When it comes to Star Wars, I have always found the media outside of the movies to be the most interesting part of this universe. Novels, TV series, and video games were what made me a fan of this franchise, with some of my favourite entries being Jedi Academy, Rogue Squadron 2, and Jedi: Fallen Order. Even if some of these are not canon anymore, that is a detail I do not care about when they are so entertaining and wonderful, to the point of putting the 7th film and onwards to shame! Force Unleashed is one such forgotten title and was truly a big deal upon its release due to letting you play as an assassin under Darth Vader’s command. I mean, who is going to ignore an opportunity like that?
Knowing the power of the dark side
Taking place before A New Hope, the Galactic Empire is continuing to rid this world of Jedis. One of them named Kento Marek is located on Kashyyyk, which Darth Vader has tracked down and set out to kill personally. Upon defeating Kento, the dark lord notices a strong force present that turns out to be the Jedi’s son. He decides to take the youngling in and train him to become a Sith, dubbing him Starkiller. Several years later, Vader sends his apprentice on missions to take down the remaining ones serving the way of the light.
Despite being a solid plot overall, it is possible to summarise it within a couple of sentences. There are some nice twists and uncertainties that provide some tension to the adventure, but it is clearly more of a side story than a deep main one. Luckily, Force Unleashed treats itself as such and focuses instead on how to tell its simple tale. Every piece of dialogue is direct and short, making every word count and carry weight to them, which in turn offers quite the immersive experience. What I especially admire is how this makes the small interactions the characters have with each other showcase believable pasts and personalities, giving you all the info you need without having to resort to tedious expositions.
Even when the game introduces you to the Jedis through briefings, you are getting scenes of them in order to create both mysteries about their origins and get an effective impression of who they are. Certain events are easy to see coming, but everything is escalated so well, that it is hard to not be invested and want to see everything played out. I love particularly what an arc Starkiller goes through, as we see him contemplating with himself and change throughout based on what he discovers on his journey! The entire cast is also outstanding, be it the fallen Jedi Rahm Kohta, the confident and strong pilot Juno Eclipse or the humorous droid Proxy who wants to best you in your training sessions.
I will also say that having two endings to choose between is a cute addition, despite one being obviously canon. Speaking of, it is unfortunate that this title is not canon itself anymore, as it is one of the better Star Wars tales and even includes neat lore about the beginning of the Rebel Alliance. It might not be grand or significant, but everything is strongly told and presented, making this an engaging part of the original saga.
Story Score: 7/10
Seductive and effortless
Within this hack & slash, you play as Starkiller going through linear stages, killing everyone in your way, and perhaps using your abilities to get past minor obstacles. Since the combat is the key aspect of this adventure, you got plenty of moves up your sleeves. Combos with your lightsaber, able to block that can even reflect bullets, dashing around fast, and diverse force powers in the form of lightning and grabbing fiends to name a few. In other words: there is a hefty amount of capabilities you have as the dark apprentice, and you can even upgrade them further via a skill board.
These are divided into force powers, force talents, and force combos. Powers enhance your varied force attacks, talents are different stat upgrades, and combos offer what their name says. Each can be upgraded if you have enough of the coloured orbs, acting as skill points. These are acquired from levelling up by gathering enough force points (or XP in the traditional sense), finding hidden holograms or doing one of the levels’ missions. Force points can be gathered from defeated enemies and discovering secrets, while the stages’ tasks can include getting a certain amount of FP, locating all of the holograms or doing something unique like destroying specific objects.
While the levels are straightforwardly designed, they also present adequate exploration alongside the fighting. This is further helped by how you can double jump, dash in midair, and use force powers to move objects around or demolish doors. It should be noted that this is more of a small addition that is easily forgettable due to the simple stage layouts, but a solid one nonetheless. The focus is on the combat, and with tons of abilities being unlockable, there is a lot of fun to be had. Eventually, you will learn lightsaber throws, stronger combos, and force push that explodes around you.
Unfortunately, this does not come without its own problems. While there are multiple moves that are neat, the lightsaber attack that gets infused by lightning effortlessly stuns enemies, to the point that I barely used anything else. Throwing troopers into hazards or using quick swings on those that could deflect electricity did occur, but staggering opponents was the better option. If there were too many foes present, the force lightning would hit most of them. Thank goodness the force powers are limited by a regenerative mana bar, otherwise this one would have completely broken the game in half.
