Release Date: August 2008
I have to admit, when it comes to Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, I've been a bit of a skeptic. Something about it never sat quite right with me. Maybe I thought it was too ambitious, perhaps I believed that creating a new story between Episodes 3 and 4 that featured Darth Vader's apprentice was taking the license in a direction I didn't care for. Whatever it was that bothered me, after a recent showing at GDC, it's gone now, and I can't wait to play this game.
I think part of my hesitance concerned the game's story, of which I knew very little. At a press screening of the title, project lead Hayden Blackman filled in some of the blanks. You will obviously be playing as Darth Vader's unnamed apprentice (we tried, but he wouldn't tell us the character's true name), sent to eliminate the remaining Jedi and stir up trouble in the Empire. Vader intends to use you as a tool to eliminate the remaining Jedi resistance, thereby strengthening you for his ultimate goal. Once you've fulfilled your master's commands, Vader plans to have you at his side when he finally confronts and overthrows Emperor Palpatine. However, anyone who's even heard of the movie knows that Vader had no secret apprentice with him at the crucial moment, and Blackman alluded that this is ultimately a story of redemption, and where you begin won't necessarily be where you end up.
My other main reservation about a new Star Wars title had to do with all of the promises the developers had made about using the Force and how it would influence the world. I thought I had seen it all before, with nearly every Star Wars game featuring some variant on Force Push and Force Lightning … but I was wrong. Blackman explained that Jedis must be ever mindful of how they use the Force, lest it corrupt them and turn them to the Dark Side. Therefore, their powers, while impressive, will never equal the full measure of the Force.
As Vader's apprentice, and trained by the mightiest of all Sith Lords, you have no fear of the Dark Side, and you can unleash powers and abilities never before fathomed. One level the team demoed showed a battle taking place between rebels and Stormtroopers inside a TIE assembly plant. Now, since your existence is a secret even from the Emperor, Vader has commanded that you leave no survivors, lest you both be found out. While you could run down into the fray hacking with your lightsaber and stunning with a Force Push, there just so happens to be a conveniently placed TIE fighter dangling right above your prey. Do you see where this is going? That's right, you can lift the ship as though it's nothing and drop it right onto your foes' heads, pretty much taking care of your dirty work in one fell swoop.
If you're more of a sadist, why not try this? Supercharge an enemy with Lightning and then throw him into his buddies, giving them all a good jolt. For even better effect, try grabbing an old engine or other piece of machinery and trying the same trick; the result is highly explosive and guaranteed to wreak havoc on all who dare defy you.
These abilities are just the tip of the iceberg, and there are so many possible combinations that you'll always feel like you have the upper hand. Furthermore, stringing Force powers together in a combo grants you Force Points, which can be used to upgrade your attacks or buy new powers. With these great destructive abilities at your fingertips, you'll hardly even need that lightsaber you've been lugging around. No matter how impressed you've been with combat in previous Star Wars games, this one is going to blow you away, hands down.
Many gamers have been most excited about The Force Unleashed appearing on the Wii, bringing with it the promise that you'll finally be able to feel like a true Jedi by swinging the Wiimote as a lightsaber and thrusting the Nunchuk to unleash your Force Push. While the Wii version will utilize motion controls and include some new features, it's a trade-off, and you're going to have to leave some other goodies behind. The content comes with a severe hit to the visuals when compared to next-gen, as well as a slightly different storyline and not quite true-to-life motion controls.
The good news, though, is that Wii owners will not only be getting the full motion-controlled experience, but also their own exclusive mode. LucasArts is including a multiplayer Duel mode in which each player picks a character (over 20 total) and you duke it out, one-on-one, in one of nine arenas. Each duel stage has a distinct theme and certain environmental assists or hazards, as well as the occasional appearance of power-ups. The preview showed off a hangar in the same TIE assembly plant from the single-player game, with newly finished fighters occasionally flying up through the floor. One of the power-ups available is the "Force Unleashed" power, which allows you to grab one of those fighters and fling it at your foe, causing extreme damage. Also, you may occasionally lock sabers with your opponent, in which case a quick time event involving twisting and turning the Wiimote and Nunchuk determines who will emerge with the advantage. All in all, it's a pretty cool addition, and those looking to turn this into a party game will have the option to do battle with friends.
As for the graphics, The Force Unleashed absolutely shines on next-gen with massive destruction and great special effects all around. Seeing the Xbox 360 version in action, I was dumbstruck by how amazing it all looked, and I'm sure the PS3 will be just as pretty. The Wii, on the other hand, looks pretty bad when stacked up against its bigger, brawnier cousins. I may not have noticed it so much if I hadn't seen the 360 version in action first, but switching over to the Wii side made me feel like my contact lenses had stopped working. Everything seemed to blur and fade a bit, and it lost almost all of the pop that had grabbed me so tightly when the game footage first started rolling.
Since the Wii can't keep up with the processing power of the 360 and PS3, some of the more intricate and detailed levels had to be scrapped in favor of simpler, less taxing fare. Therefore, while the overarching story remains the same, some of the nuances are different, depending on which console you're playing. While it certainly won't be a big enough deal to break The Force Unleashed, it may be hard to converse with your friends who own the game on a different console since you may not know exactly where you are in the story in relation to one another, and one of your buddies may get to play a really awesome level that you won't get to see on the Wii.
Finally, those hoping to finally have a realistic lightsaber-swinging experience are going to be sorely disappointed, as it's just not happening. The team at Chrome, who is working on the motion controls for the Wii version, decided that a one-to-one movement aspect is just unreasonable, so instead you'll have to settle for cardinal directions. The game senses your slashes to be up and down, left and right, and forward.
I came away from the demo utterly thrilled for the next-gen versions of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed but slightly underwhelmed by what was being offered for the Wii. Perhaps in the time between now and August, the LucasArts team will really step up and deliver a top-notch performance across the platforms, but for right now, I can't help but steer anyone who asks me toward the 360 or PS3 versions. Regardless of which platform you choose, one thing is for sure: Come this summer, you are going to finally be able to play what I firmly believe will be the best Star Wars game ever.
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