I’m often late with games and I’m very late with this. The middling reviews on release and the less than middling reviews to last year’s sequel did a lot to put me off. However Duke Nukem Forever didn’t arrive in the mail before the weekend and my friend had a copy of this so I thought I may as well try it.
And try it I did – right to the end. This surprises me because I am writing this Sunday night and I’ve already got through the whole game and I still can’t believe I got that far, considering I hated so much of it. The mistake I made was that I kept thinking it would get better right up until I was at the point where I decided I would just see it through.
The Force Unleashed opens very strongly with the player taking the role of a very angry Darth Vader plodding through the Wookie planet Kashyykk and killing everyone in his path (including his own troops). I hate storm troopers so I took particular pleasure in picking them up and hurling them off platforms and into trees. I also enjoyed the way Darth Vader’s lightsaber could effortlessly cut opponents down. This ended, all too soon with an easy battle against a Jedi where I was introduced to the child who would next become the grown-up main character in the game.
This is pretty much where the game takes a turn for the worse. The opening level not only serves as an excellent tutorial but shows you immediately all the best things that are found in the game. From the moment the main character Starkiller enters, the game becomes a lot less fun. It’s not really the characters fault either as he isn’t bad and is a whole lot more likable than most of the other extended cast of the Star Wars universe. It’s just that this is when the game becomes a whole lot less fun. Your force powers of course start out nowhere near as good as what Vader’s which is understandable but this is made worse by what is now introduced.
It would be silly to expect Darth Vader to be able to move along at more than a brisk walking speed and remain true so you deal with his relatively slow movements. While Starkiller moves faster, he remains very sluggish to control. Using the force powers is still relatively smooth but the lightsaber fighting doesn’t have a good flow and many of the enemies take quite a bit of damage before going down. It is also often not clear when they are blocking so attacks that seem damaging sometimes aren’t doing anything at all. Whenever you encounter anything powerful you are usually forced into QTEs to defeat them after whacking them until their health is low. You are also unable to use many of the cooler powers against bosses though they are able to do so to you.
I could overlook some of these shortcomings if they weren’t made all the more noticeable by the cheap enemies. I played the game on the standard difficulty and was soon convinced I would never try anything higher. Challenge is usually created by throwing lots and lots of enemies at the player. The further you get the more annoying and numerous the enemies become. Many of the most annoying are immune to force powers like some tall robotic enemies and even shielded storm troopers. The enemies are also able to keep hitting you even when you’ve fallen down so your character will quite often get stuck repeatedly being hit, sometimes until death. There are also times when you will suddenly die by being thrown off a ledge or into something which is made worse some badly placed check points.
The game is also buggy – very buggy. I started the third level of the game with what I assumed were invisible enemies until I died and the game was reloaded and I could now see my originally invisible foes about one third of the way through the level. You also sometimes get stuck in scenery and the audio will pop in and out as well. A good example of both is when I had to fight a boss without his energy bar appearing, before dying and starting from the checkpoint with the energy bar present but the music now gone. Enemies sometimes get trapped behind things or just stop attacking you. The physics while very entertaining when using force powers, exhibit many oddities at other times. Much of this would be amusing if it didn’t hinder your progress in unfair ways.
There are also some long loading times. This includes something as simple as going through the options screen. Every time you want to upgrade your force powers (at least once a level); you have to wait through a loading screen. If you want to change your characters skin you go through a loading screen and have to restart from the previous checkpoint (something you aren’t warned about). The game is only short but actually feels stretched out. You revisit many locations twice and fight the same enemies each time.
The story is no worse than those of the prequels but if accepted as canon, actually makes the Star Wars plot even more convoluted. When the game is not doing blatant fan service, it is adding more plot holes. The storm troopers in Episode IV apparently went through enormous budget cuts if this story is to believed and without spoiling anything, Darth Vader and the Emperor must have had some serious déjà vu during the climax in Return of the Jedi.
I don’t know if the other console versions are any better but if they are anything like the PS3 release, than they have very little to redeem them. I really can’t understand why this game is so bad. The concept is more than enough to carry it and if had only played to its strengths is could have been great. I know there are many people who have enjoyed this but I can’t see why when there are so many better games in the genre. I also can’t understand how such a buggy, unpolished mess of a game got so many above average reviews on release. The only fun to be had in this game are during the times when you actually feel like a Sith Lord of Jedi effortlessly dispatching enemies before you but these times are too few and far between for any long term enjoyment to be had.
I’m sure something like this has been said before, but the title “The Force Unleashed” does not fit at all.