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Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

Darth Vader in The Force UnleashedLong time no post. Apparently a lot of stuff happens in life and before you know it, it’s September and you have been playing so many damn games that you haven’t talked about, it’s a sin. This is the first of many, I hope. Unfortunately, this post is of a mediocre/terrible game. It has a fantastic story for the time between Episodes 3 and 4, the visuals are beautiful, and the physics and different engines Lucasarts used are amazing. There are a few other things that make the game interesting, but all of it is held down by the terrible gameplay choices Lucasarts decided to make. The best way to sum it up is, the first level is the best because you play as Vader, and all the power you have during that level is exactly what playing as a Sith warrior should feel like. That’s why I used that picture for the intro to this article, because it is the highlight of the game. But as soon as you are given the apprentice, stuff just starts to go downhill.

The Force Unleashed starts you off as Darth Vader absolutely decimating a Wookiee Village. You can do whatever you want: kill Wookiees, kill stormtroopers, force push trees, force throw rocks, everything seems to be crushed in your wake. His powers are also extremely strong, so he can take out barricades and walls like they are made of paper. And most importantly (as is discussed later), your lightsaber actually kills most things in one or two swings. Based on the difficulty you play on, only the boss of this level is resistant to your lightsaber. Regardless, through the entire level you feel like pure evil and a truly powerful figure.

And then they take it all away. Every ability. You start the real first level as the babyface apprentice Starkiller, equipped a cool pose, a lightsaber, force push, and force throw. Now, being that the game is named “The Force Unleashed”, it seems to be understandable that they want to focus most of what you do on your force powers. They seem to do this in most levels by throwing a ridiculously large amount of enemies at you, which is awesome. The first level is loaded with stormtroopers who you can throw around, tons of fun. One problem though, your lightsaber is absolutely worthless. Stormtroopers, in the first level, on the Normal difficulty, might die from one saber hit. Everything else, a waste of time. You’d better be ready to do nothing but throw boxes at these guys, until you get your next force power at the beginning of the second level (never explained how you all of a sudden learn ANY of the new abilities, you just do), Force Lightning.

Here’s a fun game to play: beat The Force Unleashed without using Force Lightning except where it is absolutely mandatory to continue a level. I promise you, no matter what difficulty you play on, your lightsaber will prove to be absolutely worthless against the hoards of enemies geared up in Lightsaber-Proof Armor and Upper Arm Lightsaber Shields. Nothing got me more irritated than running up to some primitive being in the 3rd level, one that in the movies would not even get a name because they are such low beings, hitting them with the saber only for them to BLOCK IT with some stupid-ass transparent shield. We have never seen anything like these shields in any other movie or game, but somehow they are now “General Store Goods” because every moron in the galaxy apparently can afford one. This takes all of the fun out of playing a Jedi. The Force is awesome and can be fun, but you can not smoothly dominate everything on the screen when your saber gets blocked, and then you get knocked down and hit until your “stand back up” animation is complete. On Normal this nearly killed me dozens of times, from the lowest tiers of enemies. Not to mention enemies rarely get “knocked back” or “stunned” from any of your powerful saber attacks. They just stand there and as soon as you are stuck in a recovery animation, knock your ass down again. The only solution to getting through a level without being ripped is a Force Only Strategy, also including “Swing Saber From Distance to Trigger Force-Related Saber Combo”.

Before I move onto the Force Only Strategy, let me remind you that your saber is very powerful during Quick Time Events (QTEs). It seems that it does terrible damage when you jump and endlessly swing at the head of an AT-ST, but when you have a QTE you can cut right down the middle and cut it in half! Who would have thought God of War tactics would instantly make your worthless weapon the most powerful in the game? Oh, but QTEs are only allowed when your opponent is almost dead, so don’t depend on them for anything more than a break from Force Lightning to finish a dude once in a while.

So, now that we have moved onto nothing but Force powers, let’s discuss some of them.