Although, the antagonists can also stun lock you if you are not careful enough, which can be annoying when the camera gets too close due to the tight corridors. However, this was never infuriating as the fiends are not difficult to take down. Sure, there is a big variety, with flying stormtroopers, ginormous monsters, and heavy metallic droids, but all are defeated relatively the same way. The amount of them can make certain parts more intense as you will then have to change up your combat abilities, but the mentioned powerful moves made them still underwhelming. Not to mention, having them give health back upon being killed made it hard to die at all.
Because of these issues, the challenge does not evolve well either. In fact, this off progression can be seen already at the beginning where you will be controlling Darth Vader, introducing you to how strong you will become and how the controls work. Strangely right after, you are getting a forced tutorial sequence which baffles me. Even the boss fights leave a lot to be desired. While you will have a nice camera to see all of the action, the battles are rather rudimentary, with the occasional big attacks to avoid.
This all could have been mitigated by focusing on better AI than aggressive ones, as they would even fall to their own deaths countless times. It is also bizarre how easy this journey is, but becomes insane the moment the last chapter starts. There will be one location that bombards you with snipers, ATTs, heavy stormtroopers, and more that barely gives you a breather, which is a maddening difficulty curve. Later on, there is a healthy amount of diverse enemies to take out and an actual entertaining boss with clever patterns to overcome.
Sadly, the problems do not stop here. Timing of specific moves can be terrible, slow combos leave you wide open for cheap hits, dashing lags in response, and several animations stutters, making it hard to react when you absolutely have to. What is even odder then, is how forgettable the powerups to discover are! There are damage boost, health regen, and even invincibility to acquire, but they felt poorly placed and were just a way to make certain segments arbitrarily balanced, despite that they were never needed at all.
Lastly, the QTEs are decently used for cutscenes to finish off large monsters and bosses, but are nonchalant in their own right. All are, except for one. There is an infamous scene where you have to take down a Star Destroyer by following the game’s analogue inputs. Unfortunately, there is a glitch in the PC version where it will simply stop working after four attempts, which is not helpful when TIEs are shooting down at you from above. This one part is frustrating, but thankfully over in five minutes if you know what you do.
It might sound like this title is difficult to recommend because of all of these issues, but it is still quite enjoyable to play due to the varied moveset you have and the number of fiends to battle. The lightning ability makes segments too easy, but the skill tree is nicely designed and the vast amount of combos to go by makes fights have a creative setup. There are even crystals to equip your lightsaber with for added effects like occasional electric attacks on normal combos or being better at deflecting bullets. I also appreciate how you gain more experience points from using different powers, which encourages experimentation alongside its serviceable exploration.
This can be a fun hack & slash, even if it is clearly unpolished and includes a finicky targeting system that makes toggling between enemies cumbersome. It is tragic that the challenge is so poor, but the focus is always on the combat with multiple opponents to face. Had Force Unleashed given me more reasons to change up my playstyle, it could have been at least an adequate entry within its genre. Though by lasting only five hours, it luckily ends before it would have become completely stale.
Gameplay Score: 4.5/10
Presenting something that truly feels like Star Wars is a fascinating concept, as it mixes organic planets with technologies that seem both ancient and futuristic. Fortunately, this project manages to provide a dark take on this universe, while simultaneously offering a vast galaxy to venture across. The fungus and bizarre forest of Felucia, the scrapyard with lavas floating around on Raxus Prime, and inside huge space stations to name a few, all are intriguing and diverse with numerous locations to witness, making them immersive and interesting despite also being linear hallways. This is helped by the massive amount of textures and set pieces to give each zone its own atmospheres and functionalities, with sceneries altering to make every area believable.
A favourite example of mine is when Kashyyyk is in ashes and leads you to one of the empire’s bases with plenty of vehicles around, showcasing changes from the first time you saw this place. This will happen upon other revisits and due to how ginormous everything is, you always feel like a minor part of this world despite your powers. Further strengthening this cosmos, are the plenty of foes with unique designs, be they soldiers or inhabitants that are tied to these planets, such as the primal creatures from Felucia or Raxus Prime’s robots. It is all quite mesmerising and feels like a continuation of the movies without resorting to only familiar territories.
