Force Unleashed : Sith Edition

Lucasarts takes force manipulation to blistering new heights in this game meant to bridge the gap between trilogies and reveal a secret apprentice of Darth Vader.  Ok, so Force Unleashed force jumped onto consoles long ago, but the much awaited PC port, with all the DLC splashed down last holiday season, and we will see if it does the platform justice, or should be tossed in the Sarlacc pit.

The Story

The opening level sees Darth Vader hunting Jedi on the Wookiee planet of Kashyyyk.  Upon battling the Jedi Vader hunted down, he is surprised to find the Jedi has a son, also incredibly strong with the Force.  Rather than kill child and father, Vader sees a golden opportunity to raise up an apprentice in the Sith, with the ultimate goal of overthrowing the Emperor with their combined forces.  As you take control of Starkiller, the now grown apprentice, you begin with paltry missions Vader commits you to, ultimately witnessing the birth of the Rebellion, crossing paths with a few famed characters and setting the stage for Episode IV : A New Hope.  I have some major issues with the story, and it’s here that I judge the game it’s harshest.  Starkiller is a more powerful character than Luke, Vader, Obi-Wan and the Emperor combined, and while I appreciate what they did as a game mechanic, it breaks the over-arcing canon of the Star Wars Universe.  I can’t help but wonder if this would have been better set in the Old Republic timeline, removing the draw of Vader in the storyline, but making the story more believable, and allowing for much more freedom.  It also seems to depreciate the length of time between Episodes III and IV and the implied gap of technology loss and Jedi suppression.  How suppressed are the Jedi, really, when I am piling their bodies up throughout the game?  All in all, if you can overcome the faults, the story does a nice job of keeping you interested, and the character development and voice acting are far from phoned in, they are both very well done.

The Gameplay

Unfortunately, this is another bittersweet potion of the game.  The combos and force powers are fantastic, the use of Vader at the beginning to whet your appetite is a much better element than pulling a more obvious Metroid-ian stripping of your powers to make you gain them back through progression of the game.  The downside is the tipping of the scales with your opponents.  It seems odd that enemies can break your combos and pummel you, whereas you cannot break theirs–and are equally helpless when downed, where you become the victim of a string of combos, from which you cannot break or recover.  Combined with that, some of the higher level enemies seem overly powerful, and combined, these elements will lead to a multitude of frustrating and unecessary deaths.  This seems not only incongruent with the powerful character of Starkiller, but nullifying to the combo system, when it offers no real advantage.  The levels are vast, and the environments varied, even back-tracking yields different results to shake the feeling of deja vu.  There is some texture popping and collision issues, but overall the environments are beautiful.  Unfortunately, this seems to be the common denominator with Aspyr titles, in addition to poor, infrequent patching–however, I highly recommend installing the latest patches for SWTFU, it makes a big difference.  As always, the camera is just as much an enemy as the forces you are battling, with many falling deaths thanks to the poor angle and platforms you must blind jump to.  The keyboard and mouse controls seemed well mapped, but I am not enough of a purist to abandon my 360 gamepad, which served me much better.

How you get fun, playing DLC of this kind?

The Sith Edition not only offers both DLC missions of the game, but also a unique Hoth mission, not available anywhere else.  The missions are lengthy enough and offer interesting story twists and continuations of the two available endings to the main game’s campaign.  An unending multitude of costumes are available, most unlocked from the beginning or by simple campaign progression, but no real appropriate game mode or setting seems available to try them out in.   For example, each level offers a unique costume for Starkiller that fits the story or individual level-the same can be said for the DLC missions.  Had there been a duel mode or some type of challenge mode, it would have been the perfect place to try out your new duds, but the lack of those options makes you simply feel all dressed up with no place to go.  Also suspicious is the absence of DLC access once you play the campaign mode–you can only play those missions by starting a new game and choosing them individually instead of beginning a campaign.  The missions themselves, however, are good continuations from the main game’s two altered endings.  Two missions follow the evil ending, while the third has you continuing the noble ending and searching for clues to your past.  Each lasts anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour, and are definitely good additions.  So much so, I would say, that I would have been interested to see those stories extrapolated with more DLC, but I guess that’s where SWTFU II will fill in.

The Verdict

So, from all of my commentary so far, it would seem the Dark Side abounds in this game, especially when given the fact that it absorbs and unprecedented 23 gigabytes of hard drive space for the install.  Even with the combat faults and huge install, I had a great time with this game.  The ‘evil’ ending of the game offered an unexpected twist, for me, and opened up the story for more interesting aspects in the DLC campaigns, two of which continue that ending in an alternate universe to the original Episode IV continuation.  Add in the fact that this game debuted at a $39.99 price point, and has since seen a drop, it’s not a bad pickup for any force fan, provided you have the hardware to keep the bugs at bay.  It will be interesting to see what the assumed simultaneous cross-platform sequel holds for Starkiller’s future later this year.

[starreview tpl=46 size=’30’]

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