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Gaming Review

Star Wars: 'The Force Unleashed' (PS3)

By
Released on Friday, Sep 19 2008


Also available on: Xbox 360, Wii, PlayStation 2
Genre: Action / Adventure
Developer: LucasArts
Publisher: LucasArts
Age rating: 12
Release Date: September 19, 2008

Everyone wishes they were a Jedi. Or a Sith, depending on which side of the bed they woke up on. Even the most straight-laced of us can look past the silly robes and wish they had a lightsaber and the ability to chuck people across a room like a frisbee. The Force Unleashed is the latest Star Wars game to place that fantasy into people's hands, with a unique story especially written for the game, playing as Vader's Secret Apprentice. Setting the adventure between the two trilogies provides juicy cameos and a unique insight into the Star Wars universe, but does it have enough substance for the less hardcore fan?

The Force is reckoned with thanks to an advanced physics system. Pressing the R2 button grips a distant object in front of you, giving you the the ability to swing it around with the analog sticks before throwing it, smashing it to the ground, or propelling it into the sky like Team Rocket from Pokemon. Objects have different weights you can actually distinguish, with a considerable difference between lifting open a heavy door and chucking a box at a gun turret. Suspended enemies scramble to nearby objects and hang on for dear life, or latch on to others to create a floating daisy chain. It's all very impressive, and a lot of fun to play around with. But the whole feature is made cumbersome due to inaccurate controls. You can't naturally choose an object, as it's a case of looking toward it and shifting the camera until it selects it, and when it's up in the air it's hard to gauge its actual position. Accidentally exploding barrels against the wall is commonplace, and takes too long to achieve in heated combat. Environmental puzzles are static and surprisingly absent; notable highlights include raising platforms out of lava or opening lots of heavy doors.

Other abilities, such as Force-blasting enemies away or throwing lightning, are more effective in combat, but a relaxed recovery system sees you overkill on the lightsaber. Killing enemies gives you health, so instead of taking a strategic approach to a packed area, you can storm in and tap Square until everything dies, recovering any lost health in the process. While distant snipers or flying troops require gripping or blasting, they are a split second distraction before you continue mindlessly slashing everything to bits.

And that's the main problem with the game - brainlessly button bashing enemies in straightforward areas is the extent of the design, with repetitive objectives to keep you going. Each stage is a case of going from A to B, fighting a mini-boss or two along the way, before taking down your target and repeating the process again. Side objectives and bonus pick-ups in hidden alcoves reward what exploration there is, but levels are put together with the structural flair of a Scalextric, split up by doors that need either lifting or blasting. The environments themselves have superb art design and can be fiddled around with considerably - wooden walkways can be collapsed, plants can be chopped open and windows smash to suck helpless enemies into space - but it's just pretty wallpaper to a linear design.

Any challenge is substituted by throwing numbers of pestering snipers or turrets your way, but they at least give you a welcome chance to take your powers for a spin. Boss fights are equally unfair, seemingly overpowered and firing cheap shots as you lie down stunned. Fighting a fixed camera and additional enemies at the same time doesn't help matters, either. You can actually run through many areas of the game, but doing so would stunt your growth when leveling up your abilities. Fighting foes gives you points at regular intervals to strengthen three areas - to add additional combos, strengthening force attacks or enhance player attributes. Although combos are pointless when you can just spam Square, powering up your lightning to stun multiple targets or hastening your Force regeneration comes in handy. While you are literally grinding your way through the game to level up for those tricky boss encounters, sitting back and watching you zip around and make light lunch of Stormtroopers, admiring your powers get stronger along the way is rather gratifying. Surprising what a few basic role-playing elements can do, eh?

Every stage ends with a gorgeously animated cutscene, drip-feeding you more of the story, with some very impressive voice acting to go with it (especially from the Secret Apprentice himself). Despite these high production values, they only last around thirty seconds before you are abruptly taken to the next stage. It's a shame that the rest of the game doesn't have this standard of polish - various glitches and clumsy controls could have been easily remedied with more time in the oven.

The Force Unleashed has its fair share of problems, and doesn't capitalise enough on its strengths. Better level design that utilizes Force powers in more interesting ways, and having a proper combat system with challenging foes would have made for a more engrossing romp. Instead, it's just an average adventure with an attractive licence and fun physics assists to mess around with. Though enjoyable in places, and boasting an attractive universe to see, it can only be recommended to Star Wars fans that might easily be able to forgive its flaws.

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