Force unleashed: Cake and dog food.

What the hell is happening?

Force Unleashed starts out with the Star Wars roll and gets your inner (evil) Skywalker by the short and curlies. Commence pan down. Ooo, look, Star Destroyers and they look sexy. Ish. Launch small craft, sweet looking shuttle and pan down to … 8 bit planet?

Right there, as the image of a planet lifted right out of the golden era of 800×600 behind those beautifully rendered Star Destroyers, is your taste of things to come.Jonathon: Kudos on the cloth stuff. I was worried I would have to find a way to be generous because I couldn’t exactly see where cloth simulation was going to be involved, but the penny began to drop. It’s not just cloaks rippling in the wind, but all the fabric the characters wear, right?

Unfortunately, when Vader steps out of the shuttle craft, the cloak moves so naturally that what you notice is that his boots look awful and the intern developing the walking animation didn’t quite finish it. Ok – it’s using the in-game engine to render it and it’s not supposed to be up that close. Ok. Forgiven.

You’re deposited on Kashyyk and a 10m field of view. There’s lots to see, it’s just hard to see any of it because they want to give you trees and stuff to play with.

So I took a step back and concentrated on playing the game – I’m not qualified to be an art critic. For the first few minutes, it’s a little claustrophobic. The force stuff is fun and very neat, the effects work nicely to keep you immersed, but you have to target things to apply the force to them and I find it can be really tricky trying to find the correct angles.

There’s an awful lot of relative-angles stuff, and it can often be hard to tell exactly what your character is doing, which gets frustrating for an old mouse user like myself because the enemy doesn’t have any problem getting a bead on you.

The Vader level is a neat idea – it gives you a taste of what is to come before dropping you into the demo level and the commencement of your training. Nice to have a bit of gameplay before the storyline sets off.

One question that came to mind was – what came first: the demo or the gold? In the Demo, there was a variety of things that were destructible that aren’t in the gold — for instance, during the demo I had no problem bending the rails in the support struts in the inner space to destroy the tie fighters flying around the edges but in the release they just bend right back when struck. In the demo, I could throw stuff at the racks of Tie Fighters and blow them up but in the demo stuff just flies off at weird angles or bounces off the Tie Fighters.

The release also appears to have a memory or resource leak – after an hour of playing, it began to chug. When I tried to do the “Sith Flurry Challenge” it was impossible – every time I hit a storm trooper, it stuttered making it impossible to press the X button at the right time.

Also – I’ve mentioned this about 360 games before – right as the credit roll started, that opening Star Wars fanfare, right as the game re-started the DVD player, there is a chug – consistently – which stalls out the entire system for a few miliseconds, but just long enough to create a brief audio gap.

Once the game gets going, it’s replete with beautiful Star Wars immersion wielding ungodly amounts of Force Powers. There’s the odd thing that doesn’t work as expected for the purpose of gameplay and you can’t actually finish a boss on your own, instead you get a Dragon’s Lair/Bee Movie/Bourne style end-sequence where you have to press the button that appears on screen – but hey, they’re boss monsters and it’s kinda nice having a big Star Wars ending rather than same old.

Force-blasting doors off their hinges, throwing Tie Fighters around with the force, very cool and fun, so far my favorite part is an area where huge machines are spot-welding Tie Fighter bodies being moved along a conveyor belt, and you can force-pull the welding machines and use them to kill enemies.

But the cutscenes keep throwing this clash of artistry at you. The character models will look sweet, but there’ll be something wrong with the shadowing that causes immersion breaking flickering, or there’ll be something hideously under-textured. Darth-Vader in glorious ultra-realism will issue you a command and the camera pans around to reveal what looks like a pre-render of the Star Destroyer bridge.

And then back to gameplay.

So far both levels I’ve finished end with a Jedi as a boss, during which the camera mode changes. Instead of following you, it’s locked to the center of the room. Suddenly you are trying to play a 3d FPS game with a Monkey Island camera.

The first room isn’t so large, so it’s not that much of a problem, although this camera change causes your controls to change subtly and makes targetting really f’in hard.

The second boss mob… That’s where cake and dog food truly comes into play. You fight him in this fairly large area that is a junk-yard recreation of the Jedi Counsel room. For most of this fight neither character was on screen. What the hell?  With zero camera control, and with the controls now operating as character-facing relative expect to fall off the edges, get stuck behind things, etc. Just don’t expect to be in control. Your job is to stay in the middle of the screen and not dodge or avoid the incoming damage from him.

It took me over an hour to finish that boss, and then I tried it again on easy and gave up after 15 minutes.

Following a cool storyline cutscene I was presented with Fungus Land and no actual desire to fight my way to another crappy boss experience. I’ll probably work up the enthusiasm again in a day or two.

