I will admit, I am a late entry into the Star Wars franchise. I grew up with Episodes IV – VI but they never really stuck, seeing as how I was a small child and a lot of the more ‘grand’ themes of the movies were lost on me. However, being in my early twenties I decided that I should try to actually watch them through and see what all the fuss was about. Now being sufficiently caught up on the movies after seeing both Rogue One and Episode VII (among Episodes I, II, and III) I have been able to go into the Star Wars games with more knowledge and a better understanding of the universe that makes up Star Wars. This is when I discovered The Force Unleashed – and it completely rocked my view of the Star Wars saga.
The Force Unleashed is set between Episode III and IV of Star Wars and largely focuses on Darth Vader and his padawan named Star Killer – whom you play as throughout the game. You begin the game as Darth Vader in all of his terrifying glory – blasting things to shreds and flinging poor Wookiees left and right all while barely taking a hit. As you carve your way through Kashyyyk you finally end up at a small hut protected by what seems to be a lone Jedi fugitive. After a relatively short battle, you succeed in beating the Jedi protector only to discover that he is harboring a small child; a child who is stronger with the Force than even Vader. Upon his discovery, Darth Vader chooses to make the child his padawan and to train the child in secret. However, a lot of what makes this game great isn’t in the story, which is interesting but not necessarily mind-blowing. This game is great because it shows you what the Force can actually do and gives you full control over one of the most powerful Sith in the galaxy. This game does right what all the movies do wrong; namely it actually utilizes the Force for more than lifting an apple across a table to woo a past queen-present senator. The Force is powerful and has so much untapped potential to both the movie franchise and the game franchise as well.
In the Force Unleashed, some of the best (and worst) battles are against other Force-users. The first boss even poses an interesting challenge as the rest of the enemies up until that point are a relative cake-walk to defeat. When you first face a Force-user, you actually have to think about what you are doing and strategize. However, shortly into the story you are met with increasingly more difficult bosses with a difficulty curve that spikes ridiculously high. Unfortunately, this is where the game starts to falter. It gives you enemies that are gnats, and then proceeds to throw an elephant at you with almost no training or prerequisite skills. Oddly enough, there is an optional area in the game that will train you all of the skills in the game but you have to go into the pause menu to reach it- seemingly unnecessary design flaw when a simple tutorial would have sufficed. During combat you will face enemies that can stun you permanently until they can slowly pick your health away to zero and camera controls that will easily make you motion sick if you aren’t careful. Unfortunately, the Force Unleashed is beyond frustrating in many different places and will often test your patience in a plethora of ways, though what it lacks in actual game play it makes up for in its moments of unbridled awesome that make you want to keep pushing forward, flaws and all, to reach the next moment where you can look to the person next to you and say “DID YOU SEE THAT?!!?”
The Force Unleashed has some INCREDIBLE moments that really can’t exist in any other type of gaming universe. The Force has so much potential power and this game shows you exactly how much power the Sith and the Jedi have control over. One instance that comes to mind is the completely unforgettable ‘boss-fight’ with a Star Destroyer on the planet of Raxus Prime. After fighting your way through a heavily guarded star ship construction station and subsequently destroying it, you walk away thinking you have won and have saved the day. However, you are quickly alerted to the fact that a Star Destroyer is bearing down on you. Now, a rational person would probably turn and run as fast as humanly possible because Star Destroyers are some of the most imposing and destructive ships ever made. But not you! You’re Starkiller, the most powerful force user in the galaxy.
So what do you do? YOU PULL THE STAR DESTROYER FROM SPACE AND CRASH IT STRAIGHT INTO THE GROUND. These kinds of moments are why you will want to keep playing The Force Unleashed and sometimes it will be the only thing keeping you going when the game kills you for the ‘nth’ time in a stupid way.
However, as awful as it can be, the strangest thing about it is that I simply can’t put it down. Now, this may be because I am a complete sucker for the Force and think it is one of the most underutilized concepts in the Star Wars saga. But, even when The Force Unleashed is being a terrible mess of 2008 game development, I still tend to make my own fun out of the situation. More often than not I will stick around areas to find all of the secrets that unlock things like concept art, costumes, and even new light saber crystals (even a black light crystal!). I love delving into the secrets of a game and especially a franchise because (as a historian at heart) I love to know the ‘why’ of the thing. The Force Unleashed gives an unparalleled look into what the Jedi and Sith are capable of by giving you the unbridled power of a Sith and giving you the choice to delve deeper into the Dark Side- or to redeem yourself and come into the Light.