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Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

Platform(s): Nintendo DS, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: LucasArts

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PS3/X360 Preview - 'Star Wars: The Force Unleashed'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Sept. 7, 2008 @ 7:14 a.m. PDT

In Star Wars: The Force Unleashed players will assist the iconic villain in his quest to rid the universe of Jedi - and face decisions that could change the course of their destiny. Set between the largely unexplored era between Ep III and Ep IV, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed casts players as Darth Vader's "Secret Apprentice" and promises to unveil new revelations about the Star Wars galaxy.

Genre: Action
Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: LucasArts
Release Date: September 16, 2008

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed takes the basic concept of an unknown individual who alters the flow of history and introduces it into the Star Wars universe as a way to bridge the gap between "Revenge of the Sith" and "A New Hope."

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed follows a new character codenamed Starkiller, who is Darth Vader's personal apprentice. Starkiller was stolen as a child and raised by the Dark Lord of the Sith to be his personal assassin and sidekick. Since backstabbing each other is what the Sith do, Vader has plans to kill the Emperor. Vader knows it's only a matter of time before the Emperor replaces him with someone who isn't a walking burn ward, so he intends to replace him first. This is where Starkiller comes in. As the Dark Lord's ward, you'll travel around the Star Wars galaxy, training against hiding Jedi in preparation for the fight against the Emperor, and along the way, you'll meet a lot of familiar faces, encounter a lot of familiar events, and perhaps even unknowingly change the fate of the universe.

Learning to control Starkiller is quite simple, since each of your primary abilities is bound to a single button. The X button slashes with your lightsaber, and staggering your X button presses can unleash a Lightsaber Flourish combo, which is slightly slower, but more powerful. The Y button unleashes a burst of electricity from Starkiller's fingertips, which stuns enemies and can be used as a long-range area attack in upgraded forms. The B button controls Force Push, which throws a powerful ball of force energy at enemies and sends them flying. The right trigger activates your Grip, which grabs an object or enemy and allows you to manipulate them at will by using the analog sticks to move them into dangerous objects or over cliffs. The left trigger blocks, but also allows you to use improved force powers, which are accessible as the game progresses. Holding block and pressing any of the force powers uses a modified version of them, such as a Lightsaber Throw by pressing X, a lightning shield by pressing Y, and a wide burst of force push energy by pressing B. Finally, the left bumper activates Force Dash, which is a speedy dash forward that can be done in the air or on the ground.

The unique thing about Starkiller, and the key to success in combat, is knowing how to combine his various Force powers. You see, as you level up, Starkiller gains the ability to chain together most of his force powers in unique ways, which is done through simple combos. Pressing the Y button while in the middle of a lightsaber combo will cause Starkiller to sheath his blade in electricity for a moment, causing extra damage and adding the lightning's stunning effect to the weapon. Use Force Grip and Force Push together to turn enemies into makeshift cannonballs for massive damage, or try Force Dash and Force Push together, which Starkiller into a deadly pinball of force energy. These combination attacks are the key to his deadly fighting ability, as there are very few moments when a Force-enhanced lightsaber combo isn't far superior to the regular blade. It is far more deadly to Force Grip someone, throw a lightsaber into him, and then throw him into a wall, instead of just a regular toss.

Force Combos are not only useful because they're so deadly, but because the game specifically rewards you for brutal and effective combinations of attacks. The more effects you string onto your attack, the more Force Points you earn. Force Points are The Force Unleashed's version of experience points, and so you'll want to earn as many as possible. Simply killing an enemy with a lightsaber earns you the bare minimum of Force Points, while you'll earn substantially more for blasting an enemy with a lightning-infused lightsaber and then knocking him into a deadly laser wall where he disintegrate. There are rewards for most of the special move combinations and even more rewards for over-the-top deaths, such as crushing enemies with heavy objects or tossing them into bottomless cliffs. The more over-the-top and stylish your kills, the more Force Points you earn.

Earn enough Force Points, and Starkiller levels up. Leveling up in The Force Unleashed doesn't actually grant you new stats or abilities. Instead, you receive three Force Tokens, a Power Token, a Talent Token, and a Combo Token, which you can then spend to upgrade one of Starkiller's three skill trees. The Power tree is all about Starkiller's Force powers. In this tree, you can improve the effect of his powers or even gain new attributes. You can make lightning strike multiple enemies, gain the ability to charge up your Force Push, or so on. In the Talent tree, you upgrade Starkiller's basic stats. You can choose to spend tokens to increase his health, Force bar, defense or lightsaber damage. Finally, the Combo tree allows you to learn new combinations of Force powers. Until you invest in this, Starkiller can't wrap his blade in lightning or use the Lightsaber Flourish or even do something as simple as throw a lightsaber at a Force Gripped enemy, so this is an important tree in which to invest. Each token works for its respective tree, although the higher ranked the skill, the more tokens it will cost. A simple upgrade to Force Push only costs a single Force Token, while maxing out Lightning can cost a hefty six. The good news is that you can reset your established tokens, but it permanently costs a single token to do that, so you wouldn't want to do it more than once or twice.

While on your missions for Vader, you'll want to keep an eye out for Holocrons. For those not up on their Star Wars lore, Holocrons are ancient objects that have been left behind by Force users of yore. In The Force Unleashed, Holocrons come in one of two types. Sith Holocrons are the most common, and you'll find them fairly often throughout stages. A Sith Holocron, when picked up, functions as a temporary power-up for Starkiller. It may give him an infinite Force bar, make him do more damage, or even grant temporary invincibility. However, like all the abilities of the Dark Side, its power is strong but fleeting. After a scant period of time, Starkiller will return to normal. Jedi Holocrons are significantly rarer, but make up for that by having a permanent effect. When you find a Holocron, it grants you one of a bevy of permanent bonuses, such as a lightsaber crystal, a Force Token, a huge dose of Force Points or unlocking hidden costumes. In addition to these prizes, finding all of the Jedi Holocrons in a stage will also grant you an extra token, so tracking them down is a great way to make sure you've got the most powerful Apprentice around.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is an interesting glimpse into the world of Star Wars that we rarely see. Set between "Revenge of the Sith" and "A New Hope" and starring a Sith protagonist who is neither old nor crippled means that we see places in the Star Wars universe we've never seen before, and we can control a character who actually uses the full extent of his Force powers. It's a look into the parts of the Star Wars universe that usually get lost among the concept of Jedi and heroics, and there's certainly an undeniable fun in tossing Stormtroopers off cliffs or into electric fences. When the game hits stores next week, players will have to decide for themselves if Starkiller is a good addition to the Star Wars canon, or if he should have been left in the history books.


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