A Forgettable Force
HIGH It nails the power fantasy of being a Jedi or Sith.
LOW Button prompts for every single boss battle.
WTF Erm… it seems that Starkiller is the most powerful force user ever?
I have a love/hate relationship with Star Wars.
I have no issues with A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back being lauded as great films, but for such a popular and well-regarded series, there’s a large percentage of bad-to-average entries. I also feel the obsessive fandom has led to toxicity like what we saw with The Last Jedi when it actually dared to do something different with the franchise.
Despite this, I’ve often thought that Star Wars is great material for videogame adaptations — the films are audio/visual spectacles, different aspects can be lent to a variety of genres, and sometimes games can go in interesting directions that the films are too stale and safe to explore. However, The Force Unleashed is not a title that takes advantage of these angles.
The Force Unleashed was originally released in 2008, with the current Switch port developed by Aspyr. Set between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, The Force Unleashed tells the (at the time, this was canonical) tale of Starkiller, a secret apprentice of Darth Vader tasked with finding and killing the last remaining Jedi.
To be fair, the adventure opens in a strong way, and it doubles as one of the best tutorials I’ve ever experienced — basically, we’re introduced to third-person realtime mechanics such as various force powers and lightsaber abilities by taking control of Darth Vader as he slaughters countless wookiees. It’s an incredibly enjoyable way to come to grips with the action as the player lets loose with the full use of the force. At the end of this tutorial Darth Vader meets Starkiller and decides to train him as his apprentice. A lot of titles struggle with openings and particularly with tutorials, but I feel The Force Unleashed nails it.
This section also shows the main strength of The Force Unleashed — namely, the combat flow and the number of powers the player can use as Starkiller.
Once beginning the game proper, it offers a steady and repetitive loop which sees Starkiller making his way through linear levels while contending with waves of enemies and finally facing off with a boss in a duel. The enemies don’t pose much challenge, but this works in its favor since it means the player has ample opportunity to employ their array of abilities. It certainly fulfills the power fantasy of being a force user.
That said, it is by no means a precise system — it can often feel messy and loose due to an unreliable lock-on system and a poor camera. However, being able to combine different abilities, such as force choking an enemy before zapping a group with force lightning, ensures that the gameplay loop remains enjoyable despite the limitations and lack of variety.
I wish I could say the same about the boss battles. Each one starts off like a normal fight, but concludes with button prompts that must to be completed in order to finish them off. Any mistake results in the boss regaining health and the player having to restart the button sequence. I’m never a fan of QTEs or button prompts like these, but their use in The Force Unleashed is infuriating to say the least.
Back when it was first released, I recall that The Force Unleashed received a huge amount of hype as it was meant to fit into the canon of Star Wars. Playing as a Sith apprentice is an undeniably interesting scenario and it does peripherally mesh with the events of the films to a degree, but one much-advertised setpiece sees the player using the force to crash a star destroyer. Such a colossal display makes Starkiller seem like the most powerful force user in the entire franchise… which is ultimately pretty ridiculous considering how insignificant he ultimately is. After all, when’s the last time you heard anyone mention him since then? Besides that faux importance, Starkiller is a pretty bland character — he’s just a short-haired, moody white guy of the kind that was in vogue at the time, and he comes with a vocal performance that is irritatingly monotone.
Speaking of monotone, Unleashed has a visually drab art style with uninteresting, basic level design. It couldn’t have been great back then and it isn’t great now, and this port only reveals how lacking in detail the environments are.
Other issues include Starkiller often getting stuck in level geometry, the poor camera issues that I mentioned earlier, and an inconsistent framerate. I can’t imagine that this port is the best way to play this game — it feels like some polish is still called for here.
Overall, The Force Unleashed is a fairly ordinary game that is bolstered by its IP. If not for the Star Wars connection, it would have been forgotten long ago. Going wild with force powers does have its charm, but that’s not enough to elevate it into must-play status, by any means.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Aspyr and published by Krome Studios. This specific port is currently available on Switch, and the game is also available on PC, PS2, PS3, PSP, Xbox 360, Wii. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher download and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 0 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T for Teen and contains Violence. There are depictions of violence in The Force Unleashed – things like Sith powers, such as the force choke. However, it is bloodless and is no more violent than depictions of violence in the films. If you’d let your children watch Star Wars, then they’re probably fine to play this.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. Having played the game with no sound, I feel that there are no particular issues that hinder gameplay. The story is fully shown in subtitles and there are no audio cues needed for successful play. As a result, I feel this is game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.