Review: Star Wars - The Force Unleashed

This post is more than 2 years old.

Ok, so I'm a bit of a Star Wars nut and I may not be the best person to write an objective review of a Star Wars game, but I have to say Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (TFU) is easily one of the best Star Wars games I've played, and the best on the latest generation video game consoles. Read on for more...

So let's start by talking about what's really good about this game as there is quite a bit to cover. What impressed me right away was the graphics. While not the best I've seen (Bioshock still holds that award in my opinion), the details were amazing and very creative. While some levels come from classic, already seen worlds, others are brand new and really add to the SW universe. My favorite level was the Death Star. The designers did a great job with invoking the size and mood from the first movie.

How about game play? The developers of TFU liked to talk about how the big focus of the game were the force powers. I was a bit concerned about this. I mean sure, it looked good, but how would it work? I remember playing Jedi Knight a few years ago. That was a fun game, but it had a fatal flaw. As soon as I learned the Grip force power, I was unbeatable. How? I'd run into an enemy - pick him up - and either fling him against a wall or drop him off a cliff. So battles typically started and ended with me simply picking up each and every bad guy and just dropping them at the nearest crevice, cliff, or wall. While funny at first, it quickly got boring. Sure I could have stopped using the power, but the temptation was too much to avoid.

TFU handles this in a perfect way I think. Yes - you do have incredible powers. You start off as a pretty powerful guy and grow in strength throughout the entire game. The game achieves balance, though, by overwhelming you with both the amount of enemies and their tactics. So what about my 'pluck and drop' strategy? I was able to use it, but only when a few enemies were on screen. The bad guys would often overwhelm me and knock me back. I could use my force lightning to attack an AT-ST, but doing so left me open to attacks from ground troops. This is probably the game's strongest aspect and will make me play it again and again. While I could act like the super bad ass I knew I was, I had to be careful if I wanted to survive.

Now - the story. This is a bit delicate as I don't want to spoil anything. I'll try not to, but if you know nothing of the story you may want to skip this paragraph completely. I had avoided most of the details of the game so I was pleasantly surprised, and I don't want to ruin that for you. But I'll try to avoid any particular spoilers. The story was very well done. You get a glimpse into early Rebel Alliance history, which as far as I know hasn't been explored much. (At least not in what I've read.) What you learn is actually a bit startling. I jokingly called it the DaVinci Code of the Star Wars story. While it isn't quite that shocking, I was truly surprised and impressed with the game's story. I won't say anymore, and I'd ask that any commenters respect that, but to me, the entire history of the Star Wars universe is deeper and I respect the game for that.

So is the game perfect? Heh, well, nothing is perfect, and TFU certainly has a few warts. I know Brian Rinaldi has talked about the camera issues. I didn't find the camera horrible, but it did screw up more than once. It would also oddly zoom out. My first battle with a Jedi was me looking at one small guy from a mile away fighting another small guy a mile away. This only cropped up a few times though so I can live with it.

The game also had odd bugs and crashes. Now - I know this is not totally unusual for the XBOX 360 (although my Atari 2600 never crashed thank you very much), but it does seem like as if the platform has been rather stable lately - game wise. My game froze once and twice ran into glitches where my character would 'teleport' into some nether region I couldn't move in. This could be fixed by updates later on so I'm not too concerned.

The last thing I'll mention is a personal feeling and folks may disagree with me. This is my biggest beef. I'm sick and tired of "button mashing mini games". You know the "Hit A now. Hit B now. Etc". I still remember being shocked by Mass Effect's use of it. I was expecting it here since the demo had it, but I was still disappointed. Let me explain why. Your battling a Jedi and about to kill him. It's incredibly dramatic as you begin to kick some major Jedi behind. And then all of a sudden - you have to focus 100% of your attention to the bottom of your screen and ensure you hit A, B, etc at the right time. It basically made me wish I was watching the game instead of playing it. If a game makes you wish that - then it's made a serious mistake. I was able to watch - kinda - some of these scenes and they were truly awesome. I just wish I could have watched them completely. Why not just pause the game - let me do the silly button clicking, and then show the end game? (A friend of mine suggested that - I can't take credit for it.) Why do developers add this? I mean, it makes sense in DDR. It makes sense in Guitar Hero. But I wish this type of minigame would be banned from anything else.

