"It's hard enough dealing with an action game that switches into "surprise bullet time" at the drop of a hat, yet the game's shockingly sluggish performance is far from its only problem. Graphical glitches abound, ranging from the merely annoying to outright show-stoppers. Doors, computer consoles and other objects will occasionally flicker or disappear outright, although they remain solid enough to impede the player's movement. More seriously, in one instance a platform I was required to move with my Force powers also went missing, leaving me unable to progress through the game until, after several futile, frustrating minutes and a quick Google to make sure I wasn't completely off-base about what I was supposed to be doing, I exited and restarted the game."
Full disclosure: I am not a Star Wars fan. I love the original movie but have no use for the bloated monstrosity it's since become. I find no end of amusement in the fact that the best Star Wars game to come out since the 1994 classic TIE Fighter had to be set so far away from the Lucasian "canon" that it became virtually irrelevant and was a Star Wars game in name and marketing potential only (that'd be Knights of the Old Republic, kids). Nonetheless, when the opportunity to begin my HonestGamers career with the PC edition of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed - Ultimate Sith Edition presented itself, I leaped at it. I'd heard some decent things about the console versions of the game and felt it would give me the opportunity to demonstrate my impartiality, and thus my credibility, as a reviewer.
Boy, did that ever blow up in my face!
There was trouble right from the start. Despite packing a reasonably powerful gaming PC that capably tackled everything I threw at it, I was shocked to discover when The Force Unleashed arrived that I couldn't actually run it. Given that it's a port of a year-old game that had been released on every console under the sun including the Wii and PlayStation 2, it never occurred to me to check the system specs. If I had, I would have known that a dual-core processor is not just a polite suggestion but a carved-in-stone requirement and this, I did not have. My fault, unquestionably, but as I would soon discover this unfortunate oversight was merely a portent of things to come.
Embarrassed and apologetic, I rebuilt my rig with a quad-core CPU and a pile of RAM, after which I was able to play the game - but just barely. The baseline requirements for The Force Unleashed are absolutely astronomical and making things worse, options to improve performance by turning down the visuals are virtually non-existent. The latest patch allows players to disable "high details," although what that actually means remains a closely-guarded secret to this very day. Aside from that, the only adjustable video option is resolution. Yet even at the lowest - ie., ugliest - settings, frame rates can vary wildly from moment to moment. Indoor environments are reasonably good for the most part, but stepping outside is the kiss of death. Frame rates plunge to the point that it looks like the game's protagonist, Starkiller (or as I like to call him, Darth Crashdown), is running underwater. When that happens - and it happens often - The Force Unleashed becomes almost unplayable.
It's hard enough dealing with an action game that switches into "surprise bullet time" at the drop of a hat, yet the game's shockingly sluggish performance is far from its only problem. Graphical glitches abound, ranging from the merely annoying to outright show-stoppers. Doors, computer consoles and other objects will occasionally flicker or disappear outright, although they remain solid enough to impede the player's movement. More seriously, in one instance a platform I was required to move with my Force powers also went missing, leaving me unable to progress through the game until, after several futile, frustrating minutes and a quick Google to make sure I wasn't completely off-base about what I was supposed to be doing, I exited and restarted the game.
Remapping the control keys is also asking for trouble. At the conclusion of major fights, players are required to engage in brief "quick time events" to complete a cinematic finishing move. Unfortunately for anyone using a modified control setup, when the game calls for a key press it references the default controls rather than the customized setup. As a result, players will have to either remember the default settings and mentally cross-reference them to their own or pause the game immediately after each instruction, then refer to the manual to find out what the game expects.
Even the game's options menu is a mess. Mouse control isn't supported and menu navigation is keyboard only. The 'Up' and 'Down' arrow keys move through the menu options, while 'Left' and 'Right' adjust each setting. To switch between menus, however, you must use the square bracket keys. It's not just counter-intuitive, it's unfathomable. Failing to offer mouse support for menus in a PC game is bad enough, but requiring six individual keys to navigate a very basic set of options is utterly mind-boggling.
The Ultimate Sith Edition of The Force Unleashed offers three "re-imagined Classic Trilogy" bonus levels: Hoth, the Jedi Temple and Tatooine. I had hoped that they might redeem the game to some extent, but unfortunately they're no better than the original content. Each of the three levels is accessed individually, outside the continuity of the main game, and provides an alternate reality Star Wars in which Starkiller destroys Darth Vader, becomes Emperor Palpatine's apprentice himself and then hunts down Luke Skywalker. But the performance issues persist, the level design is dull and the whole thing comes off feeling more like cheap fan service than a worthwhile addition to the game.
Yet in spite of it all, I stuck with The Force Unleashed for far longer than I probably should have. Enough glimmers of goodness shone through that I found myself wanting to like the game, and hope, as they say, springs eternal.
The story is idiotic and awkwardly shoehorned into the Star Wars continuity, but that's been going on since the mid-80s and at this point it's hardly worth mentioning, much less complaining about. If you're willing to overlook that fact, then The Force Unleashed becomes less about the ongoing saga of the Jedi and the Sith and more just a giggly sort of murder simulator in which the point is simply to do the most awful things you can to everyone you see. It reminds me very much of Dark Messiah of Might and Magic in that regard, with cookie-cutter characters and a forgettable story being overshadowed by the intoxicating fun of sheer creative mayhem. It can get repetitive after awhile but I have to admit that I never got tired of playing "Fling the Jawa."
Some of the game's settings are also very impressive. The opening sequence on Kashyyyk - yes, Kashyyyk again - was beyond silly, but the junk world of Raxus Prime is visually stunning. The physics engine at work underneath the game can deliver some spectacular "smashing stuff" moments, although those are also the moments that are most likely to bring PCs to a crawl and crush any immersion the game may have built. Combat, while not particularly visceral, is certainly fast-paced (at least in those areas where the game runs properly) and fans may enjoy mixing complex light saber combos with the devastating power of the Dark Side to lay tactically astute waste to the forces arrayed against them.
The Force Unleashed has the potential to be a very solid game. Unfortunately, that potential is buried under the most astoundingly shoddy port of a videogame that I've ever had the misfortune to experience. How this game was ever approved for release is completely beyond me, although I have to think that some blend of greed and incompetence must have been involved. If you're a diehard Star Wars fan who simply must play this game, I urge you to do so on the Xbox 360 or PS3, or even the Wii if you must. The PC version is just too much of a train wreck on which to waste your time.
Freelance review by Andy Chalk (January 17, 2010)
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