REVIEWS -- Star Wars The Force Unleashed: Ultimate Sith Edition -- PC
The Sith don’t port well but weave a good yarn
by Lazare Gvimradze
Fun factor: Fun
Worth to: Rent
The aged and broken port of the perfect Sith simulator is back on PC, bringing some new content and retaining its flaws.
Considering all the shame Star Wars has been going through lately, namely the ridiculous Clone Wars saga, it was obvious that someone had to make a logical move and bring in something new, minus all those bulging heads and mediocre animation. And while The Force Unleashed has been released for consoles almost two years ago now, the fuss it launched had more than persisted to this day, when the game was finally made available to the general public, the PC gamers (hell, even MAC). Donning the subtitle “Ultimate Sith Edition” and carrying every single DLC released, the overhyped flagship of Lucasarts was given a second chance for satisfying all the Star Wars-hungry people left out there.
Chokes Stars Wars canon like only a Sith can
The story of the original is, as advertised, a literal bond between the central episodes of the series. The Jedi Purge is at its peak as Imperials storm the galaxy, hunting for the few remains of the Council. The prologue puts you in the shoes of the iconic Darth Vader, personally marching into battle against the Wookies making their last stand on Kashyyyk. After obliterating everything in his path and reaching a rogue Jedi’s refuge, he seamlessly defeats the knight but is confronted by a tempting dilemma soon afterwards. The Jedi appears to have a son, barely on his feet, yet capable of mastering the Force at a level enough to pull Vader’s lightsaber from him.
Knowing the former Skywalker’s urge to gain power, and the overall backstabbing nature of the Sith, it is obvious that Vader saved the boy, secretly trained him in the harshest ways possible, and got him ready for his ultimate test: betrayal. Palpatine was most definitely losing faith in his broken apprentice, widening the gap between himself and Vader. The latter saw no reason why his master should stand between him and endless power, and plotted a murder he would be able to pull off only with his powerful new padawan, Starkiller.
Without further mid-story spoilers, I would like to mention the organic nature of the expansion stories, which will eventually reveal both endings of the game. Consider this paragraph off-bounds if you’re not familiar with The Force Unleashed. First off, two of the three DLC missions are actually based on the second, non-canon ending. Seeing as killing Starkiller off would be the logical choice to fit the trilogy, the developers didn’t hesitate to do so, but in the final showdown you do make a choice that alters your fate, and instead of failing in assassinating the Emperor you can succeed in destroying Darth Vader and take his place, undergoing similar cybernetic surgeries as he did, becoming an entity known as a Sith Assassin, a completely obedient slave to the Emperor.
The aforementioned will be the main playable character in the expansions. The two missions cheerfully turn the universe upside down, giving you the possibility to personally lead the stormtroopers during the Hoth assault, where you will eventually face off against a poorly-trained (obviously) Luke Skywalker. Continuing the weirdness is the Tatooine mission, where we’ll need to meet up with Jabba the Hutt and show Ben Kenoby and Boba Fett their place. The DLC missions do little to provide sheer story fun, but the diverse approach will be more than appreciated by die-hard fans. The third expansion takes place right in the middle of the original storyline, where Starkiller visits the Jedi Temple to learn about his real father.
Smooth though overpowered gameplay
The story is rich both with intrigue and characters, Star Wars classic situations and not only. There are no genuine good and evil definitions, not once, seeing as the story is told from a perspective of a deceptive apprentice, which leads to complicated morality issues with the main hero. If anything, it livens the character, making him experience palettes of emotions as his faith in the Dark Side is put to the test. Of course, there are the occasional cliché moments and traditional droid humor (Starkiller’s personal training droid, Proxy, is tasked with killing his master by any means possible, without realizing that fulfilling this programming will inevitably end their friendship), and even a little bit of romance. And you’ll be amazed when you understand just how and by whose intention the Rebel Alliance was really formed. Thanks to the witty script of the original and unique approach to DLCs, the story will most definitely grip not just Star Wars fans alone.
Although what we really wanted from this game was, pardon, the very same Batman: Arkham Asylum offered. And that is bringing an old concept full force using modern technologies. A Jedi’s skills were as obviously hard to implement all at once as Batman’s combat and deductive methods in one game, and while the latter succeeded in all its glory, The Force Unleashed received all those devastating reviews because of the gameplay, or so it seems. So what do we actually have here?
We have an obviously overpowered (for the sake of the gameplay) Sith at our disposal. The primary objective is, almost always, a captured ally, a major boss, or simply a wanted item resting at the opposite end of a spacious environment crawling with enemies. The mechanics usually involve combat and a little bit of platforming, along with simple puzzles solved using the Force Grip. And while the learning curve is a bit steep, a few minutes of training make Starkiller as intuitive to control as Tetris blocks.
The combat utilizes lightsaber and Force attacks, allowing you to combine them in powerful combos. It mostly plays as a traditional third-person slasher, along with all the dashes, aerial attacks, special quick-time event takedowns and so on. There are multiple types of Force attacks, including the Force Push, the Force Repulse (an enormous wave of energy is released from Starkiller, pushing back everything around him), the iconic Force Lightning (upon upgrading, it becomes more powerful and strikes more enemies), and the Force Grip, more often used outside combat for puzzle-solving purposes. Each of these powers can be upgraded after gaining an additional level, and after purchasing all the moves and upgrades there will be a notable difference between your current and former fighting capabilities. If not, there’s always a training room to get the oil flowing.