So all in all - I loved it. The KOTOR games were certainly good - but I find the ancient history of Star Wars to be... meh. I didn't dislike it, but nothing holds me like the Classic timeline and this was - for all intents and purposes - the same period. You blow up TIEs, AT-STs, and Star Destroyers. You get to see the Death Star, the Executor (still my absolute favorite vehicle in Sci Fi), and other classic images so for me it was a complete and utter nerd-gasm. Obviously - I give this game a definite recommendation!

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About Raymond Camden

Raymond is a senior developer evangelist for Adobe. He focuses on document services, JavaScript, and enterprise cat demos. If you like this article, please consider visiting my Amazon Wishlist or donating via PayPal to show your support. You can even buy me a coffee!

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Archived Comments

Comment 1 by Sam Nicholson posted on 10/6/2008 at 1:36 AM

I keep seeing it advertised on the TV and I gotta say it looks awesome.

I think I'm gonna have to get it.

There are some "making of" videos on youtube which are pretty good to.

Comment 2 by duncan posted on 10/6/2008 at 10:37 AM

I just finally bought myself an Xbox on Friday. The Force Unleashed was one of the free games I could have got with it, but I opted for GTA4 instead, as I'd read a couple of mixed reviews. It does look good though, and nothing can beat playing in the Star Wars universe (something I've not done since the days of X-Wing and TIE Fighter); I'll maybe pick it up later.

Comment 3 by Raymond Camden posted on 10/6/2008 at 3:11 PM

I found GTA4 to be... interesting, but not enough to hold my attention for long. I also found the control scheme to be a bit too complex. What's funny is that the GTA clone, Saints Row, was much easier and I played it until I finished.

As for XWing/TIE... I've given up hope for a new version of that. I spent many hours on all those games. The recent 'star fighter' clones all set in the prequels did nothing for me.

Comment 4 by Dave DuPlantis posted on 10/6/2008 at 11:52 PM

As long as we're straying ... GTA 4 did address some issues that were pretty bad in San Andreas, but IMHO there were still enough things about it that I flat-out didn't like that I couldn't get the level of immersion I wanted. I figure by GTA 6 they will finally have a decent targeting system in place (meaning that by then I'll no longer get killed by a guy standing next to me while I'm patiently shooting at a guy 150 feet away and slightly to my left). I also preferred Saints Row and am looking forward to that sequel, although I admit I am beginning to feel a little uneasy about the characters in those games. I'd rather have Crackdown 2 sometimes. (Yes, I played mostly "good" characters in Oblivion ...)

I will probably add SW:TFU to my GameFly queue, but it'll be a while before I get to it. Can't put down Rock Band 2 right now. Ray, you're going to review that one eventually, right? :)

Comment 5 by Raymond Camden posted on 10/6/2008 at 11:56 PM

I think what sold me on Saints Row is that it was like GTA lite. The simplicity kept me involved and made the game easier to complete. Now the _story_ itself is better in GTA. It's great. But the game itself is just not sucking me in like Saints Row did.

I'll definitely ditto the Crackdown 2 wish. I can't believe this game didn't get as much press (outside of the fact that it was tied to Halo 3). I found Crackdown to be much more fun than Halo 3 was. Oblivion.... -sigh-. Beautiful game. Incredible depth. But I couldn't finish it. I keep saying I will, but I don't have another 40 hours to sink into it.

As for Rock Band 2 - I'm waiting for some kind soul to wish list it. ;) (Yes, I'm greedy. I won't deny it.)

Comment 6 by Brian Love posted on 10/7/2008 at 12:46 AM

Good review.. I agree that the "button mashing mini games" are annoying and distracting.

Overall, its definitely a great game.

