The Force is a handy weapon in a battle. With a wave of your hand you can hurl heavy beams at an enemy, or toss a man off a catwalk. With a thought you can send a bolt of electricity searing into an opponent.
But as I controlled The Force in the action game Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, I began to wonder: how would controlling The Force effect your home life? Would shooing away a fly cause my flat screen TV to fly across the room? Could an errant thunderbolt short out my computer?
Play as a Bad, Bad Man
This short game (I beat it in 8 hours) begins with the player taking control of the Dark Lord himself. Here you learn the basics of the game. The Wii remote functions as your light saber while the nunchuk is used for Force powers. Controls are intuitive; your light saber swings in the direction you swing the remote, while to send a shockwave against opponents you simply thrust the nunchuk forward. You can also use The Force to pick up an enemy and throw your sword at him or turn him upside down and hurl him to the ground.
The first mission ends when Vadar kills a Jedi Knight and takes on his son as an apprentice. How does Vadar turn the young orphan from Darth hater to Darth lover? The game doesn’t tell us, instead simply jumping from the boy’s initial confrontation with Vadar to a time years in the future when he is a young man solidly immersed in the dark side of The Force.
The young man, known now as Starkiller, spends the first part of the game hunting down and killing Jedi Knights under Vadar’s orders. It is interesting to play a game in which Jedi Knights, the good guys of the Star Wars movies, come across as rather creepy.
Starkiller is ferried around the galaxy by pilot Juno Eclipse, a cute, cocky young woman with an English accent who doesn’t seem nearly evil enough to be working for Vadar, and by a robot called a “holodroid” that can emulate anyone. For example, when Vadar sends messages to Starkiller, the holodroid simply becomes Vadar and starts talking. It’s a clever idea.
Controlling the Force the Way it Should be Done, by Waving Your Hands
To get to his assassination targets Starkiller must run through buildings and along catwalks slicing hundreds of minions into sushi. Wave your nunchuk and soldiers and rubble will be sent flying. As you progress you are able to upgrade your powers and add new ones, like the ability to hurl a lightning ball at a group of combatants. (The same powers are used in the fun but simple arena-style multiplayer mode.)
While you will use the same skills in boss battles, you will also deal with “saber lock” and “force lock,” modes which come into play when you and your opponent attack with the same power at once. In these cases you will see a picture of the remote or nunchuk on screen and will have to orient your controller to the position of the onscreen controller then shove it forward. Do this a few times and you’ll deal an extra powerful blow to your opponent.
As the game progresses the number of times you have to do this in a row increases, and sometimes the move will fail. Unfortunately the game never indicates what the problem is; when you shove your remote forward the online remote should turn green, but sometimes it stays red without telling you why, which is simply terrible game design.
When your opponent is almost vanquished you go into a “finishing move” sequence in which pictures of the nunchuk and remote appear on screen sequentially and you have to thrust the correct one forward. This takes no skill at all, but does allow you to watch Starkiller’s fancy coup de grace without too much distraction. It is a lazy way to end a battle, but it’s not terrible.
In Between Action, a Weak Story
Of course, a Star Wars game is unlikely to have an evil assassin protagonist all the way through, and predictably, a dramatic event inspires Starkiller to soften. Unfortunately this is when the poorly bolted seams of the plot pop out altogether. Starkiller could have been shown as someone undergoing a slow awakening, or his transformation could have been made ambiguous, but instead Starkiller, who at first comes across as a cold-blooded sociopath, abruptly just starts caring about people. Sociopath or nice guy, Starkiller is consistently bland.
Other game critics will tell you that Unleashed has an excellent story, but they are mistaken. There is virtually no character development, the game is full of scenes you’ve seen in a million other movies (“go ahead, give in to the darkness boy!”) and the plot relies on the audience’s tendency to expect certain things, like romance or emotional growth, without laying down any foundation for them. Game reviewers set the bar for story ridiculously low, but put this same story in a movie and the critics would tear it to shreds.
A more detailed, spoiler-filled critique of the story can be found here.
If You Want to Play This Game, Play it on the Wii
Unleashed offers a very good opportunity to compare the strengths and weaknesses of the Wii versus the Xbox 360 and PS3 consoles. After finishing the Wii version I played the first couple of missions of the 360 version, which is in some ways much better and in some ways much worse.
Graphics on the 360 are almost indescribably better. Scenery is finely detailed and lighting effects are vastly superior. Everything feels bigger and better. This is the case even though the Wii version is a relatively good looking Wii game, particular on a very pretty world of giant plants.
On the other hand, the Wii easily beats the 360 version in terms of gameplay. The 360 involves pressing specific buttons and memorizing various button combinations in order to pull off Starkiller’s attacks (I’m told by a Lucas Arts representative that the PS3 controls are essentially the same).
It’s a perfectly serviceable way to fight in a game, but coming off of the Wii version, I found the 360 Unleashed to be a wan experience. Hurling boulders at hordes of attackers with a wave of my hand and then slicing through the survivors with a flick of my wrist felt like I was imbued with The Force; pushing buttons felt like I was playing a video game.
In other words, the Wii version is the only one that would leave me sitting in my living room pondering whether I could accidentally trash my apartment with my Force powers, because it’s the only version that made me feel like I could throw my television across the room with a wave of my hand.