What also deserves a mention, are the stunning effects. So much of the environments can be destroyed and interacted with, like crumbling doors, windows to throw people through, and bridges to cut. Even more spectacular, are all the explosions that can occur by your own hands, such as forcing TIES to crash from your force grab. This visual entertainment extends to the imaginative choreographed combos and force powers that come with lovely effects. I also wish to praise how Starkiller holds his lightsaber in a unique way, subtly showcasing that he is a different fighter than the regular Siths, while still being ruthless in his attacks.
It says something when your weapon is simply fun to swing around due to the marks it leaves, with even a glitch where the neat motion flow is continued after a special move looks hypnotising. However, there are in fact a ton of graphical issues throughout, such as bodies getting captured in the sceneries and textures being missing, but these are luckily rare and I only encountered the latter about six times, which never ruined the beautiful immersion overall. Combine this with the classic text intro and this is an astonishing take on the Star Wars franchise.
The cutscenes are of similar quality, as they have nice camera work and good tension, letting every moment linger solely for as long as they need to. Complementing these parts are also an amazing cast of voice actors, some even having worked on The Clone Wars series, such as Catherine Taber. Alongside other talents like Matt Sloan and Cully Fredricksen, they all provide fantastic tones and directions to their characters, with Sam Witwer as Starkiller stealing the show with his range of emotions! Everyone is excellent and makes me invested because of how every word they say carries weight. Although, Witwer as Palpatine is a bit mixed by being incredibly over the top.
Just as breathtaking, are the plethora of sound effects. The lightsabers swinging, surreal force vibes, screams of different enemies meeting their demise, and vehicles flying by, every single one is powerful and fierce, offering tons to make the action sink in. Unfortunately, there are some glitches that can crush the explosions or make other pieces of the audio become completely absent for no reason, but both only happened to me in one stage early on.
As for the music, it includes John Williams’s iconic scores and Mark Griskey’s compositions. The latter has even worked on other Star Wars titles prior to this one, such as the console adaptation of Revenge of the Sith and Knights of the Old Republic 2, carrying the dark and mysterious style that replicates the franchise’s traditional tone perfectly. All of the orchestral melodies contain diverse notes that offer a range of emotions, and while they share similarities, they are all still engaging to listen to and well utilised.
Presentation Score: 8/10
What if this was canon?
I had a stupid grin on my face during the entire playthrough, because of the number of costumes to wear. Not only is there a great selection to make Starkiller into a fashionable warrior, but you can also put on character skins of other Star Wars characters. Darth Maul, Kit Fisto, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and even C3PO are merely some personas to take on and with different lightsabers to locate in the levels with varied effects, it is simply compelling to change up your look for every stage!
You also unlock gorgeous artwork in this adventure, which I wish I could print out! Sadly, I cannot say I cared much for the fourth difficulty mode, as it just made the journey arbitrarily harder with you taking more damage and the opponents being more aggressive. What truly does support the replay value though, are the side tasks and finding holograms for neat rewards. Despite that the exploration mildly excels the experience due to the game’s linear design, most will require you to look somewhat around and test you at being creative with your platforming moves, turning this into a commendable extra.
This edition also includes all the DLCs for more missions to tackle. While they can all be beaten within an hour, all three are worth your attention. Jedi Temple is a solid one that takes place before the last main chapter, provides tons of enemies to kill in one area, and offers a nice insight into Starkiller’s background that I am happy got more elaborated. The other two, Hoth and Tatooine, are set in their respective movies and present alternative stories that are not canon, but delightful nonetheless. I will not spoil them, but these are moments any Star Wars fan will enjoy! Should this not be enough, there are amusing cheats to make any run more interesting. All of these are small additions, but truly made with care.
Extra Score: 7.5/10
Looking at the entire picture, this is an unfinished title. It is unbalanced, the variety can be underwhelming, its difficulty curve is poor, the plot is simple, and glitches are not uncommon. However, everything screams Star Wars. There is a huge amount of moves to use for exciting fights, the extra materials are thrilling to play around with, the overall project is a magnificent trip through this universe in terms of visuals and audio, and the entire cast is easy to remember and care for! If the idea of playing as a Sith sounds appealing to you despite some flaws, you will not be disappointed.