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The Force Unpolished

[Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Review - Xbox 360 - 7.5/10]

One of the nicer perks of Gamefly and Gamestops used game deals, is you can sometime go back to must-play games and experience the ones you missed, without having to cough up $60. My most recent pickup was Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. I loved everything in the second game's demo, so I decided to play through the first one before getting to part 2.

It's a mess.

There's plenty of upside, obviously, and any game that finally lets you control The Force while playing through a canonical chapter of the Star Wars saga (taking place between the two trilogies) is worth checking out for that alone. But there are a lot of frustrations and bugs you'll deal along the way that suck the life out of this game.

The camera is jerky and has a tendancy to get stuck in wierd places. Transluscent walls help keep you in the action, but in tight spaces the camera sometimes just gets crammed into a corner and render your point of view useless. Targetting is a nightmare, and is especially problematic during boss fights, where you sometimes won't attack even the one enemy in front of you, sending your force lightning at some console instead, leaving you open to a lightsaber to the face.

One time, I spent 20 minutes searching for what to do next, because a gate lock I was already near didn't let me target it the first time, to move it with force grip. I spent I don't know how much time chasing ghost objectives due to waypoint markers that never disappeared, or reappeared after coninuing following my death.

The platforming is mediocre, but combined with a bad camera system, it leads to a lot of cheap deaths when you miss your jump because you just can't see where you're going. Boss fights feel uninspired, and usually devolve into pattern recognition and figuring out which force abilities you need to use against whomever you're currently fighting (hint: it's usually the force power you just unlocked for this level.)

Both boss and mini boss fights lead to quicktime events, because everyone loves those. Thankfully, there is little to no penalty for messing them up, so once you reach them the fight is as good as over. Boss fight dialogue is uninspired and random, and the bosses themselves can feel extra cheap. One boss, which I swear looks like one of the psychonauts with Doc Oc's robot arms coming off his back, has a combo that lands him behind you with a splash attack. In other words, it's unblockable. Your master of the Sith arts and Dark Force simply gets punked by a blue chinchilla with robot apendages.

Throw in inconsistent button registration for blocking and force lightning, and you have a game that's frustrating to play through. You're supposed to be in control of Vader's all-powerful apprentice, but you'll die over and over again because "pressing Y didn't do anything that time."

Plenty of good ideas made it to the game; you gain points to spend on force abilities, personal upgrades (like more health) and combo attacks; you can get these by collecting them during missions, levelling up, or completing missions. You'll also gain lightsaber crystals and outfits the same way, and while they won't give you a major advantage in battle, they're a nice addition.

The problem with collectibles and replayability is the game has to be fun on the first playthrough, and this one simply isn't. While the Battlefront games didn't let you wield the force or level up your characters, and didn't have spectacular graphics or a destructive engine, they were immeasurably fun to play over and over, for hours at a time.

The idea of putting you in control of a lightning-wielding anti-hero is workable; Infamous proved as much. But there are a lot of flaws you'll need to accept or overlook if you want to enjoy the chance to play as Vader's apprentice. The second game looks like it's much improved from what I saw in the demo; I'm hoping the full game lives up to those expectations.

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