In Star Wars games that have Jedi as a predominate role; lightsaber combat usually takes center stage when fighting. However, with the release of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, the spotlight has shifted to the thing that makes a Jedi….well, a Jedi: the Force. The much-hyped Force Unleashed had promised a game with the difficult premise of being able to use the Force like never before, and in this area it definitely delivers. If you were to sit down and watch all six episodes, none of them would come close to how well the Force is wielded in this game. It almost makes it seem like the Jedi from the movies were holding back on the Force's power. Here, the force is used to its full potential with little inhibition and almost no regards to the surrounding environment. It has literally been unleashed onto an unsuspecting galaxy.
The story in The Force Unleashed is quite expansive. Set some years after the events of Revenge of the Sith, Darth Vader has tasked his secret apprentice to hunt down and bring to "justice" the remaining pockets of Jedi that survived Order 66, and to do it without leaving any evidence of his existence. To the player's delight, that means the Resistance and Stormtroopers alike are to be dealt with. The story of The Force Unleashed is perhaps one of the best things about the game and, with thanks to George Lucas, it is accepted as canon and forms a perfect bridge between Episodes III and IV.
The story is intermixed with exceptional cutscenes and impressive character designs. The Secret Apprentice's clothes (and believe me, there are a lot of costume changes) look amazing. Rather than wearing traditional Jedi robes, his clothes are well thought out and are suited for different combat situations. For instance, lighter equipment is adorned in hotter jungle-style locations. Planets and other locations were also created with great care. The wasteland planet of Raxus Prime looks particularly marvelous. Scrap metal floating around in its orbit and an endless sea of garbage scattered around the landscape make it feel like a post-apocalyptic planet. Intricate detail was crafted into these planets and it shows.
LucasArts has kept the core Force powers that we all know and love intact; the main staples being Force's Push, Grip, and Lightning powers. The key difference from the movies is that they've been have enhanced to a level that is so over-the-top that it almost makes them seems like new powers. When you Force-Push someone, they don't just fall back a few feet; they are heaved at frightening speeds. Powers can even be combined to provide a greater variety of actions. Say you have a barrel lifted in the air with Force-Grip, a zap of Force-Lightning can be used to charge the barrel and, when it hits another object, cause an explosion to take out an area of enemies. Almost anything and everything can be controlled by the force in this game. People, small robots, even TIE fighters are at the whim of the Secret Apprentice.
The element that makes the Force seem so all-powerful is the incorporation of Digital Molecular Mattering. This simulates how real world materials would bend or break depending on how much force is used against them. Wood will splinter like real wood, glass will shatter, metal will bend and even giant plants will grasp on to their parts before it is ripped away by the Force. This a great touch of realism to the game and shows what the Force can do to objects in the real world. However, it seems that not all things have been infused with this technology. While things such as large trees and wooden gates will splinter and explode with great majesty, small branches will only blow as if pushed by a gust of wind rather than be uprooted and fly off in the distance as you would expect. Even with this small omission, the DMM technology is vastly shown throughout the game and shows how destructive the Force can be.
DMM also works well with another of the game's innovative technologies: the Euphoria engine. This feature adds real world behaviours to AI in the game. When a Stormtrooper is grabbed by Force-Grip and thrown around an area, they will frantically try and find things to stabilize them, such as boxes on the ground or nearby Stormtroopers. This technology definitely delivers on its promise, yet it is perhaps most prominent in the rag doll physics of thrown Stormtrooper corpses.
Lightsaber combat has its hits and misses in this game. While it is very destructive, the stylized combat and fluid movements that you've seen in the prequel trilogies aren't really present, and over the years, fans want to see more involved lightsaber combat and the inclusion of some of the different lightsaber fighting styles. The more impressionable moves are seen used in conjunction with the Force, which is greatly emphasized in this game. In the movies, you've only seen fancy lightsaber swings and then perhaps a push or objects thrown here or there. In The Force Unleashed, you can do some pretty interesting combos, such has adding Force-Lighting to a saber strike or Force-Push to a lightsaber swing, and bat a few Jawa dingers.
The game includes a pretty straightforward leveling system for increasing the Secret Apprentice's stats. One way to do that is to collect the Jedi Holocrons scattered around the level. Some of these bad boys can net you an easy 10,000 experience points to level up, while others give you rewards such as new costumes, lightsaber crystals and free Force spheres. These Force spheres are broken up into three categories that level up Force powers, combos and talents. This gives you the option of creating a Jedi that fits your style. If you feel you want to be a more of a Jedi Guardian, then you can focus your talents on increasing lightsaber strength and combos; if a Consular is more your fancy, then Force powers should be a main priority of your leveling. The sheer numbers of these Holocrons found in a level is almost staggering. When I thought I had been through every nook and cranny finding these things, I realized I had only found a fraction of them. Searching for these things will require a great deal of puzzle-solving as well as platforming.
This is where the game becomes a bit less entertaining. Platforming becomes a bit of a chore at times and the camera is less than helpful. Since it takes both control sticks to utilize the Force Grab power, the ability to change the angle becomes stuck when using this power and will only change if the object you are holding moves into a new position. In addition, almost everything can be targeted by the Force in this game, so it gets pretty out of hand when trying to discern a target out of a crowd. When trying to target an attacking AT-ST, you'll probably end up latching onto a barrel sitting next to it. The targeting gets overwhelming and becomes more of a hindrance than an ally.
Perhaps another thing that could have been improved is basic lightsaber combat. As stated previously, this game largely focuses on the use of Force powers and the lightsaber can almost be seen as a sub weapon, and it doesn't seem thought out as well. After a while, it feels like you're doing the same combo over and over, and at times you will simply get bored of the same actions.
Overall, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is a pretty good game. Seeing Force powers used like this for the first time ever is an immense joy, and throwing Stormtroopers and crushing AT-ST is greatly satisfying. The story alone is enough to pick up a copy and give it a try. If you are a Star Wars fan, you owe it to yourself to add this to your collection.