It seems that for every brilliant moment LucasArts wanted to bring you back down to Earth. We lost count of the times a fairly lightweight blaster shot knocked our guy into a chasm for an instant death, and some of the checkpoints are appallingly placed. During one stage we managed to accidentally walk into an invisible wall which sent us sliding down a hill to an unfortunate death. When it works The Force Unleashed is an incredible amount of fun and highly satisfying to play, but it too often feels like it needed a few more months of testing. The haphazard targeting system is another area of concern and something that will cause you no end of bother once you're dealing with more powerful enemies.
The use of physics here is worthy of a special mention as you'll see things that you simply can't do in other games. Charge up a Force Push, let rip across a bridge full of storm troopers and watch in awe as the bridge ripples and the helpless enemies go flying, limbs swinging about all over the place. We found ourselves hunting down areas with lots of glass, jumping into the air and performing Force Repels just to see how things smash. We're less convinced by the way doors seemingly have a mind of their own when it comes to bending them open, but it's something we can let go given the quality of physics on display elsewhere.
Large open rooms are where most fun is to be had, enabling you to zip about, Force pushing and repelling Empire scum until there's no more juicy green health orbs to absorb. There's the odd moment where you seem trapped by a series of enemy attacks that'll leave you cursing the game's cheap tactics, but we got so engrossed at one stage that we'd forgotten we'd pulled a hood over our head and gone slightly pale. But again, just as things are going well you'll encounter something that should have been far better.
Boss fights are essential in a game like this and there could have been some great battles here. Sadly they're let down by a lack of originality in the way you need to wear them down (performing standard moves is enough) and a reliance on Quick Time Events to finish them off. We've made no secret about our dislike of QTEs in the past and here they're particularly disappointing. For one you don't get to see what's happening in the choreographed scenes as you're so focussed on hitting the right buttons as they flash onto the screen, and secondly a series of button presses isn't what we call next-gen gameplay.
It's fair to say that The Force Unleashed features some of the most impressive visuals we've seen on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, with certain levels being packed full of detail that stretches far into the background. You'll see fighters zooming around in the background, space junk floating in the sky and buildings dominating the skyline. Combined with the incredible physics you have something that makes you stop and stare. But as with all aspects of the game, the visuals aren't consistent. One level pretty early on seems barren in terms of detail, with the ground textures and object detail strangely dated compared to the rest of the game. We also encountered numerous moments of slowdown during sections with excessive dynamic lights, and a fair bit of screen tearing in the Xbox 360 version.
Being Darth Vader's apprentice isn't an easy job and neither is making one of the most hyped Star Wars games of recent memory. On the whole LucasArts has done an admirable job and succeeded in making a highly entertaining action romp that gamers (Star Wars fans or not) will enjoy. It's far from the finished article though, with too many niggles and flaws to compete with the best the genre has to offer. If you like the idea of messing with some storm troopers to the extent that it verges on Force-fuelled torture we recommend you give The Force Unleashed a look.