Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

This is long. Forgive me in advance.

I honestly believe that Star Wars as an intellectual property has degraded in quality since 1999. The only thing that gave me a glimmer of hope was the character and casting of Mace Windu and the incredible CGI of a three foot tall green creature.

As a whole, I’ve not walked away totally satisfied. However, this is not a Star Wars diatribe.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was released this week with a lot of fanfare. George Lucas even showed up at a San Fransisco Best Buy to promote the release. My local Gamestop called me on Monday and welcomed me to the midnight release of the game. I didn’t go.

This was a game that I specifically ignored the hype, “professional” reviews, and other online craziness that is associated with video games. I was getting it based on the demo alone. I had fun with the demo. It was short and the display of force powers I found to be intriguing.

Tuesday afternoon, I spent what was left of some store credit and picked up the game. Later that evening after the boys were in bed, I gave it a try. What’s this? I get to play as Darth Vader? Joy of joys.


Vader walks down the ramp of the shuttle and literally struts his way through Chewbacca’s home planet. I’m tossing wookiees and force choking my path to the goal. Along the way I notice that I might occasionally be attacked from the rear without warning or I’ll be hit from some blaster fire off screen. That’s interesting. I don’t remember that happening much in the demo? It’s no big deal. This is Darth Vader they are up against. The loss of health is minimal.

When three wookiees or more (or storm troopers–blast them! Get out of my way) show up on the screen the game pauses for a second or two. No, it’s not LucasArts bullet time. It stops. I thought I had inadvertently hit the pause button. Nope. The game is chugging. Interesting.

I reach the end of the level and toast the Jedi I was sent to kill. Cue the awesome cutscene of Vader adopting a son–which I actually find to be kind of creepy knowing that he has a son. Next, we cut to years later and the boy is all grown up now a shadow of the Dark Lord. Vader’s idea of testing him is to constantly put him in impossible situations and even have his protocol droid programed to kill him at any opportunity. The boy Starkiller’s job: hunt down the Jedi Vader is too lazy to go after.

The first real test for Starkiller is to infiltrate a Tie Fighter factory and kill a Jedi who is attempting to sabotage it. This is an awesome premise. I’m an Emperor’s Hand so I finally get to see where my favorite sci-fi ship of all time is made. Apparently, it’s a bunch of silver rooms that are connected with some silver hallways. It’s crammed full of saboteurs who have wonderful guns that shoot lasers so fast you twitch faster than Han shot Greedo. The best way to deal with them is to toss them aside with the Force. I guess using the Force takes too much concentration because you have to be perfectly still to use it. Dang. Twitching.

I enter some rooms and clear it out only to wait a second or two and it’s full again. Yay! It helps when you want to explore. Where did these guys come from? Didn’t I just toss someone here and just look away? Hey, where did these four guys come from behind me without warning? Oh, neat, two have laser Gatling guns. Twitching.

Eventually I reach the end and cinematically dispatch the Jedi. This cutscene raises the bar some more. He senses something…a presence he’s not felt. Wait. There’s nothing there at all.

Vader’s happy. His voices his pleasure by giving me a hot pilot to distract my training and sending me on a mini-vacation to a planet who’s entire surface is a junkyard. Neat. One planet is an entire desert, one a swamp, one a city, one a volcano, one an ocean, one a jungle, one a forest, one an ice ball, one a cloud, and I get sent to the junkyard. The goal: kill another Jedi.

It’s not too bad. Just a lot of jumping. Oops. Missed. It’s not too bad. Just a lot of jumping. Oops. Missed again. It’s not too bad. Just a lot of jumping. Oops. Missed again. I finally make it into a trash heap of an old space ship. Man, I hope the Rebellion doesn’t find out about these droids that “protect” the junkyard. Shoot. I hope the Rebellion doesn’t find out about any of these enemies for that matter. If they were to unify to fight the Empire we’d be goners.

I can’t think about that. I’ve got to drop this huge girder to make a bridge. Hmm. Some more droids. What’s this? A large driod? A little Force lightning should do the trick. I have no idea what “X” and “Y” are but I have to hit them before I see them. I wish I had Force insight. The first Jedi I killed was a little bit this way. I had to know what letter to hit before I saw them: A,B,X, or Y. Whatever that means.

Ok. The mega-droid is dispatched. I need to lower the girder. Yay for the Force. Now I just get to walk across. Hmm. Misstep. Didn’t see that coming. Oh well, I beat a mini-boss, it should have auto-saved, right?

Huh? I get to do it all over again? Ok. The mega-droid is dispatched again. I need to lower the girder. Yay for the Force. Now I just get to walk across. Made it this time. Oh, a jump. Here goes again…

Another ten minutes later. The mega-droid is dispatched again. I need to lower the girder. Yay for the Force (sigh). Now I just get to walk across. Made it. Oh, a jump. Here goes again.

