I’m not a big fan of, well, you know, War of the Stars. My knowledge of the series mostly stems from the videogames, as it’s been at least twelve years since I last saw a movie from the “original trilogy.” Warring Star is, however, awfully popular amongst the nerds, geeks and other unsocialites I tend to become friends with (for some reason).
To honour my return to The Force Unleashed through the recent and excellent Ultimate Sith Edition, I have completely re-written, updated, polished and rejigged a review I wrote just over a year ago.
I apologise for its length. I know you don’t come to GameCola to read essays. I just have a lot to say about this game, because it is so…well, you’ll see. Enjoy, and remember: these are not the droids you’re looking for.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is another one of those games I’d been ready to shun for its complete lack of originality—but it is gravely wrong to do so.
It is true that The Force Unleashed greatly resembles Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy, which was the first game I played with the Havok engine integrated. And it is also true that any game with Havok has notably bad physics.
But Psi-Ops is awesome. For the first time, I could use telekinesis and fling objects around the game world with absolutely no challenge. I could grab people in the air, blast them with assault rifle bullets and then just fling them away like useless, bullet-hole riddled garbage. And I could do all of this as Scorpion from Mortal Kombat. Sold.
The Force Unleashed‘s similarities to Psi-Ops do not end simply with the physics engine. You appear to have the same telekinetic powers, except this time you’re incredibly nimble—and instead of fighting with guns, you’re fighting with a lightsaber.
I love the lightsaber—it’s so bad.
Let us begin with the story of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Because it is noteworthy.
First off, the story is what propels this game forward the most. The gameplay is good (though arguably tiring after a while), but the story is like sweet apple pie, and it helps glue all the pieces together. Unlike a Zelda game, where the story perhaps doesn’t flow perfectly, The Force Unleashed travels at exactly the right pace to keep you interested.
The most noteworthy thing about the story is that it is very easy to follow. This is particularly worth pointing out, as it allows people who don’t know much about Star Wars to understand what is going on as easily as the die-hard fans can. By introducing a new character to the universe, it helps explain things a little more clearly to those who may not know exactly what is going on. It also helps put the Rebel Alliance in place, which is an important element in episodes IV, V and VI of Star Wars. Naturally, this game takes place between episodes III and IV.
Seeing as I didn’t go much on Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones when I watched them years ago, I’m glad that the game shifts most of its focus onto the original trilogy. But the game also shifts its focus in another way, placing you on the Dark Side of the Force. For those who don’t know, the Dark Side are the bad guys, but they are also totally effing awesome.
It feels good to play as the Dark Side for a change. I’ve always thought the Rebel Alliance were pussies.
Starkiller is Darth Vader’s secret apprentice. His role is indeed your role—to track down Jedi who have gotten too big for their boots and, therefore, pose a threat to the evil Empire.
The story may sound bland on paper, but you quickly get engrossed in the universe, and this is the first time I’ve really felt like that with a Star Wars game. I played Jedi Academy and it just felt haphazard—and Jedi Knight II, too, but I just got stuck and blamed it on Star Wars in general. Shadows of the Empire was almost there in capturing the vibe of the series, but The Force Unleashed captures it beautifully and really pulls you into the universe itself.
And that is a very good thing, because the main character is interesting and you connect with him on some level. I suppose it could be by sharing in the same thirst for death and destruction. The Force is something we all really want, and when we’re Starkiller, we have it.
Starkiller is equipped with a light saber and a growing selection of Force powers and talents, including but not limited to throwing people in the air, blasting them with concentrated Force power, and zapping people with lightening. Those little Jawas on Raxus Prime get a full toasting, whining in torture as they die from a single zap of electricity. It is satisfying to hear them squeal with their high-pitched voices as they become breakfast.
As The Force Unleashed is so story-driven, it’s also very linear. It consists of levels broken down into a set of checkpoints, ambushes and minibosses, each ending in a fight with a specified Jedi. Defeating enemies and bosses earns you experience, which in turn earns you Force Spheres.
Force Spheres are associated with one of three elements based on color—and upgrading sections of these may improve your health, combat abilities or other such necessities. Although you can get through Apprentice difficulty with barely a scratch, it is very, very difficult to defeat the game on Sith Warrior difficulty without leveling up. There is an easy-to-use exploit to make this job simpler, but not easier.
The boss battles are my favourite part of this game—the gameplay remains the same, but the camera pans out, placing your focus onto the boss character. When their health is low enough, you enter a QTE that you pretty much cannot lose, and then the fight is over. It is much more fun than it sounds.
The physics either work in your favor, or they don’t. Occasionally, enemies may get stuck in the floor and jiggle about, which is good because they take damage while this is happening. But other times, even when you launch a SNOWSPEEDER at an enemy, it might just bounce off their head completely. I dunno…
But enough about the Havok engine; we know it’s awful.
The gameplay, overall, is very good. Even as a person whose knowledge of Star Wars only goes as far as the videogames, I don’t feel confused or bewildered by what’s going on. Travelers’ Tales, are you reading this? Yes, this is how to use source material for a Star Wars game. Also, I can skip the cutscenes (once the level has loaded), so score two for LucasArts. They know what they’re doing!
Now to put a little downer on it. The graphics are kind of dated. While the skyboxes and aircraft in the background look amazing, the interiors are bland and not very inspiring. This is the only real flaw with the game—well, that and the Havok engine, but I already covered that. Luckily, graphics aren’t everything. But if they were, the FMVs would really make the game stand out. Whereas the gameplay visuals need a lick of paint and some polish, the FMV sequences are lovely to watch, containing some really nice facial animation.
I suppose what really awoke my interest in this game happened shortly after I parted ways with my money for it. Ten minutes in, I started earning an insane number of Achievements. It involved Darth Vader, and an infinite spawning stormtrooper checkpoint. Got you interested now, haven’t I?
