In the build up to this game I was more excited than Eric Cartman waiting for the Nintendo Wii! I love Star Wars down to the last Ewok and with nothing of anything significance on the gaming front since 'X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter' (Cue the angry tirades from the 'Knights of the Old Republic' aficionados!) my mouth was more than a little dry in anticipation.
Having snapped up a few gaming magazines from the local newsagents I proceeded to wind myself up with gameplay tit bits and numerous screen grabs. The graphics looked scintillating and the premise of actually being able to use the force in a dynamic and 3D environment almost made me pass out. After having read all I could for the time being, all that was left to do was ferment in my imagination.
When I first got the game there was no doubt in my mind it would be great and for the most part it was. As the game loads, the breathing hisses into life and the story starts to unfold, more importantly it feels like Star Wars. The start gives you control of one of Science fiction's all time bad guys and serves as a warm up allowing you to learn the basic controls that will be vital later in the game. You have been sent to destroy an old Jedi as Darth "Feel the Power" Vader; Trees, boulders and even Stormtroopers can be manipulated with the force and hurled at defenceless defences and if this gets too boring (Which it doesn't) then the force push can be summoned to blow numerous enemies, objects and laws of physics away. To put it shortly you feel like a national superpower encased in a black iron lung.
After the battle with the Jedi you have been sent to assassinate the cut scene shows Vader choke the life from said Jedi and drop him to the floor. The lightsaber is then 'force pulled' from his hand by a very young child………… (these cut scenes are a continual strong point of the game and link in nicely with 'A New Hope')
Needless to say you are the child shown in the cut scene and have become the young apprentice of Vader known as "Starkiller"; fed lies by Vader you have become angry & twisted, corrupted by the powers of the Dark Side. You then begin your true gaming experience as the young sith and this is a very different prospect to playing as the all consuming DV. You immediately feel the impact of this loss of power; Troops are no longer cast aside by the force as easily and the lightsaber combo's do not flow or deal as much damage. As you fight through the various levels you begin to level up and are able to assign force points to various attributes in an easy to understand selection screen. This allows you to start picking up the skills that have been demonstrated by the dark destroyer himself, equipping the young sith with all the tools an evil assassin needs, lighting, lightning shield, force repulse, lightsaber throw, bad attitude etc etc etc
The level format is fairly similar to what everyone would expect from a platform/third person game with legions of angry enemies who try to prevent you from making it all the way to the standardised boss level at the end. This does not take anything away from 'Lucas Arts' though because most levels are well designed, well executed and on the whole visually beautiful. The boss levels are fun to play through (especially the angry Rancor) and the cut scene kill at the end of a correctly entered combo is always eye poppingly cool. One of my favourite mini cuts is the demise of an AT-ST walker of which there are two variations: One sees you pick the machine up and crush into a square cube using the force. Ok not bad I hear you say but the real piece de resistance is when Starkiller blocks a bolt of lasers, dodges a large bolt and then jumps upward cutting the whole walker in half. At the top of this pirouette of destruction Starkiller unleashes a force repulse which blows the machine apart leaving the troopers inside dead and the walker in two red hot steaming pieces. Fantastic stuff, it never gets old and I always find myself making some kind of unneeded "boom" sound.
Another huge strength of the game is the combo system that can lead to some eye watering visuals. If you get good enough at the game it is no problem to destroy 20 enemies in a huge blur of lightsaber, lightening and force explosions. Some of the game play is comparable to 'The Matrix' Burley Brawl scene with hordes of enemies being scattered around the level by your awesome power. An example of such a combo is a large number of lightsaber spins and slashes culminating in a force slam where Starkiller pounds the floor. Any enemy within 20 feet is knocked into the air and off of their feet. This serves to prevent button bashing and give the gamer full control of the fights.
On top of this there are some other satisfying segments of gameplay including an action where you lift the enemy into the air with the force and then throw the lightsaber through his torso spearing him like a Zulu and inflicting massive damage. Alternatively once you have lifted the enemy off the floor you can send 10,000 Volts through him and then throw him at his mate resulting in a shower of sparks. Using the force in imaginative ways is up to the gamer because it really is a dynamic weapon.
Unfortunately despite these outstanding features the game is littered with lots of small issues that continually frustrate you. Nothing so large as to truly spoil the game completely but issues that gradually begin to pick away at the gloss.
The small annoyances begin with a Darth Vader that cannot run; Very accurate seeing as he is practically a droid/machine, but when you first purchase a game all you want to do is sprint around like a child with A.D.H.D. high on cocaine destroying everything with a pulse, and in this circumstance everything without one as well. Instead you find yourself plodding around raining destruction willing Darth Vader to go faster like an old beaten up Skoda.
Some of the smaller issues include the save system that is confusing and unclear, check points rear their ugly head which means hours (in hard mode) replaying the same segment over and over and over again, while the load screens seem to go on forever, a truly annoying waste of life. This is compounded by an event which I lovingly nicknamed "F**K SAKE I'M SLIDING AGAIN, GET UP YOU S**T JEDI WANNABE!!!!". To elaborate, getting shot by a snipe trooper or hit by an AT-ST walker can sometimes result in Starkiller skidding across the floor as if it was made of ice. The inability to break out of this slide means you are a MASSIVE target for every enemy in the area and on the upper difficulty setting of Sith Lord it usually results in you "becoming more powerful than you could ever imagine". Granted this is a one off every now and again and feels more like a glitch than a constructed piece of gameplay but with the ill-defined checkpoint system explained, it can cause a great deal of heartache having to start from the beginning.
One thing that is a continual frustration is the very slow paced camera! Some of the camera angles the level designers give you are truly dreadful and although this is something that I feel almost every third person suffers from, with the exception of Prince of Persia, a good game usually gives you a control system malleable enough to respond to the problem rapidly. 'Tomb Raider: Underworld' exemplifies this characteristic perfectly; Most of the camera angles are intentionally designed to show Lara's backside and are therefore completely useless for standard gameplay. On the other hand the camera is very fluid and allows you to zone in on that next ledge or lever quickly and without too much drama.
However, comparing the The Raider's camera controls to the The Sith's camera controls is like comparing a tooled up 'Royal Marine' to a 'Football Hooligan' armed with a duster and foul language! It is slow and cumbersome and half the time it makes you feel drunk! This is a minor issue on some levels but on the trickier levels or on increased difficulty settings it makes you explode with rage as you repeatedly hurtle over the edge of the Death Star's numerous balconies or get 'smacked upside ya head' by the 10 foot rocket wielding blue Stormtrooper standing directly behind you!
To counteract this there are three things to remember when playing 'SWFU' on the PS3. DON'T try and fight in a corner because you might as well fight blindfolded, lock on to EVERYTHING (L1 I think??) and utilise the camera centralisation button with every ounce of your being (R3) because if you don’t you might as well cut your own head off and run around clucking!
Despite these faults the game as a whole is well paced & well designed, an overall good platformer and does more right than it does wrong* but the thing that annoys me about 'The Force Unleashed' is that it has all the attributes to be a truly great game, and really could have been if a little more care was taken with the smaller details.
*I think I'm quoting here so don't chastise me if I am I can't remember