From the opening screens (“In a galaxy far, far away…”) to the way the story is animated and illustrated, from the original theme music to the sound effects, it’s very obvious that this is a very big budget game. The quality of the background artwork in all the fight set pieces is Stunning – with a capital S – it’s almost worth buying the title just to have a gorgeous piece of the Star Wars universe on your phone. Almost.
You see, apart from the odd train simulator, never has the phrase ‘on rails’ seemed so appropriate. Throughout all the action, despite all the luxurious cut scenes and backgrounds, it gradually dawns on you that you have absolutely no control over your hero (or should that be anti-hero? – you do work for Darth Vader, after all!). He enters a set piece fight – and you fight, trying to stay alive and defeat the bad guys – and then you’re moved on to the next set piece, and so on, until the end of the chapter (mission). There’s no “I wonder what happens if I wander over there?” or “Can I get rid of those sentries first before tackling that other batch of storm troopers?” Within a set piece, you can’t move your character manually AT ALL. In many cases you just have to stand still, waiting for incoming fire to deflect or for opponents to come within range. It’s all rather unsatisfactory.
In addition, there are numerous problems with both the premise and mechanics of Force Unleashed. The idea of ‘drawing’ specific shapes to select/control each opponent and then other gestures to bash them against the nearest bulkhead is a good one, it’s a nice analogue ‘light sabre-ish’ way to fight. The only trouble is that because all these storm troopers are theoretically on your side, you don’t get to really use your light sabre as a, you know, sabre. You just use ‘The Force’ to render each trooper unconscious – there’s no actual contact, let alone lopping off arms or killing anyone. A litany of ‘special’ gestures has to be learned, invoking the famous ‘Jedi Mind Trick’, activating some kind of self-healing, and so on. These are fair enough, but some of the other gestures, such as the aforementioned fire-deflecting, don’t always work as advertised.
Then there’s the plot problem. As Darth Vader’s Apprentice, you’re supposed to be completing missions without giving yourself away – surely dozens of stunned storm troopers, all of whom are going to wake up and squeal to the Emperor are a bit of an issue? Despite the money poured into this mobile title, if you persevere through Star Wars: Force Unleashed to the bitter end then you and Darth Vader deserve each other.