|System: X360, PS3, Wii, PS2, PSP, DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: LucasArts||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: LucasArts||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sept. 16, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Tony Capri
At long last the wait is over. After much hype and many months in development, Star Wars fans can finally unleash their inner Sith. The Force Unleashed has released across almost every current gaming platform, and we're here to give you the lowdown on the PS2 version. Will it satiate your taste for the Dark Side, or is Unleashed destined to leave Star Wars fans ultimately unsatisfied?
When it comes to picking a console version of the Force Unleashed, it's hard to say which one takes the lead. All versions feature basically the same storyline and gameplay progression, with the major differences lying solely in the gameplay mechanics of the Wii version and the technological perks of both the PS3 and Xbox 360 iterations. For PS2 owners, it really comes to whether or not you've yet made your way into the next generation of gaming. For those folks still riding shotgun with the last generation, it's nice to know LucasArts hasn't forgotten about you.
The story of the Force Unleashed begins sometime after the events told in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and you play as Darth Vader for the first portions of the game. Vader has come to Kashyyyk - home of the Wookiee - and while hunting down a renegade Jedi, Vader comes upon a small boy. As you might suspect, this is no ordinary boy - the Force is quite strong with this one - and Vader takes him to be his Sith apprentice.
The cutscenes in Unleashed are brief and to the point. The main attractions here are Force powers and role-playing as a Jedi (Sith, actually), and the game dishes out plenty of both. During the first half of the game, however, you might wonder why LucasArts didn't simply call the game "Jedi Hunter," since the first four hours of gameplay consist of merely hunting down Jedi for Vader. Without giving away too much, though, let's just say that eventually the story does arc in a slightly different direction. But the writing relies wholly on Star Wars prose of movies past, and though there are some major plot twists that lead into Episode IV, the story makes too many broad strokes, leaving out many connections that tie the characters together. The dialogue is weak, and only the "big picture" gets the attention it deserves. Overall, the story lacks steady pacing, emotional cadences, and anything remotely new in terms of edging the Star Wars universe beyond its well-trodden niche.
Which leaves us with the gameplay...
There are a lot of really great ideas and gameplay elements contained within Unleashed, many borrowed from the likes of God of War and Ninja Gaiden, but the game never comes together as a compelling gameplay experience. Once Starkiller, the young apprentice, is ready to fulfill his destiny, Vader unleashes him upon the galaxy. Your character can walk or run, based on how far you push on the left analog stick; he can jump or double jump, use his lightsaber to slice through hordes of enemies, and, of course, he can use Force powers. In actuality, there are only two Force powers in the game - Push and Lightning - but there are a ton of variations built upon each. As a matter of fact, the game gives you too many to play with, considering the Force is rarely used in ways that help to progress the story or gameplay. The Force powers, ultimately, end up being more like toys to tinker with as you make your way through a given level, though almost any power will do (in conjunction with your lightsaber) to take out foes that stand in your way. There are a handful of lightsaber combos, but gameplay still comes down to button mashing or spamming whatever Force power you happen to take a shine to. It can be fun in small spurts, but gameplay grows tiring quickly.
Starkiller seems to mimic the auto-lock-on behavior of Ryu Hayabusa from Ninja Gaiden, but in reality, the apprentice is merely flailing around the battle field when initiating multiple attacks. That's a shame, really, since the camera is almost as unwieldy as the one in Gaiden, and auto-attacking the nearest enemy would have made practical sense. Instead, the Apprentice will all too often end up with his back toward enemies, wide open for a pummeling. There is an option to lock on to nearby enemies, but it's really only useful on bosses, since again, you'll leave yourself wide open to attacks from behind by other enemies.
The levels are linear in the extreme, and though that isn't necessarily a minus for any game, Unleashed tasks you with doing pretty much the same things the entire way through, regardless of the webs the story might weave. Additionally, you'll be making your way back to many of the same areas repeatedly, and if the combat doesn't cause you to grow weary, the backtracking likely will. There are almost no puzzles in the game - nothing more than merely holding down the Triangle button in order to burst through a blocked area - and the boss battles are, for the most part, straight-on, button-mashing fests. One or two of the game's later bosses are actually pretty interesting, but there's a good likelihood most players will tire of Unleashed long before this space opera wraps up.