As a fanboy to the extreme, I am always excited to see any new Star Wars product hit the market. Unfortunately, many times my excitement is short-lived due to the fact that Star Wars games rarely hit the mark. True, there are those that will live in my library for years to come, but most slip quietly out of circulation.In case you are from a galaxy far far away, and are unaware of the plot, The Force Unleashed takes place between Episodes III and IV. The story is centered on a young Jedi named Starkiller, who is being reared by Darth Vader as a secret apprentice, but I won’t go into detail lest I ruin the experience. Suffice to say that the storyline is clearly well constructed and any fan of the Star Wars universe will appreciate the nuances present. From the scrolling introduction (sadly missing from the Clone Wars movie currently in theaters) to the grand cinematic soundtrack, the presentation is great.The Force Unleashed is a very straightforward game with a simple pick-up-and-play configuration that tutors you along the way. When you begin, you have a meager understanding of the force, but are tuned into its dark side. It is quite clear that this side of the force is all about power with little concern for respecting your environments. You can smash and bash just about anything imaginable and it is pure fun. The game is engaging at first, but quickly becomes repetitive. You can hack and slash your way through most sequences, or you can try to be a bit more creative with your power and find more interesting ways to dispense with your enemies. As you fight through the story, you earn points that allow you to level up. This rudimentary RPG system does allow for a bit of welcome distraction from all the hack-and-slash, but it does not really seem necessary. As you level up, there are three categories in which you can improve: force powers, combos and talents. Powers include force push, lighting and force grip. Combos are self-explanatory, albeit pretty annoying to keep track of in the button smashing sequences. Talents are areas that allow you in increase your health/force meters or increase the speed an which they refill. Nothing earth shattering, but it does add a little depth to the whole experience.When the Force Unleashed was announced, it was the physics and destructible environments that had gamers champing at the bit to play it . The good news is this is, by far, the most realistic Star Wars game I have played in terms of the overall feel of the environments. Even with the full capacity of the force, heavy objects aren’t easy to manipulate and there is a definite sense of momentum. With the exception of the boss fights at the end of the levels, most enemies seem to have a logical tolerance for damage. Drop a boulder on a Storm Trooper and he will die. Force Push the same character and he will sustain some damage, but probably not die. Of course, if you need to, you can just pick up a character and hurl him into oblivion.The level design is clearly identifiable with the Star Wars universe. You will visit locations and characters that are both familiar and wonderfully-rendered. Aside from some pretty bad camera angles at times, the game looks stunning. Unfortunately, in many cases, the environments, while nice to look at, are just endless mazes you feel forced through. This is definitely not an open-ended game. The experience boils down to wave after wave of enemies, with a boss battle at the end of each stage Similar to the Episode III video game. The boss battles themesleves are often tedious and frustrating, especially considering that, in most, if you die you need to start the battle over again. However, once you figure out each boss’ weak point, the fights become a matter of patience and persistence. The Force Unleashed is not a long game by any means. I finished it on the normal difficulty setting in under 10 hours and could probably do it in half that time, now that I know how to defeat the bosses. The lack of any multiplayer option and the game’s linear nature mean there is not much in the way of replay value that will keep gamers coming back to The Force Unleashed. Sadly, the experience is destined to be short-lived.Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is a fun game to play. Getting your hands dirty with the dark side of the force and smashing everything in sight is enjoyable. Unfortunately, it soon becomes repetitive and the initial thrill of the force powers vanishes. Any Star Wars fan should give the Force Unleashed a shot, as it’s the best Star Wars game since Battlefront. Just be prepared to let it go when you are finished with it.
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