Comment 7 by Andy Sandefer posted on 10/7/2008 at 1:47 AM

Playing the game on normal difficulty is fun. The real fun is playing this on Sith Master! You really have to think and react quickly (like a Jedi does in the movies) to survive. I don't know if I would say that this game requires advanced tactics but I definitely agree with @Ray that you can't just walk around using force grip/throw combo all the time - especially on nasty difficulty.
@Ray you left out one of the more interesting aspects of the game which is the saber fighting styles and combos that you can unlock. You're awarded style points based on your variety of force and saber moves and their varying degrees of difficulty. If you master 8 or 10 different combos and mix it up you'll rank up a lot faster. Also don't forget to try for the "Worst Day Shift Manager Ever" achievement when you're playing the prologue!

Comment 8 by Raymond Camden posted on 10/7/2008 at 1:52 AM

@Andy - Yea, good point. I didn't mention it as I can't remember all those combos. I mainly button mash. ;)

Another aspect which is kinda cool is that you can find saber powerups. Some improve the saber - some just change the color.

Comment 9 by DanaK posted on 10/7/2008 at 9:22 PM

heh saints row is actually made by a company here in my town. Good guys. The new SR is coming out next week.

I tried TFU demo, and it was really good. I do agree the hit button combos.... NOW...NOW and NOW ok cut scene was really annoying.

Comment 10 by Raymond Camden posted on 10/7/2008 at 11:12 PM

I didn't know SR was so close to release. Off to add it to my WL now.

Comment 11 by Derek posted on 10/9/2008 at 5:23 PM

Good review Ray, I have to say that I enjoyed the KOTOR series because of the epic scale of the story, and that it kept you in that universe without repeating the story of Vader, Luke and the crew. I enjoyed TFU a lot, and I thought the force powers and how they implemented them were amazing. The physics engine and enemy AI were freaking amazing as well. My brother an I spent hours finding new ways to "dispose" of enemies. I agree with you on the button mashing finishers. When you're a spectator its cool to see, but as a player you have to concentrate on the combos, and that's not very exciting. I had the same problems as you with the strange bugs that kept popping up (walking through walls into oblivion, getting killed by invisible enemies, etc.). Overall though I agree with you that it is an awesome game!

Comment 12 by Andy Sandefer posted on 10/9/2008 at 5:33 PM

I was playing SWTFU on Sith difficulty and during my encounter with General Kota my system red ringed right in the middle of the fight - I mean like game, set and match never to be turned on again. This will be my third XBOX360 and although @Ray joked about the Atari 2600 never blowing up there is some real truth to it (that was my first of many gaming systems). They seriously must do something about product stability (extra fans maybe?) in the next console or they're going to develop a "permanent" reputation as makers of crappy hardware. At least this time I bought the no hassle warranty because it looks like I'll need it. I was watching LOST dvds (yes I've never seen LOST before last month but I'm on Season 2 now and it is a great show) with my wife for approximately 4 hours and then gamed for about 2 when this happened. If the XBOX360 can't be used in a 68 degree environment for 6 hours without exploding then it is crap.

Comment 13 by Raymond Camden posted on 10/9/2008 at 5:35 PM

@AS: Yeah, the 360's only disappointment is the hardware failures. I don't have a PS3, and only know one person who does, but does anyone know offhand if the PS3 suffers the same? I don't mean just hardware failures, but lockups as well?

Comment 14 by Yaron Kohn posted on 10/13/2008 at 8:52 PM

I've been beating my 360 controller to the drum beat of The force unleashed this past weekend. It's definitely the best Star Wars game ever. I'm about 3 missions from completing this game. Good review, officially connecting the two trilogies has brought me back into Star Wars geekdom. Can’t wait for the follow up. One thing GL can do with the upcoming live action series is to do what the new Batman has done for its franchise. I want a dark & angry universe to rear its head. No more kiddy BS. It’s the true fans that grew up with the classics they need to satisfy now.

Comment 15 by Raymond Camden posted on 10/13/2008 at 9:33 PM

Well, not so sure if it is the _best_ game ever. Super Star Wars was pretty darn fun, and the X-Wing series were darn fun space sims.

Comment 16 by Andy Sandefer posted on 10/13/2008 at 9:35 PM

It is the best game ever.
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And everyone else...
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