"It's all about the force, and the force out of control." That's the LucasArts line on Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, a game that LucasArts is touting as the next chapter in the Star Wars saga and the game that will take Star Wars gaming to a whole new level. Based on what I'm watching on the huge LCD screen in front of me, they're right. As Darth Vader makes his way through a wookie outpost on the home world of Kashyyyk, vast gates are torn apart, Chewbacca's chums are flying everywhere and Darth seems intent on massive scale deforestation by thrown light sabre. Frankly, all hell is breaking loose.
"What's that?" you say, "Darth Vader? Isn't The Force Unleashed the story of Vader's secret apprentice, not the man himself?" Well, you're not wrong, but LucasArts felt it was a good idea to start the game with a bang, putting you slap-bang in the shoes of the Dark Side's ultimate badass. It works. Using combinations of his force grip and force push powers on the wookies and their defences, Darth is apocalypse on two legs. Those walking rugs and their yellow-bellied Jedi allies just don't stand a chance.
Behind the mayhem there's a trinity of cool technologies. The main physics engine is Havok, responsible for ensuring that practically any object in the game can be picked up and thrown around by the sheer force of Darth's will. Next comes Digital Molecular Matter, a technology created by the Swiss developer Pixelux. Digital Molecular Matter gives objects material properties, so that they react to external forces as that material would in real life. With DMM, there's no need for the same tired animation every time a breakable object gets hit by something hard and fast. Instead, the object dents, bends, breaks or shatters according to its material properties and the force and angle of the blow. Watching the Wookies' hefty wooden gateway torn apart by the dark side of the force, it's difficult not to feel impressed. This is the kind of power that every dark lord should have at his or her disposal.
The third technology is Euphoria, NaturalMotion's behavioural simulation system (and recently seen in Grand Theft Auto 4). Euophoria gives the characters in The Force Unleashed what LucasArts is calling a 'digital nervous system.' They'll try to balance themselves when a wooden bridge ripples beneath them. When plucked from the ground with Darth's mighty force grip, they'll twist and wriggle to try and get their feet back on terra firma. When one is hit by an object, they react according to lifelike physical forces. Put these three technologies together and you have the most believable physical simulation I've yet seen in a video game. Better still, this whole world has been created so that you can tear it up.