storyline. That allows for a much greater amount of creative freedom for the writers in a wonderful universe for such endeavors. That being said, Force Unleashed is the kind of game that doesn’t lean on its narrative too heavily, so while the story isn’t bad, it doesn’t really help or hamper the overall quality of the game. Honestly, the game could be called Darth Vader’s Massive Murderfest and the entire game could center around Vader walking around killing Rebels and other creatures who have a sufficient lack of faith to disturb him. I would gladly play that, because it would be awesome. Then I would eagerly await Darth Vader’s Massive Murderfest Part II: The Ewoks are really starting to annoy him.
In short, I was satisfied with the game, but not overly impressed. The faint thrill of Jedi-dom was indeed there, but in the end it's just another action game in a vast, overflowing ocean of them.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via rental and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 15 hours of play was devoted to complete the game once.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains violence. The Force powers allow the player to throw/crush enemies in a variety of ways, including hurling them off of high cliffs. There is also a battle in which the player blinds one of his opponents with the lightsaber. However, beyond that there really isn't anything here that wasn't in the movies.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: All spoken lines can be read in subtitles, and gameplay is not dependent on audio.