To make things worse, the level design is often lacklustre. Sure, we get the odd breathtaking scene or set-piece, but in a lot of ways The Force Unleashed suffers from the same problem as EA’s Army of Two: the core mechanics are all in place for a great time, but the game seems content to trot out variations on the same, slightly bland situations over and over and over again. In this case, the fun of using the Force just about compensates, but when you compare The Force Unleashed to a really great action game, it lacks the sort of tension, pace and flow you would hope for.
Next we come to my recurrent bête noir: quicktime event sequences. The Force Unleashed suffers from the all too common delusion that spectacular battles can only climax in an irritating flurry of ‘Simon Says’ button pressing to trigger the final death blow. Mercifully, it does make them easy, barring one infuriating boss battle where you’re expected to follow some impressively hard-to-follow prompts in order to drag a Star Destroyer out of orbit.
This is one of the worst sections of a game I’ve played this year, and nearly lost The Force Unleashed a point or two on its own. It should never have survived testing in its current form, and I can say the same about numerous other defects, including isolated segments where the mix of enemies and lack of tactical options creates a ludicrous difficulty spike. And could I also mention that some of the checkpointing is unforgivable, sending you back through several tricky fights before a particularly vicious battle. Grrr.
At this point you might be looking at the score at the top of the page and wondering whether I’ve gone bananas. Well, I might have done, but not entirely. Shockingly, I’m more than willing to forgive these hideous, glaring flaws because The Force Unleashed works so well on the cinematic and narrative levels. It’s not just a good-looking game on a technical level, but one where every aspect of the visual design fits perfectly within the established Star Wars universe.
The acting, particularly Sam Witwer’s motion captured performance as the apprentice, is uniformly excellent, and the score works brilliantly, pulling out strands and themes from the prequel and classic trilogies and fitting them perfectly to the new storyline. When you play a Star Wars game you want the authentic Star Wars atmosphere; you want to forget about the outside world and get sucked into a galaxy far, far away. X-Wing and Tie Fighter had it. Knights of the Old Republic had it. Jedi Knight II had it too. The Force Unleashed has it in spades.
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