30 September 2008

Star Wars: Force Unleashed

I was really looking forward to Star Wars: Force Unleashed for the Nintendo Wii. What could be better than the Wii's motion sensor controls combined with swinging a lightsaber? Perhaps my expectations were too high but nevertheless Force Unleashed failed to meet them. Don't misunderstand. I'm glad I purchased this game. It's just that Force Unleashed could have been so much more.

Force Unleashed takes place in the period between Episodes III and IV. You play as Darth Vader's apprentice ordered to hunt down Jedi. Faces from the movies show up in parts, which is kind of neat.

When I think of Star Wars I think of epics and inherent in that is time, as in the passing of. My major gripe with Force Unleashed is that it's disappointingly short. Wonderful, engaging story. But too beeping short. I finished it in less than eight hours. Maybe I've been spoiled with the classics, Twilight Princess (72 hours) and Okami (60 hours). Stars and stones, even Lego Star Wars was 25 hours.

Another problem with Force Unleashed is the graphics. I didn't buy a Wii expecting PS3 graphics, but I do expect the absence of jagged straight lines.

Gameplay is fine. There's nothing quite like swinging a lightsaber around or throwing stormtroopers around using the Force. Still, some of the different Force techniques are difficult to execute. I'd wave the remote/nunchuk around and press buttons as instructed but success felt haphazard and random. I ended up using only two Force powers regularly (Force Push and Lightning) because they were the most efficient powers I could use confidently. Perhaps I just need practice with the others techniques.

The Star Wars franchise lends a mystique to any game it places its name on. Star Wars gets bonus points just for being Star Wars. Still, if Force Unleashed instead of occurring in the Star Wars universe was a sword and sorcery deal I'm not so sure I'd have bought the game. Despite the multiple Force powers minion and boss battles are very simplistic. It's pretty much hack'n slash with Force powers thrown in. Bosses have no weaknesses to look for. Rush up to the boss, swing your lightsaber and wait for the finishing sequence (where you wave the remote/nunchuk when prompted to deal significant damage).

Finishing sequences bring up another quibble. In order to get the timing right, it was difficult for me to concentrate on what was happening on the screen. I'd concentrate on looking at the remote/nunchuk prompts and miss out on the actual action on screen.

Another thing that makes battles, especially long ones, a little boring is the way the game designers worked out death. Actually, I'm of two minds of how they implemented it. If Starkiller (your character) dies you simply respawn with no significant consequences, except for a boss regaining only a slight portion of health. Minions you've killed stay dead, areas you've cleared are still completed. Starkiller can die as many times as you want.

Why am I of two minds? First, I'm glad the designers handled death the way they did because as I said fights are hack'n slash. Bosses have no vulnerabilities to look for, so I sometimes needed multiple respawns to get by a boss. If I had had to defeat some bosses with one life, starting completely over if I respawned, then it would have become irritatingly frustrating. Second, I lost my fear of Starkiller dieing. Dead? Who cares? Getting shot from behind? I don't care. Health bar almost empty? Heh, instead of looking for healing I'll just go ahead and charge that platoon of stormtroopers.

Although I've talked about a lot of negatives in Force Unleashed, as I said before I'm glad I bought this game. It's Star Wars. I get to swing a lightsaber. It has a great (albeit short) story. If you're a Star Wars fan, definitely buy it. If not, you might consider giving this one a pass.

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