Sunday, September 21, 2008

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (Xbox 360) Review

What a rush. That sentence alone best describes the fun and action with using the over-the-top Force powers featured in LucasArts' latest and first non-LEGO Star Wars title for the current generation of consoles, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.

Ever since I first saw that teaser where Starkiller pulls a Star Destroyer out of the sky, I've been hooked and I've anxiously awaited this title. Imagine my disappointment when I saw it receiving average reviews just prior to last week's launch. Imagine my joy when I found most of those reviewers were full of it.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is a game that built up a lot of hype over the last few months, and unfortunately, that seems to have gotten all the fanboys in a huge masturbatory session over how this game would redefine the existence of human kind itself. Which just goes to show that the average reviewer and fan boy is a weak-minded fool (yeah that's right, prepare for a bunch more nerd quotes in this review!).

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed casts you in the role of Darth Vader's (sort of) secret apprentice, known only as Starkiller. Found as a small boy by Vader himself on a mission to Kashyyyk during the game's tutorial (in which you play as Vader and butcher a lot of Wookies), the Dark Lord takes and twists this child into a servant of the dark side, and sets Starkiller loose hunting down the last of the Jedi.

In a word, the game is dark, and much truer to the classic Star Wars formula we all new and loved pre-Jar Jar. Set between trilogies, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed reveals a lot of never before known facts regarding Star Wars canon, and proves that Vader truly is a badass instead of a crybaby sissy. From the get-go, LucasArts wanted to offer players use of the Force that they had never experienced before; Force powers that are so over-the-top that they'll blow you're mind, and the game certainly delivers.

The game is an action/adventure hack and slash, and as Starkiller, you begin with a small variety of Force powers and combos to dispatch your enemies, and as you level up, you can upgrade to more powerful Force powers, unlock new ones, add new Combos, and buff your Talents. You can also upgrade your Lightsabre with a few different effects, as well as a bunch of different sabre colours.

This provides players with a great deal of customizability and variety when dispatching the hordes of enemies that will come against you. Starkiller can do amazing things like channel Force Lightning through his Sabre for added damage, you can pick up and hurl so many different objects (or enemies) at each other, you can Force push through entire doors, tear down parts of walls, or punt Jawas into mid-air! For a simple hack and slash, there's lots of ways to crush, kill, destroy, and it never gets boring cutting down enemies foolish enough to get in your way.

Bosses are often fun to fight and require cunning, patience, and timing to best, and tough enemies can often be finished with a button pressing Finishing Move that's always an excellent and entertaining sequence.

Graphically, the game looks great. Character models are crisp and clean, and while not up to Mass Effect's standards, certainly get the job done. The levels' art design is often breathtaking as you visit Star Wars locations both new and old, and thanks to the game's use of Havok Physics and Digital Molecular Matter, the levels are more destructible than those found in your average game. In fact, the only major con I found with the game's graphics are there's a good bit of texture tearing (I'm guessing the game doesn't have v-sync on due to hardware limitations), and the default camera angles aren't always the best, but these can often be adjusted easily with the Right Stick.

Audio wise, the game sounds spectacular. The full library of Star Wars sound effects and music from the entire saga have been used, and it's just mesmerizing. The game's voice actors also do an excellent job of bringing their characters to life, and I'm not going to take much of your time speaking about the audio because it's that good, there's nothing really more to say.

Control wise, Starkiller does take a little bit of getting used to, but it's nothing too crazy. He does have a tendency to take large steps, and certain combos can drop you right off a cliff if you're not careful, but once you get used to that, you'll be able to execute some amazing combos without feeling like you're just mashing buttons. The only real hiccup with the controls would be aiming an object to throw when you pick it up with Force Grip. Precision aiming can be difficult, and a lot of professional reviewers ripped into Star Wars: The Force Unleashed for this, siting the lack of a targeting system. Well I guess they were too busy rushing through the game to get that first exclusive review out, as they clearly didn't notice that a) Right Bumper is target lock and b) you can adjust Target Lock to be either a hold button or toggle via the game's Option menu. Suffice it to say, with proper use of Target Lock and a little practice, you won't have too many issues tossing stuff to their doom.

Speaking of the Options menu, the game comes with a complete Database that updates as you play, giving you full details and background on Characters, Locations, and Vehicles. The complete Database is very detailed, and if you read it all, you'll be spending a bit of time in there. The con to most of the Options menus is that when you go into them, it actually takes a minute for the game to load them. That's a bit of a turn off, but it certainly wasn't game breaking.

Another thing I've spoken rarely about, and won't speak much of, is the game's story. It's good. It's real good. Like probably the best Star Wars story consisting of the movie's characters put together since The Empire Strikes Back. Not only is Vader mesmerizing, but Starkiller and his relationship with his pilot Juno Eclipse, his protocol droid PROXY, and the other characters, Jedi, senators, imperials, etc. that he encounters, it's all beautifully put together. Granted, while not up to the depth and pacing found in most RPGs, as an action/adventure game, it's easily agreed that Star Wars: The Force Unleashed's greatest strength is its story. And for that reason I'll say no more on it, you'll just have to play it for yourself.

Now, on to the bad. Unfortunately, the game has bugs, and while all software has bugs, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed has a few glaring issues that should never have escaped quality assurance. The most notable and widely experienced bug is Save Game corruption, which happens very easily through regular play, and while most people seem to experience it on the game's final level, some, like myself, experienced it about two thirds of the way through.

When a save becomes corrupt, you'll notice your Mission Objective will no longer list your Bonus Objective, and instead will say "* default text", and it will no longer count your Experience earned or how many Holocrons you've found (Holocrons can grant extra Experience, or provide you with new Lightsabre Crystals or Force Orbs for upgrades). Thankfully, a corrupt save game in this manner will not prevent you from leveling or completing those objectives, it just won't track them as an overall tally. In English, this really will only prevent your ability to earn certain Achievements, like the Holocron Collector Achievement.

Once a save is corrupt, there's no way to repair it, and thanks to most developer's love of the classic and inferior console checkpoint/single save slot save system that should have been banned from existence back in 1993 , each game played only has one stinking save slot. Basically, the Force is strong with corrupting your save game.

I also experienced an odd issue where a boss character got stuck and then feel through the floor, making him no longer reachable and forcing me to load my last save, however that only happened once and was possibly an isolated incident, but is worth mentioning.

Other professional reviewers have experienced things such as sound sync issues in cut scenes, game crashes, bosses becoming randomly invincible, and a few other oddities. I'm not sure how many of these are accurate or not, but I can confirm save game corruption, which is the most serious bug I experienced. Again though, it wasn't game breaking, and only prevented me from earning a few Achievements. Suffice it to say, a Title Update should hopefully be out soon.

When all is said and done, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is an excellent game. It delivers exactly what was advertised, a hack and slash with awesome over-the-top Force powers, and I really have to wonder what all those pro-reviewers were complaining about; what were they expecting from this game? In my opinion, it's worth the price of admission. If you're an Achievement whore, you'll want to wait for a Title Update first, and if you're on the fence, I'd say give it a rent. While most reviewers have also ripped into it for being short, on the Sith Warrior difficulty (Normal), it took me just over 10 hours to complete, and the game has two endings to experience, so there's certainly some added replay value.

I consider Star Wars: The Force Unleashed to be an excellent addition to the Star Wars game library, and the first must-have Xbox 360 title of the year.

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