Final thoughts: The Force Unleashed

I wrapped Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and am awaiting the arrival of BioWare’s Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood for the Nintendo DS. It’s the first BioWare title released since I’ve left the company. It’s also, even though it was in development while I was with the studio, a game for which I did no work. So I’m kind of excited to give it a spin even though I hear it’s fairly simple. But more on that later. For now, let’s finish off my thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.

Skills & Balance: As you play, you gain points to develop your character. You gain points that affect which combos you can access, which Force powers you can use and how powerful they are, and various other factors such as health recovery and how long you can use the Force before tiring.

My problem is that I never felt more powerful as the game advanced. In fact, I feel less powerful than I did at the start of the game because the opponents have become so much more difficult. Maybe I could only fling a single soldier at the start instead of the three I could grab at the end, but by the end many of my opponents resisted that ability entirely. Meanwhile, various droids are tossing rubble at me and generally looking like more of a Jedi than I do. So while I walked through the early levels without feeling as if there was anything to threaten me, now I’m nearly as powerful as I can be and yet I’m doing cheap hit-and-runs to keep from dying.

Kind of strange for someone who can pull a Star Destroyer out of orbit and crash it into the planet’s surface (albeit in a most tedious display of power).

Maybe this plays to the type of design I’ve been brought up on at BioWare, but my belief is that you should feel strong as you travel through a level and fight the level fodder — i.e. grunts. You shouldn’t need to use any of your resources or strategy, and should only lose a small bit of health as you fight them. Against sub-bosses, you should lose a significant bit of health and resources and require some strategy. And then against the level’s primary boss, you should lose a lot of health and resources, maybe even die a few times as you figure it out. I don’t think the Force Unleashed subscribes to the same balancing strategy. I beat some bosses with minimal effort on the first try, and got stuck in some fights against waves of fodder.

Side note — at the start of each level you inexplicably get an entirely new power. Considering you’re fighting Jedi, studying under Vader, and later teamed with Jedi Master Rahm Kota, you’d think there was plenty of opportunity to explain where these powers were coming from. Opportunity lost.

Light Side/Dark Side: Darth Vader tells me he wants to fly around the universe killing Jedi. He delivers a pilot to me, but then I later discover that this is the 7th or 8th pilot I’ve employed. Pilots are disposable. So why, after the big “twist” in the story, am I fighting so hard to rescue the latest in a long line of disposable crew members (and why is she imprisoned in such a large, elaborate cell)? My player says, later, that he needed a pilot, but the unspoken suggestion is that they have a bond/budding romance. But she’s done nothing special to this point. Even a simple romance might have a scene where, for example, the ignored pilot does something special to attract my attention. Maybe she saves us. Maybe she saves the ship. But my character stops and realizes that this pilot is different. That never happened here. I guess I’m supposed to understand that I’m becoming the good guy by working with the Jedi (*for* Darth Vader) — but I could not care less about any of these people. Except the robot, Proxy.

And the ending — OK, this is a spoiler for those who haven’t hit the ending. Don’t read on if you don’t want to be spoiled. but the ending? You fight Vader after he has twice betrayed you. The first betrayal is actually forgivable (it’s a cover-up to re-hide you from the Emperor) and the second time is kind of your own fault (because you apparently become sympathetic for the rebellion), though he asserts that he never liked you (this is a good scene and feels like Vader is going against his desire, which he later submits to with his son, Luke, in the movies).

At this point I didn’t want to kill Vader, but rather side with him against the Emperor as was the original plan. But Vader blocks your progress to the Emperor, forcing you to defeat him. After the fight you have a moment to decide what to do. The Emperor, the man you want, is killing Kota — a man you may not care for all that much. Do you rush to the rescue of the man you once tried to kill? Or do you stay to embrace the dark side and finish off Vader? Neither option held interest for me. I went after the Emperor because it seemed like the obvious choice and was my original plan as Vader’s servant, but I did not do it out of loyalty for the rebels or Kota.

The game finishes with a movie showcasing your impact on the lives of the rebels, and more love talk from the pilot, even though there really wasn’t much of a connection in the first place and you “betrayed” them all later. But I guess all that matters is that you redeemed yourself in a fight with the Emperor to let them escape.

Bottom Line Summary: When I started this game I really liked it. I loved manipulating people and objects with the Force. I liked fighting. I liked that it was Star Wars. And I wanted to see that progress. But the longer the game went, the more disillusioned I became. It was the feeling that more polish time may have resulted in a better game. And that’s where I’m left. I’d rate The Force Unleashed as good, overall, but it could have been so much better. So will I play the inevitable sequel? It will really depend on what changes. And if nothing changes, I just might pass.

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