Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Force Unleashed

I'm a sucker for Star Wars. I'm not a complete fanboi anymore, I have yet to see the Clone Wars movie and I think a lot of the prequels sucked, but I am still a big fan. As a result, I consider The Force Unleashed to be a mixed bag.

It's one of the better stories to come out of the Star Wars franchise in a while, but the gameplay is mediocre at best. You play Galen Marek, the Starkiller, apprentice to Darth Vader. Through a series of missions the story of the birth of the Rebellion unfolds, as well as the personal struggle between light and dark within the Starkiller. The story has a good mix of solid drama, action and the feel of Star Wars. Guest appearances by characters from the prequels, the original films and the expanded universe all serve to tie the story more closely into the Star Wars universe. The new characters introduced into the game are worthy additions as well, particularly Order 66 survivor Jedi Master Rahm Kota.

Unfortunately, the gameplay itself is repetitive at best and annoying at worst. For me good game design allows for multiple solutions to a problem, but the Force Unleashed only has one correct solution to each problem, and worse yet, similar problems often require different solutions, making a mockery of logic. For example, locked doors. In a good game you should be able to approach a locked door in multiple ways: bash it down, pick the lock, or find a key are three good options. In The Force Unleashed each locked door can only be opened in one arbitrary way, and it's not always the same way. Some times through use of the Force push power, sometimes through the use of the Force lightning power, sometimes through use of the Force grip power, but always only one of the three will work and you never know which one until you try. It's silly and frustrating.

Worse, the game has jumping puzzles. I hate jumping puzzles. At one point in particular I had to fight through half a dozen enemies, use Force grip to raise a platform, jump onto the platform, then jump onto a further platform. The problem was that the platform was at the extreme limit of my jump range, and took me several tries to get across. Each time I failed I had to fight through the same bunch of enemies. Worse still, while the enemies weren't difficult to beat, they were annoying to fight. This leads to another problem.

Frustrating and annoying is not the same thing as challenging. Opponents that constantly knock you off your feet so that you can't do anything are not challenging, they are just frustrating. The game has too many of them. It isn't as bad as it could be, but it is bad enough.

Finally, there are some un-Star Wars like game mechanics. The most obvious is that the lightsaber is pathetically weak. Even at the highest damage bonus levels it takes multiple strokes to slay simple Stormtroopers. I understand it's tough to allow for movie like damage capability while making for interesting game play, but it's still annoying.

Fortunately, the game is still worth playing if only to get the story. Unfortunately, it's not going to be worth playing again, not even to unlock the alternate ending cinematic (which you can find with a quick google search anyways). Lack of replayability, combined with a relatively short playtime, means I'd recommend renting this one.

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