It's quite sad that the last action game that made us feel like a Force-wielding super being was Midway's Psi-ops - and that's getting on a bit these days. With a huge amount of technical wizardry and a healthy "for the good of the game" delay we had high hopes for LucasArts' Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Would this finally be the action game Star Wars fans have been waiting for or yet another game to feel the dark side of our reviewing stick?
The Force Unleashed takes place between Episodes III and IV and is cannon to the series. This isn't a hastily put together cash-in, but a fully thought out story that ties in to what you already know about the Star Wars saga. Vader finds a young boy on the Wookie home world of Kashyyyk who shows incredible promise with the Force. After killing his father Vader takes the young boy under his wing and grooms him as his apprentice. When he's old enough the apprentice is given a mission of his own - to round up a Rebel army with the pretence of taking on the Empire. It's fairly typical Star Wars stuff if we're being honest, but it's told well, acted commendably, features the odd twist, and doesn't reveal all its cards until the end. But a video game is only ever as good as the underlying gameplay.
Over the course of a fairly brief seven to eight hour campaign you'll play as the apprentice, slicing up storm troopers and various home world creatures with your lightsaber and using your Force powers to throw them about or fry them with electricity. It feels like a fairly basic God of War-like hack and slash combined with the ability to use the Force. Not a bad combo at all, but LucasArts hasn't quite managed to develop a game that's on par with the best of the genre.
After an opening level in which you play as an incredibly powerful Vader you're powers are suddenly rather limited as the apprentice. You have a basic saber slash attack, Force push and Force Grip. This is enough to go on small rampages, pushing storm troopers off ledges and throwing them into the air, but soon enough you'll gain a whole heap of new powers and attack combos.
Once you've got Force Lightning you can combine it with lightsaber attacks for deadly combos, and the Force Repulse, which sees the apprentice unleash a wave of energy all around him, is one of our favourite moves in a video game ever. When you're levelled up in terms of upgrades the game is incredibly fun to play... most of the time. Sadly, there are moments in The Force Unleashed that will test your patience and question if the game was ready to be released.
Snipers are a pain in most games, but in a game where long range attacks aren't especially long range they're an even bigger head ache. Once they appear in the game your enjoyment takes a nose dive. We ended up prioritising them in every encounter, but from time to time you wont be able to get to them quickly enough, and towards the end of the game there are so many that you'll want to Force choke the bloody controller. One section towards the very end that we won't spoil even goes down the route of cramming every annoying mini-boss into the room at once. It's not good game design and left a rather bitter taste in our mouth.