A few weeks ago I watched the latest Star Wars: Clone Wars movie. The most entertaining part was this little kid in the theatre with us who regularly would jump up and down the isles making noises and swinging around his invisible lightsaber.
It made me realise two things. The first was that I didn't enjoy the movie, the second was that no matter how old we get, deep down a lot of us still dream of being a Jedi.
The problem with the recent movies (which just weren't as good as they should have been) is that some of us have stopped caring.
But then I got my hands on Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and I've got to say, I care again. About the story, anyway.
Without giving too much away - this is a story you should see for yourself - the game takes place one year before Star Was: A New Hope, which was the first movie in the original trilogy (aka Episode 4). Considering the last movie we saw (Episode 3) finished with Luke as a baby, and a freshly built Darth Vader, there's a large gap in time which we know very little about.
So what did happen? Well, for starters, Darth Vader went to the home world of the Wookies in order to hunt down some of the last remaining Jedi. During this prologue stage (which oddly enough does not act as a tutorial) you play as Vader himself. It's pretty cool and you definitely feel how powerful and unstoppable he is. Long story short: Vader ends up finding a boy strong in the Force whom he takes as his secret apprentice. The game then skips ahead to the year before the first movie point, and you get to take control of the apprentice as Vader sends him out to hunt Jedi.
That's the premise for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and the story is without question the best part of the game. It's a sad realisation that the story in this game is better than any of the last three Star Wars movies. The apprentice (who goes by the codename Starkiller) is a very interesting character who I would love to see again and learn more of his story.
Starkiller also starts off fairly powerful in the use of the Force, and you can use this to your advantage. You can grip people (or objects) and fling them around, and you can use a strong and focused Force push which can send an enemy flying and break down doors. You also develop Force lighting and other abilities throughout the game.
Each of the powers you get can be levelled up as you progress. There is a fairly robust levelling system with stronger powers, more lightsaber combos and other upgrades. It works well and I actually had more fun playing through the game a second time, because I was able to play through with my far more powerful character.
At the start of the game, things quickly became repetitive and not particularly exciting, but as I got stronger and gained more abilities the combat did start to open up more. But unfortunately, it just never felt right. I found myself reminded of the old Soul Reaver games (especially Legacy of Kain: Defiance) in regards to the combat. There were basic combos, but nothing too great, and button mashing mostly worked just as well.
Throwing people around was fun to began with, but after a while started to feel cheap. Boss fights felt a bit better, but at the same time they did not take skill to beat or even to figure out their pattern. No, these bosses are about being patient and slowly whittling their health down. Your Force powers rarely work on them and they are able to respond to things a lot quicker than you can (more on this later).
There's some nice ideas here with the Force battles but it just never completely clicks. Each big battle also ends with the now standard Quick Time Event which is not done any better or worse here than in other games.
It must be a difficult thing to balance a Jedi/Sith game, because how do you make the player feel powerful without making it too easy? And how do you make it challenging without being cheap?
It appears the developers couldn't figure out an answer, because this certainly is cheap! I died countless times because I would get knocked down and shot to death while Starkiller took his sweet time to stand up. Or my favourite, getting hit by a rocket, knocked down and the same guy shooting the rocket again perfectly in time just as I stand up. So basically I'd keep getting knocked down every time I stood up without enough time to do anything about it until I died and reloaded.