Lots of little, annoying trivia: the brunt of the combat is a combo system where you press various combinations or sequences of buttons to achieve an awesome new combat style. Except, actually its more than that. Some of the combos require simple press A then B; some require press X and then press X again when you get a certain piece of feedback (‘Sith Strike’ requires you to press X each time there is a sparkle at the end of your light saber, ‘Sith Saber Flurry’ requires you to press X, pause, press X, pause, press X, pause and press X one more time).

There’s a couple of combos with the same keys (sith punt and sith flurry) and some of the combos are really hard to pull off because the first stroke knocks the target away so it can be really hard to hit the second stroke in the time alotted.

On the other hand, pulling combos off results in oodles of cool, Star Wars goodness…

I guess it’s not a bad thing that I can’t pull off this kind of goodness on day 1.

So, in summary:

  • Gameplay: Pretty excellent, lots of freedom, combos, rewards for being diverse rather than finding an optimum technique (if you find one, its over-use makes it sub-optimum), puzzles that require you to look at the environment on a larger scale.
  • Cutscenes: Strong storyline and plot, poor execution: overall, weak.
  • Boss encounters: crappy.
  • Software: buggy – definitely some kind of memory/resource leak, be prepared for things like floating “scorches” and if you don’t play it “rampage to the end” style: stuff you can’t target somehow, stuff that doesn’t work unless you re-load the level, getting stuck under stuff, etc.
  • Interface: To level up your character you have to access the options interface which has to be loaded and unloaded each time, which can take upto a minute and quickly gets tedious/annoying.

Overall? Given other console games I’ve played recently, and just how much fun I had with the basic gameplay of wandering around force-gripping storm troopers and using them as missiles to kill rebels with or force-throwing jawa’s up into the sky, I would give it a 6 out of 5, but given the amount of dog food that is secreted away in this Angle Cake of Star Warsy Goodness, I have to give it a 3/5.

3 Comments

Some tips for telling if you will like Force Unleashed:

1. Do you really enjoy a good excuse to try 150 different ways of killing Storm Troopers? Electrocute that one, freeze this one in carbonite, crack a spaceship window so that one gets sucked out into space, throw an R2D2 at an explosive barrel and wipe out those ones?

2. Do you get a buzz out of being killed from full health by a mob that “sticks” you – i.e. the first blow causes an animation loop that is longer than the mobs rate of fire? In Force Unleashed terms, you are a preferred customer.

3. Are you tired of watching boss fights? Have you longed for a game that points the camera at some interesting scenery instead of watching all that tedious combat? Go FU!

4. Do you love a good bit of Star Wars storyline? I’m liking the FU story so far.

5. Are you never happy with a game where killing the mobs always work? Have you found yourself longing for a good old “invulnverable mob” bug? Unleashed loves you.

6. Like a bit of an RPG element with your rampant destruction? In FU you gain points as you go that you can spend on various powers/skills – by the end you’ll have them all, I think, but you can vary the storyline and your favorite powers as you goto make repeating levels a bit more interesting.

7. Tired of having to work out where to go? Do you miss old tunnel-games like Doom?

Lots of dumb-ass bugs and unfortunate little mistakes; like a row of jumptroopers you can kill by stepping just far enough away that their rocket packs turn off and they fall to their deaths, seams in the sky, terrain you can fall thru. If you just power your way thru the game instead of trying to pace yourself and enjoy it, look around for power-ups and secrets, you’ll find all these wonderful little glitches.

:)

I have the Wii version, which has some differences (story in a different order, less objects to force control, no difficulty modes, duel mode).

The Wii controls are great.
Duel Mode is fun, but you can’t play against AI – only a local human.
The graphics are PS2-level, but would look decent if they could have any level of anti-aliasing.
Long load times.
The gameplay is only 6 hours? (I haven’t finished yet, but that is the word in the reviews)

I think I’ll play through it twice and then rarely touch it again.
I wish there was more suspense, like in Dark Forces.
The controls make me really look forward to the Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Lightsaber Duels (only on the Wii and with full lightsaber control…probably requiring the new Wii-Remote add-on)

There are /some/ cutscenes, on the 360 version, that are incredible. That opening sequence in particular should have been pre-rendered, at least the planet in the background.

There are also a bunch of places now that I’ve seen texture glaringly obvious texture seams, particularly in the sky – I guess they ran into a memory constraint that forced them to reduce the sky resolution across the board. And while I say “sky” these are eye-level areas, I’m not talking about “if you specifically skew the camera upwards to look at a part of the sky they didn’t expect you to look at”. There is one level where you have to destroy a communications tower, for instance, and as you come round the last corner to the edge of the tower, voila huge freakin’ texture seam in the navy blue/purple sky.

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