Review: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (Xbox 360)

 

I’ll be forthright and admit that I’ve been really excited for this game for a pretty long time.  So much that I had planned out actually buying an XBox 360 in order to play it with the technology intended.  Sure, I could have played this on my Wii, but not with the supposedly revolutionary mix of physics and logic engines.  Also, it’s been a looong time since there was an honest to goodness straightforward Star Wars adventure game actually developed by Lucas Arts.  The last Star Wars game that wasn’t an offshoot or made of Legos, Battlefront II, came out nearly three years ago and was actually developed by Pandemic and only published by Lucas Arts.  To my knowledge, the last game actually developed in house by the company was Republic Commando for the original XBox, coincidentally one of the last Star Wars games to be generally enthusiastically received.

So due to a number of absences, as well as a lot of pre-release hype and gloating, Lucas Arts had a lot to live up to here.  And while they’ve not exactly exceeded expectations they basically set up for themselves, they’ve lived up to much of them.  Many reviews might find a multitude of almost nit picky faults with this game, but I can attest that this is a case of the sum of the parts equalling a very satisfying whole.

Let’s go ahead and get out of the way the factors that hold the game back a bit.  My only main problem with the game is that the technology actually gets in the way of gameplay.  The powerful software that makes you able to throw stormtroopers and debris around is admittedly awesome looking.  But it doesn’t really add anything other than ridiculously cool eye candy.  In no way does the visual pleasure of seeing thrown objects and chain reactions ever really add anything truly new in the way of inventive or creative gameplay.  And it could have certainly helped because while the action / platforming elements of the game are fun, they feel outdated.  It has reminded me much of 2002’s Bounty Hunter.  Which was a cool game, but it’s nearly six years old.  There are sometimes cool puzzles in Force Unleashed that do make you stop and think, but it’s usually a cheap solution to the problem that you overlooked because you initially thought it would be too simple.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get on with what I thought was great.  Everything else.  In many cases in the past, generally average Star Wars games are excused as such with the apologist language describing it as a cool experience within the Star Wars mythos.  That may have been a tacked on excuse in the past, but it’s more than true this time around.  As an involved fan of more than a decade and a half, I can attest that this is indeed the ultimate Star Wars package within the medium.  


No spoilers here, but there are seriously big implications for the Star Wars Universe in this game.

The presentation, gorgeous art direction, music, and general mood of this game are what Star Wars should be.  Not what they should be within a game, or what they have been during the prequels.  This is a seriously fresh and new type of Star Wars that seems derived from an alternate time line in which the franchise continued the mood of Empire Strikes Back.  It makes for an involved game, that I have to admit actually made me care about the story and characters within it.  It’s slightly unfair to think of this as solely a video game, and more to the mark to consider it a true interactive story.  Many marketers have tried to apply that label in the past, but this is the only case that I’ve ever considered that to be honest.  And do trust me when I say that the implication that the story within Force Unleashed is continuity shifting stuff is certainly not hyperbole.

Overall, it’s a slightly above average game.  The technology pushing it definitely shows, even if it doesn’t add too much other than simple visual fun.  But the entire package delivered here makes this experience worth the price.  I won’t say that this should be relegated to only Star Wars fans, but I’d suggest that anyone who has even been casually interested in the franchise should at least try out a rental and see what you think.  The Force Unleashed sets a wonderful precedent in both storytelling and technology, and I can only hope that it does well enough to warrant a sequel that can further explore both along with improving upon actual gameplay.

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