It needs a “Motivation Force”
The enemies we fight range from your typical breakfast Stormtrooper to mini-bosses like Rancors or walker droids. Some of them block force powers, while others laugh at your lightsaber flurries (its balance really puts the reputation of the “civilized weapon” under question), but their AI can do just as much: if the game does succeed at something, it’s showing you that you’re the superman around here, not those Jawas pathetically screaming and helplessly poking you. Everybody dies in a room Starkiller enters, no exceptions. It may seem as a long-forgotten past tradition, but in actuality, more problems arise from this.
First and foremost, while there ARE a gazillion of methods to kill your foes off with, the game gives zero motivation for you to do so. A dash and slash technique always seems to be the quickest and easiest of ways, so why use one guy to crush another if you can just cut them up simultaneously? Lack of motivation leads to unwanted monotony, and monotony leads to boredom (sounds a bit like Yoda, but it’s true).
Fights aside, the physics polygon the game represents may be just enough to buy you to this game. Merging three major engines of the industry (the game runs on Ronin, which is integrated with Euphoria, Havok, and Digital Molecular Matter), you’ll sometimes see things like realistic glass shattering (DMM), gripped troopers helplessly thrown in the air (Euphoria), and whole archways crumble under you Force pushes (Havok there). There’s your motivation, you say? The funny thing is, while the first level (the one with Vader) has all those nice things tightly packed together, what comes afterwards (that is, the whole game practically) lacks such situations drastically. Hardened enemies are impervious to Force Grip, outdoor levels are in desperate need of throwables, and the DMM actually looks intentionally placed just two or three times in your path. It seems like an odd move, constructing one hell of a demo level and then building a monotonous game around it.
There is some platforming for your Jedi jumping needs, and the puzzles usually involve things like deactivating force shields via finding and pulling out the power conduits, no brain-tensing thinking required. It actually looks like the right decision since you get the tone of the game. For all the die-hard fans out there, there are hidden Holocrons which, apart from sometimes giving a boost to your level, can unlock dozens and dozens of different skins, lightsaber crystals, and databank entries. You won’t have a problem running around as Luke Skywalker armed with a black lightsaber during another quick run through the TIE fighter factory.
Hopefully, things seem to get even better from here. Diversity is by all means present, both visually and deep down as well. Enemies and boss fights usually differ enough to satisfy your Force needs, and the quick-time events, while somewhat outdated, look too damn impressive when a lightsaber is present. Locations we traverse include not only your typical spaceships and stations. We’ll get to visit Kashyyyk a couple of times, traverse the lush exotic jungles of Felucia and hunt for Jedi on the intergalactic planet of junk. The game really seems to catch the best possibilities the franchise had to offer.
Bad port but still looks good
Apart from the aforementioned parade of technologies (one can always consider them while looking for an excuse to buy this game), there is notable visual eye-candy as well. The game looks great, even this long after its launch. The models are sharp and detailed, and professionally used blur combined with Depth of Field can successfully disguise the occasionally damp textures. The animation is good. While Euphoria-coded systems look great, aside from Starkiller’s overall stylish movement, the cinematics somehow suffers from robot-walking and plain stupid clipping issues. At least facial expressions are decent.
They can’t hide the terrible quality of the port however. If Lucasarts had planned on releasing the game for PC early on, and most people are sure they did, that gives Aspyr a whole two years to at least try and optimize the code decently. The game seems to have been simply re-written so that computers would merely understand it, without a hint towards implementing graphic options and working out playable mouse/keyboard support. It is sad, seeing as the players who almost gave up on this game were suddenly granted their wish, which ultimately killed off their hopes again. Broken ports are almost always worse than none, because no game plays bad if it doesn’t play at all.
Regardless of the above, the sound and voice acting are top-notch, without a doubt. I won’t talk about the cult-classic score pieces the game unavoidably and fortunately inherited (there even are a few new compositions), but I’ll say they weren’t used to hide anything. The actors act believably and with the right amount of emotion; the people chosen to portray Darth Vader and Sidious even sound simply perfect, and all those saber-swings and blaster fire will most definitely please the nostalgic fans. What disappoints a bit is definitely the lack of panic from your enemies. Starkiller is probably one of the most powerful Sith to ever make an appearance in the saga, yet the Troopers remain stone-cold and by-the-book even when he’s slaughtered almost all of them. Even the major bosses will sometimes cry out “You are poorly trained, boy” while having a tiny bit of health left.
But it’s not the graphics or the sound that hurt the game the way it did, not even the porting (the initial result is about the same it was two years ago). The resources put into merging the engine with so many different technological advantages took their share, and eventually the developers had little time to screw an actual game over all those algorithms. The story is gripping, full with extremely satisfying situations and bright characters, and the presentation brings a new level for Star Wars games, but the monotonous, unevenly paced gameplay which doesn’t motivate players to use its full potential devastates the final product. Strangely, it’s also hard not to recommend it: you play as a bad-ass Sith AND you get to Force Choke people. Pretty much the two holy grails of a true Star Wars fan, eh?
Release Date: November 3, 2009
Review Date: 13-11-2009
Numbers of Players: 1
Players Online: No
Notes: Available for Mac
A horrible port houses decent visuals coupled with powerful physics engines, livening the world, albeit at a sloppy framerate.
Being an all-mighty Sith is fun, but the exact all-mightyness may lead to unwanted unbalance, which makes the game demotivating and boring to newcomers.
A rich story worthy of a Star Wars title, it has all the necessary elements of a Sith adventure and more. Organically blends with the rest of the saga.
Iconic music backs up great acting and folly, and there’s even space left for quality droid banter.
While not strong on gameplay, The Force Unleashed at least doesn’t spoil the saga and delivers what fans want most: narrative.