the most important part to enjoying this game is the spectacle. there are scores of games that do this better. don’t expect dynasty warriors or even the god of war it rips off. it’s painfully paint-by-numbers with an ignorant combat system that discourages melee and has no difference in combo versatility other than length. what creates the spectacle is, after all, the ranged combat. starkiller dumps lightning from his fingers and has better hadokens than any street fighter. all you gotta do is blast the rag dolls away with your midichlorian powers. if being a magical laser deathmachine isn’t on your list of ‘entertaining spectacles’ then you’re going to take issue with this game. that’s not to say there are no redeeming qualities - there absolutely are - but its success hinges so much on enjoying being a destructive brutish jedi.
you have a four string combo and that’s pretty much it. it can be delayed to get more hits in but since enemies have armor values it ends up doing less damage, which is a pretty amazing oversight. at any point of your combo you can opt for a finisher, either lightning style or spirit gun. lightning knocks bads down and blasts knock them away. finishing the tail end of your combo with force will instead knock an enemy up, symmetry be damned, leading into a second air combo. if you were to play to efficiently, you'd do this to every enemy, and end with a throw. it does overwhelmly more damage than any other string, though playing like that would become mind-numbing. I ended up using different finishers arbitrarily, pretending like the invincibility frames from grabbing were needed, the aoe of the lightning swipe was tactical, and that blasting the enemies away secured my safety. the depth could be there, but it’s rendered brainless by design flaws.
I’m torn over which is the worst offender, so I’ll relate linearly. force unleashed’s cardinal sin is having a level up system. whatever depth we can allow the game doesn’t matter; it’s locked out to you. it’s not even as if there’s a gradual curve compensating for your progression like a rpg, enemies from the second mission forward get no bulkier, which isn’t something I wanted mind you. it does take considerably less points to acquire every combo, though maybe it was simple luck that allowed me to have them all before the end, because of another beautiful offender: level ups are also tied to hidden collectibles. if you’re a sleuth hound (or play with a guide) you’ll have a nonsensical advantage over the player whose focus is on combating the level. I’m not against progression in a beat ‘em up, but if the progression overrides basic skill and locks out mechanics that should be in the game to begin with then it’s served no purpose.
its next big ticket in wasted design is very poor enemy philosophy. arrangement of enemies is not all important in a beat ‘em up. some games do this very well, others do not realize there is a purpose to it. both approaches honestly serve just as well and the force unleashed is not without finesse. sometimes it crafts thoughtful encounters. now I’m not so concerned about its technical design, because its ruined from the gate. difficulty is supplanted by giving enemies specific immunities to your jedi magic. the force powers are the most fun part of the game, so this is lamentable, but respectable considering their overpowered nature. however, they couple such immunities with enemies that are immune to knockdowns and hitstun. it’s absolutely stupid for a beat ‘em up to have enemies with constant super armor, because it downplays what should be the focus of the game, its close combat action. on top of diluting its focus, it shuts down a half of your ranged attacked, hampered further by the fact that you might have spent all of your levels on your favorite force powers. you have to grind out high hp enemies using attacks that you don’t favor. there are all kinds of solutions, like putting a window of vulnerability after the enemies attack string, or a successful finisher staggering the enemy. on that note, mechanical enemies weak to electric always stagger to sith attacks and are immune to force. which means the best way to dispatch is repeating the same three hit electric combo. absolutely monotonous.
note that despite these flaws, unleashed is still satisfying to play visually, and is not broken, just a far cry of being sophisticated. starkiller moves quick and is carefully animated. hit detection feels great, favoring you instead of enemies, though sometimes the priority seems wrong. the ragdoll physics are absurd but I wouldn’t want it any other way. my spirit palm should send every idiot flying. rooms are continually different, I was more than surprised, and enjoyed the level design more than anything else in the game. if two missions (that’s like a fourth of the game) didn’t take place on the exact same planets as the first two missions, and if the final level didn’t feel so rushed, I would be singing fat praises. as it stands, though, two levels are remixed environments. they’re still a lot different from the source they reuse, but without the different enemy models and textures the game had been throwing at you up to this point it loses a ton of its momentum. at least starkiller’s fashion always changes between levels, something I still can’t get over.
graphically the game is great, high-budget values everywhere. I’m probably ignorant of games from 2008 but damn it looks good. nice and shiny with an art direction that’s definitely star wars. I don’t remember if it’s the first or second time you go to raxus prime, that’s the stupid game’s fault, but there’s a part where you’re in a huge mushroom-thing with interconnected bridges sprawling upward. it’s like something pulled out of nintendo’s playbook. there’s a lot of detail on the planets and in the space ships. this stems from a desire of having all kinds of things to throw at badguys, even when it stops being useful, the clutter is less than clutter and is real organic. this degree of detail that will probably go unnoticed, simply because the gameplay is no where near as detailed. even better than the graphics is the game’s music. it’s probably star wars standard to have rearranged star wars tunes for their games, but holy crap is this some top shelf classical. makes all kinds of modern games sound like a joke.
now the story is nothing more than a saturday morning cartoon. it doesn’t feel stupid or contrived, but it seems more motivated to get starkiller to fight certain things than to orchestrate his apprenticeship. I found the voice acting awesome and able to carry the whole game and darth vader to be absolutely convincing, sealing the simplistic premise to something I could wholly enjoy. the only thing that would make darth vader cooler is if he was an exiled prince of zeon. it’s not incredibly in-depth, but you know, neither is the phantom menace. it has some hard hitting moments and the writing is pretty serviceable. frankly it’s not the best or the worst, so take it as is and have a ball. the dlc levels are slipshod compared to the main game, I’m not going to grace them with my words, but I’d like to shout out the hoth campaign where starkiller gets luke to turn to the dark side and make luke his apprentice. that’s freakin cool.
so yeah, this is just a spectacle brawler. it has great levels and great theming, but doesn’t quite sink in the gameplay. it isn’t mangacore either, so its missing its targert market, heh. if you’re down to shoot thunder and lighting, to bend spines with your fingers, to cut puppety flesh like cheese with a glowstick, and fly around inside a neutered space opera, then the force unleashed is a successful game. those are all things I wanted to do, I just didn’t know I wanted to do them