Ok. The mega-droid is dispatched again. I need to lower the girder. Dang Force. Now I just get to walk across. Made it. Oh, a jump. Curse the Emperor!

The mega-droid is dispatched yet again. I need to lower the girder. Sense the Force my butt. Now I just get to walk across. Made it. Oh, a jump.

It’s then that I put my controller down, embrace the dark side, and literally Force pull the disc from the 360 tray (yeah, the tray on the console is not working right either). I hover the case in mid-air and place in the disc.


It goes back to Gamestop tomorrow. I’ll watch the cutscenes on Youtube. Take a breath.

This was a game that failed for me on all points. I so much wanted it to be good. One of my unwritten mantras is that I do not want to be frustrated playing a video game. Ever. I look at a video game as a place of enjoyment, a place of escapism. If I want to be frustrated, I’ll watch the news. This is something that I paid money to enjoy. A lot of money.

I think I’ve reached my limit of paying premiums for these games that consistently fail to deliver. I went into this with almost no expectations and it still frustrated me more than it impressed me. There is no excuse in 2008 to have to navigate a camera, fight crappy AI (filling a room full of baddies to compensate does not a good game make), navigate illusionary jumps, and repeat a large section over and over just to make a jump. The save feature on this game was pointless. You constantly were put back to the closest auto-save no matter where you saved.

I wanted to play this game to completion to write up a 2 Minute Review. I don’t even think it’s worthy of that. I’ll give you a 2 second review:

VERDICT: -, do not pick this game up unless you have a biblical dose of patience, like to be stabbed in the back, and then and only then see it in the bargain bin.

I hear the game has one of the best Star Wars stories that reaches a pinnacle higher than the recent trilogy or Clone Wars Crap. I should have saved my money and bought the book.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the good review. This echoes what I have heard from others – it’s camera angle, etc. are extremely frustrating. I have saved myself so much money by just waiting a week after release dates and seeing what the community is saying.

  2. I rented it and finished it in two days and even there it was testing my patience in ways that it has not been tested in a LONG TIME.

    Great story, but you’re right on every tack you take against the game. The camera in particular is atrocious and there is no excuse for a camera as bad as the one in STFU given its budget and attendant hype.

    It’s a shame, because if they hadn’t cheaped out on the AI (a room full of baddies that you can’t see and that swarm you does not a good game make) and the camera, it would have been a much better game.

    The checkpoint system also needed to be tighter. There are several spots much like your example in the mini-review up there. You saunter through a bunch of guys, make your way to a big bad, beat it and then something else crops up that kills you, sending you ALL the way back to the start of that section. Just be happy you didn’t make it to the first encounter with a purge trooper. That would have had you putting your fist through the screen.

  3. It’s a good thing you didn’t get to the boss of the junk planet. It would’ve had you putting the disc in the microwave and subjecting it to some “force lightning”.

    The worse part is… I DID save after the first junk titan. Missed the jump… died… OH LOOK I STILL HAVE TO START OVER EVEN THOUGH I SAVED.

    Worst checkpoint placement EVER.

  4. Unfortunately, this game will sell a billion copies on the hype alone. So no lessons learned for Lucasarts. They may even think it was all a good idea.

  5. @steve – I agree. I need to do that more. However, I need to gauge it on community reaction and not “professional” press.

    @Brock – You warned me. We’ve been hitting and missing lately on titles. Both ways.

    @Finster – I agree. The save system is pointless. I did the exact same thing and even if you manually load it puts you back at the previous checkpoint.

    @Jason O – Yes. Given the game’s length, I would not be surprised at a sequel. The sad thing is that the game is full of GREAT potential, and it’s even something that I believe a simple patch could fix.

  6. If they were to fix the problems with the game, it could be great. It’s like Too Human only not fun.

    In a wierd way, the story in Force Unleashed is a perfect complement to the fun gameplay of Too Human. Too bad they couldn’t mash the two games together and have something fun to play.

    That said, the story told in Force Unleashed is complete. They couldn’t really just make Force Unleashed 2 unless, horror of horrors, THEY ACTUALLY START SETTING THINGS IN THE EXPANDED UNIVERSE…

  7. Good review. I played the demo the day it came out, and wasn’t overly impressed but was excited to see what the game would end up being. Usually a demo is a small snippet of what the game as a whole will be. I also thought that the game would only get better after a demo comes out. But after reading your review I think this one will definitely just be a bargain bin pick up.

    I was impressed by the secret apprentice and decided to by the book which I thought would have more story then a game would. I’m glad I bought the book because the story is pretty cool and it makes sense of everything. I liked the book and would recommend it to anyone interested in finding out about Starkiller.

    I like the guy.

    The only game now that’d I’d consider getting in order to get a little more out of the story would be to use the apprentice in Soul Calibur 4.

    Anyone try him out yet?

  8. You’re on the verge of talking me out of taking this game off your hands. Great write up, BTW.

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