    • Force Throw (Grapple): probably the most fun power to use, there are all sorts of things you can do with grapple. From throwing enemies, to throwing boxes, to throwing… okay that’s pretty much all it does. There are some combos you can do while grappling a guy, mainly the saber throw impale. Sounds cool right? You throw the saber, it gets stuck in the guy’s chest for a few seconds, and then returns to you. Awesome! Wait what? He’s GETTING BACK UP?! The saber was THROUGH HIS HEART. The other is some lightning attack I probably didn’t use. Why didn’t I use any of the grapple combos much? Because you had to stand absolutely still with no guard at all while doing it. The minute you grapple some guy, your saber is down, and you deflect nothing. It’s fun from a distance, but in the fray of battle, y’know where the game is supposed to be fun and exciting, it is worthless. Force Push can become a little more mandatory later, such as on rancors, where they are just too dangerous to get near (lightsaber does next to no damage to them), and you throw “Explosive Tree Fruits” at them…
    • Force Push: This is really my favorite force ability. Not ridiculously flashly, usually does what it’s supposed to do, and you can run while doing it, unless you want to charge it up to pretty much instantly kill most enemies. Some of your saber attacks can knock guys into the air, and then force pushing them can send them flying. There’s also some decent saber-push combos, which sort of makes the saber useful, except I usually didn’t even do damage with the saber, I just wanted the force push at the end to throw multiple enemies. A fully-charged Force Push can send some dudes right into walls and you can feel the pain. It’s awesome. Until later, when some dudes barely take a step backwards from it. These Terminator-esque stormtroopers are Hell’s Angels, and I will explain them later.

Force Lightning at its Most Useless Moment

  • Force Lightning: Your bread and butter by force. The moment you get this power, you have a game-altering decision. You either use all the force sphere level ups you get maxing this power out, or you up the difficulty of the game by roughly a billion. I’ll explain the level up system later. Force Lightning is the only thing in the game that can stun the harder enemies. From the Hell’s Angels stormtroopers and up, you cannot Force Push, Force Throw, Force Repulse, or hit them with hard lightsaber attacks (unless it involves Force Lightning in some way). The Force Lightning Shield you get later on basically just turns all of your saber attacks into Lightning-enchanted attacks, which I will explain in a bit. Because Force Lightning is the only thing to stun enemies, you pretty much have to use it endlessly. I often found myself running and hiding, waiting for my Force to recharge, then running back out and holding down the Lightning button, and then running away when I was out and recharging. Any other method of attacking usually ended in total disaster. The only enemies that didn’t give a damn about it were the rancors, as seen in the image. They walked right on through it like it was nothing more than hairs standing up on the back of their necks. As stated before, this is where you run around praying to find shit to Force Throw at them.
  • Force Repulse: Most fun power to show off. A spherical Force Push that sends stormtroopers flying looks so awesome. It’s a shame it’s only useful on stormtroopers and other harmless enemies. Not much more to say about this. It can’t be combined with any other attack, and I used it a lot while midair to make sure I hit enemies with it. Every other Force power used in the air has terrible targeting.
  • Force Lightning Shield: Or something like that. I barely used this until I found out it made my saber stun people with lightning. I never maxed it out, but at the 2nd rank it lasted maybe 5 seconds. I usually would cast it, get knocked down while taking forever to cast it, and by the time I got back up it was gone and I was near death. But at least it lessens the amount of damage you take when you are completely vulnerable on the floor.
  • Saber Throw: As worthless as the saber is already, they made it even more inefficient. The highlight of having your lightsaber out is that it automatically deflects a lot of laser fire. Throwing it at someone removes this ability. It does crap for damage then comes back to you. It does have a little bit of a force push type of power on it, so that was kind of cool, but not dependable, just like the targeting system. I’ve thrown sabers at absolutely no one because the targeting hated me. I wouldn’t recommend trying to make this one useful.

That’s about it for the Force powers. They are the highlight of the game, but most are still for looks only, and actually do shit to the enemy. But it looks really damn cool sometimes.

You also get abilities like a dash, which doesn’t usually do much for you but help you not get hit as often by laser fire. It has its own combos, but I don’t think I ever hit anyone with them. The targeting system can be a huge pain in the ass often, which can be frustrating. The camera can be twitchy and weird, too, which doesn’t help the targeting system at all. They tried to make the boss fights look epic with angled camera shots, but they only led to me not knowing where the hell I was or where I can hide to recharge my damn lightning.

The boss fights are where the game instantly goes to “completely unfun”. Every boss in the game is impervious to most saber force powers, unless you time them perfect. Only one of the bosses I felt like I was completely destroying using all of my powers, and I actually enjoyed it. The rest just kicked the crap out of me until I cheap-shot them to death. This usually involved Force Push and, you guessed it, Force Lightning. I can’t stress enough how worthless the lightsaber is in these fights. One of the most epic things about Star Wars are the lightsaber battles. Yet here I am getting every hit “blocked” and then getting my face crushed in the process. I’m not going to ruin much about the Star Destroyer “boss fight”, but it is way more complicated than it needs to be, and doesn’t feel like a challenge, but more like unfiltered irritation.

