Wednesday, October 13

Taking the Fun out of the Force

When the demo for the original instalment of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed hit, I was blown away. I can say without hyperbole, that I would have played through it over fifty times. Starkiller was a force-powered monster, laying waste to stormtroopers en masse, throwing Tie Fighters across a crowded hangar, and taking on an AT-ST. One man versus an Imperial Walker! Such heroism had not been seen since Empire (Strikes Back for the uninitiated). After playing the demo to the point where every enemy movement, piece of twisted metal and scream was imprinted in my memory, I desperately craved the impending retail release. After playing through the first level, which thanks to the demo I had become intimately familiar with, I finally saw more of the game. After experiencing many cheap deaths, and pathfinding issues, I quickly fell out of love with SWTFU; so much so that I returned it to the retailer within 7 days.

Almost 6 months later, I decided to re-engage with the title and eventually saw it through to completion. I didn't love it; particularly the brutal boss fights and what was the most relentlessly frustrating sequence in recent memory. Spoiler Alert: For those who have not played through the game, know that using the Force to plunge a Star Destroyer into the ground is nowhere near as fun as it should have been. Still, I was able to forgive its flaws and saw a few glimpses of nerdy brilliance.

With the inevitable sequel I had high hopes. At the very least I had hoped that the developers had learned that long, difficult boss fights were not fun. That awkward, unneccessary platforming sections were not fun. That dying repeatedly was exhausting.

If the demo for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II is anything to go by, not a single lesson has been learnt.

I understand that most of the powers have been fully upgraded for the trial, so that the taste of the power of the Force should be irresistable; but when your enemies, mere stormtroopers, can despatch you with surprising efficiency, the taste has been almost irreconcilably spoiled. Maybe I've forgotten how to play, maybe I lack the requisite level of skill, but know that I died a lot while playing through the trial. Also, Force Lightening and Force Grip have been scaled down in terms of effectiveness, while Force Push is unexpectedly powerful. There's also a new mechanic called Force Fury, which essentially makes you temporarily invulnerable and able to call on an immeasurable supply of Force power. This ruined what could have been the most exciting battle in the demo, as I couldn't die and the most fearsome foes were rendered obsolete thanks to my near unlimited power. Perhaps most disappointing of all, is that very little appears to have been added with the sole exception of combos and the new "I WIN!" button.

Perhaps I am exaggerating with that last point, but apart from the new Mind Trick power, a lot of the new additions feel superfluous. There's a sequence where you plunge from a tower and have to destroy incoming obstacles and a painfully unenjoyable chase sequence. The plunge sequence offers no real challenge and serves as an obvious reminder that the Force can be used to blow stuff up. How insightful!

The quality of the visuals has noticably improved, however I encountered many an invisible ceiling when throwing enemies in outdoor environments. Character models are particularly better looking than those found in the original. There were some instances of screen tearing, but no overly unsightly visual blemishes.  Stormtroopers are also more prone to lightsaber-induced leprosy: you'll notice a lot more dismemberment when comparing the sequel to the first game. There were some anomolies in terms of art direction that I observed. In the case of the demo there's a massive battle droid which carries a shield that shoots carbonite foam. It seems like it would've been a pretty effective tool for culling ewoks, so why did the Empire decide to shelve these killing machines during their final battles? I understand that the developers needed to add new types of enemies to freshen up the gameplay, but it just seems to bugger the source material. An argument for another time perhaps?

One last thought: I would argue that the most memorable character from the original game was not Starkiller, but rather the Force itself. Depending on how you played the first instalment (Spoiler Alert), one outcome was that Starkiller died. Why not give the best character a new conduit rather than (what at least appears to be) breathing life into what was a corpse from my first playthrough?

Did anyone love Star Wars: The Force Unleashed? Anyone interested in picking up the sequel?


  1. Timely, considering I'm just on my first playthrough. I'm actually loving it, bugs and glitches and all. It's one of the most self-motivated games I've played in a while, but maybe that's because it has a better idea of what Starwars SHOULD be than the new trilogy. And as we speak, I'm nabbing the PS3 TFUII demo, so keen to check it out.

    I spent a little time playing the PSP version by Krome a while back, and found it to be very, very competent. It was toned down in the physics department, but felt good and controlled nicely.

    Perhaps I'm just being too kind to a glitched game. Then again, for the most part, I find them all the more interesting!

  2. When I played it through to completion on the 360, I almost did it one sitting. Despite the many quirks I found the story compelling. Starkiller wasn't a dud, and the supporting cast also held up their end of the bargain.

    I thought the light side ending was predictable and ultimately, necessary. That's why I object to Starkiller reappearing in Star Wars lore, even if it is in clone form.

    I agree that SWTFU showed a promising direction for Star Wars in videogames. It needs to give you that unbridled sense of power and the obvious moral choices, without the ham drama.

  3. Let's be honest, we received a triple buffet of celluloid ham sandwiches from Lucas.

    Yeah, just finished the demo. I really liked it! It's probably more up my alley than something like God of War or Bayonetta (although, I'm very keen to see what the gameplay of the new DMC turns out like). Nice and fluid, with some great Psi-Ops-esque hurling stuff around.

    By the by, though...I personally don't think Psi Ops has been beaten in the fidelity stakes for controlling that kind of interplay. Force Unleashed is still kinda haphazard in that regard; lots of "Yeah, I'm aiming this barrel at that AT-ST, so of course I want to to spiral away and hit a tree to my left."

  4. Yeah I agree with the whole object aiming dilemma. I've found my gestures are more accurate when I'm using the left stick. I mean somewhere in the vacinity of 90% more in line with what I am intending to do.