Sure, there’s an element of “slap Star Wars on it and it’ll sell” as Justin so rightfully pointed out in his latest review—but this game still is definitely worth your time, and it’s fun. That’s what it boils down to, really. If you don’t like the license, on this occasion that shouldn’t be an obstacle.
The Ultimate Sith Edition comes with a second disc, which contains the downloadable content and the basic game code, so the disc can be run standalone. Included are three campaigns: Jedi Temple, and the two “Infinities” campaigns, Tatooine and Hoth. Also provided are the paid skins pack and every unlockable costume (sans those you need to enter cheat codes to get).
The following are three short reviews, focusing on each of these extra campaigns. To play these campaigns on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, you can also download them from the associated online store, in addition to purchasing the Ultimate Sith Edition. On the PC, these campaigns are only available in the Ultimate Sith Edition.
The Jedi Temple campaign takes Starkiller back to his roots, as he searches to learn more about his father. I don’t remember him learning about his father in the game, but this scenario is entertaining the possibility that he did. Travelling to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, he meets heavy resistance from what appear to be Imperial Troops. Now, I thought he was on the Dark Side, so perhaps they should have explained why I’m getting my ass kicked by soldiers that should be allies.
Packing no more than about forty minutes of gameplay, it is mostly combat driven. If you’re a fan of the puzzles or platforming elements in the main game, you may feel a little bit dissatisfied. The enemies are also the very hard enemies from the end of the game, and the boss battle is a little bit challenging, too. We are not told an awful lot about Starkiller or his father through this downloaded content, and the ending leaves much to be desired. A fun little level regardless, but it could have done with more puzzles. The challenges were woefully short, and expanding these would have been great.
The Achievements provide some replayability and also a slight challenge, making the content a worthwhile purchase. Just don’t expect to have your mind blown.
DLC Rating: 7 – Good
The Tatooine campaign offers only about half-an-hour of gameplay, but it’s much more exciting and morish. Following an alternate storyline based on the Bad Ending, Starkiller is now a Sith Warrior (ultra powerful bad guy). He has been sent to Tatooine to find two droids: one Astromech, one Protocol. If you know your Star Wars as well as I do (you learn enough to get by while playing Lego Star Wars II), then you can probably guess that I’m talking about C3P0 and R2D2.
It seems that someone-who-shalt-not-be-named (Leia Organa) stole the Death Star plans and stored them in one of the droids, so Starkiller is sent to destroy/procure the droids (placing this early into episode IV). His first target is Jabba’s palace, ’cause if there is anyone who knows what’s happening on Tatooine, it’s him. But things take a turn for the worse once Jabba decides to feed Starkiller to his little pet instead.
Starkiller has become exceedingly powerful since the Jedi Temple campaign, and it quite clearly shows in his combat abilities. He feels much more fun to control, and combat feels tighter and more responsive. The outift in this scenario is very cool indeed.
One thing that impressed me the most about this scenario is the graphics. In this campaign, the visuals are far better than those in the rest of the game. A great deal of work seems to have gone into this content, whereas the other packs feel lacking. This is how downloadable content should be done. Again, the content places more emphasis on the combat and less on the puzzles, but I am not complaining this time, as the battles against Bobba Fett and Obi Wan Kenobi are awesome. Whether you buy the Ultimate Sith Edition or just the DLC, I urge you to consider this chapter. It is absolutely astonishingly good.
DLC Rating: 9 – Excellent
The Hoth campaign provides another half-hour of gameplay, and it has no Achievements associated with it. What, no G? So far, off to a flying start. It is not as fun as the Tatooine campaign, either, or as stunning. It starts to look like an incomplete or scrapped level part-way through. It’s not an awful level—it’s just that, after the Tatooine content, this seems like just another level from the game.
Also, they chose Hoth, which was a totally great spiffing amazing tubular idea, as it’s not like it’s appeared in any other Star Wars games. At least Echo Base hasn’t appeared in any Star Wars games, so we’re OK. This content isn’t exactly original…far from it. Your usual dull corridors and general ambushes that they managed to avoid with the Tatooine pack.
Of course, there is *some* extra content, but this pretty much consists of your outfit and a few new enemies. Once you’ve played half of this DLC, you’ve experienced all it has to offer.
Originally exclusive to Ultimate Sith Edition, Hoth has been released on Xbox Live and PSN, but the price tag is questionable. It is a fun scenario, and, indeed, it’s good to have for a bit of the old cathartism, but without any Achievements, many will choose to miss out on this campaign.
This scenario shows us what would happen if Starkiller and Skywalker went one-on-one. To begin with, I liked it when Skywalker went running off like a chicken. If it wasn’t midnight at the time, I’d have yelled “Running away from your destiny, farm boy? BRAAK CHICKEN BRAAAK BRAAAK.” But the problem lies with the second battle, later in the DLC—because it causes a large disturbance in the Force.
The ending of this campaign irritates me (but then again, doesn’t everything?).
Spoiler (highlight to read): Luke Skywalker turns to the Dark Side and becomes Starkiller’s apprentice.
Because it’s a hypothetical story, I *suppose* this once I’ll let them get away with it. The ending does this and then—it’s over. Back to the title screen. A lazy way out, in my opinion. This DLC just doesn’t match up with the Tatooine DLC, which, let’s face it, was a hard act to follow.
DLC Rating: 6 – Above Average
I would definitely like to see more levels in this alternate universe, perhaps as unlockable levels in the sequel. That would be amazing, and maybe I’d actually get into Star Wars, too.
And I’ve only said Star Wars 17 times in this review—well,18 times now. And speaking of numbers, here’s the GameCola score.
Thank you for reading, and may the Force be with you.
[Adapted and updated from the original review.]