The “Lightsaber-Proof Shield” enemies, such as the Hell’s Angels described above, are the worst part of the game. The first few you can figure out how to kill them. If they are using the shield just force power the crap out of them, no big deal. But these Terminator stormtroopers are the bane of this game. The first one I encountered shot this giant ball of plasma shit at me, which took about a quarter of my health bar, and knocked me down. By the time my “get back up” animation was finally finished, the next plasma orb hit me and knocked me back down. I died from getting hit by this every time I let the first one hit me. They only use this attack if you are far away though, so you need to get close. So I run at him and try to saber him. No effect. Even with the shield down, it did almost no damage, and he was still able to crush me into the ground or send me flying. And when he had that red arm shield up, nothing affected him but, as always, Force Lightning or Force Lightning Shield attacks. They could not be pushed or thrown, and even the saber toss or throwing boxes at them did minuscule damage. You can knock them down by throwing shit at them, but even when they are down when saber attacks are supposed to be “stronger”, it wasn’t enough to make it worth it. I am pretty sure a squad of a dozen of these assholes could have probably taken down the entire Jedi Council if they never knew how to use Force Lightning.

That is all there is for the gameplay. The other huge annoyance involves everything in the menus. The menu system was easily the most overlooked part of this project. Everything looks like placeholder graphics and the game had to go to a loading screen for every section you chose. How the hell could a shitty-looking menu be so memory-intensive that it has to load each one separately?

Now, in the menus is where you get to do some of my more favorite parts of the game: customizing your lightsaber color and “power”, and change costumes. I messed around with my lightsaber color all the time, and was thrilled when I got the black lightsaber crystal. It looked pretty badass. The power crystals are pretty much worthless because your saber is worthless. The few cool ones added more damage to your lightning attacks (go Force Lightning!) and the last one you got added life leech, which was fun when you actually could get some saber attacks off on some enemies and get a little bit of life back. Against smaller units this made you damn near unstoppable with the saber on Normal, so that was the most fun I had with it.

I found an awesome Jedi costume once, put it on mid-level, and it was gone the next level. They managed to bug it so once you change costumes, it has to reload your last checkpoint. But if that checkpoint was before you found the costume, it didn’t save the costume after the level you were on. Knowing myself, I instantly changed into the costume, so I lost it. I never went back to get it, I was so pissed. Besides that bug though, some of the unlockable costumes were pretty cool looking.

Now onto the leveling system. You randomly leveled up in the game. There was no obvious experience bar, so it could happen at any time. There were 3 force spheres you could get. One was for force powers, one was for different combos, and the other was for stats like life and force mana. Again, the game’s difficulty varies based on how you set these up. If you max out the stat that maxes your mana, and the one to make it refresh faster, and then maxed out your lightning force power, you could actually beat the game without shooting yourself. Anything else makes the game more difficult.

Most of the combos I never used, especially the aerial ones. I only knew of one attack that shot guys in the air, and it involved 3 saber swings and then a force push. It took way too long, and I was usually knocked down before I could get it off, so it wasn’t worth the hassle. There was a cool grab you could do to easy enemies, but worthless on anything challenging, so it was just easier to hit them once than do the grab.

You could see a difference when you leveled up your force powers though, so that was nice. I never even cared to try Force Throwing multiple enemies though. Too many buttons when I was trying to keep the game’s pace as fast as possible.

Now that I have talked shit about the game this entire time, I do have to mention that I did beat the game and managed to have a good time with it. I accepted the crappy tactics I had to constantly use, took full advantage of easy enemies to have fun with the saber, and prayed for luck on the boss fights.

The story really was a great connection between episodes 3 and 4. I’m not one to bitch about canon, because as much as I love Star Wars, I don’t “love” Star Wars enough to nerd-rage over some small plot holes. Getting to play the bad guy is always fun, and I can’t express how much fun it can be to destroy the Star Wars enemies we recognize from the movies. Jawas flying, stormtroopers slamming into walls, even some rodians and droids getting shocked. Some of the easter eggs were cool too. Even though some of the bigger enemies were irritating, some of the QTEs to kill them looked cool, and I felt relief after finally killing some of them and the bosses.

Also, I always aim at the things that bother me, but in the end getting to use all these force powers really makes you feel powerful and can be a lot of fun. That is was playing Vader was the best part for me. Talk about one man army.

All in all, if you love Star Wars, you will get a kick out of this game. But if you are playing just for story and having a good time, I would not recommend any difficulty higher than Normal. After that it is nothing but levels taking 4 hours longer and constant aggravation.

Pictures taken from IGN and GameInformer.

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