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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (Playstation 3)

Taking players on a journey to the dark side, The Force Unleashed allows players to control Darth Vader's secret apprentice as he tries to wipe out the remaining Jedi Knights throughout the galaxy. You can use your special force powers including the ability to manipulate objects, including throwing enemies around almost at will. The Force Unleashed's level designs are quite impressive with expansive environments, beautifully rendered worlds and fantastic animation, with superb production values throughout. This surprisingly entertaining and polished title lives up to the Star Wars legacy, making for an intriguing new chapter for fans of this legendary franchise to experience.

As Star Wars: The Force Unleashed begins, players are in command of the legendary Sith lord Darth Vader who is on a mission to locate and destroy rogue Jedi Knights who survived the clone wars. Once Vader dispatches his over-matched foe, he finds the Jedi's child who he takes under his control and becomes his secret apprentice and continues his mission to wipe out any remaining Jedi in the universe. As you might expect, you can wield your trusty lightsaber to cut down any nearby enemies quickly, collecting their life force as you beat them. It's fairly simple to use and quite an effective weapon. Players can also use it defensively to repel shots from nearby foes. The controls are fairly straightforward, and most players should have little trouble moving around and performing Force moves. Its default camera angles are very well placed and you can manually move the viewpoint around as well. One interesting thing about The Force Unleashed is the system that allows players to upgrade the Lightsaber using force points or the different orbs and objects that you collect along the way. This gives you a good sense of progression and adds some role-playing elements to the game. However, the majority of the game revolves around combat and fighting through various levels. In addition to the Lightsaber battles, you can use a number of force powers to grip and manipulate objects. The grip force powers can be controlled easily by targeting a specific object which you can then move up down or sideways and throw around. This is a powerful weapon, but there are limits. You have to wait until the status bar recharges before you can use it again, which means it can't be wasted.

What really makes Force Unleashed's design so impressive is its flexibility. This is evident in the versatility of its gripping technique which can be useful in a number of ways either defensively or offensively. One of its main uses is the ability to pick up and throw enemies around the stage, either damaging them severely if you knock them down or killing them by flinging them off into the distance or over a barrier. This can be quite effective when you face against a nasty enemy, or one that can cause a lot of damage at close range. In addition, this can be used to throw other non-living objects, such as space junk around. Force push can be quite useful if you want to cause massive damage to a certain area, or to destroy another massive object. Using this is quite simple, you simply target the object you wish to manipulate with the force, and hold down the shift button, and you can move it, throw it around and spin it at your whim. This is a pretty cool feature, though the targeting system can be a little bit iffy at points. The Force Unleashed's physics engine is quite impressive and shows off the game's power. There are many destructible objects which can change the environments, which gives you a great sense of freedom and power as you play through each level's challenges. Manipulating objects is your main force power, and it definitely adds a lot to the game, but there are other powers that you'll learn as you play the game that will aid you in your dark journey.

When you want to clear a path immediately in front of you or throw objects in your direct path, you can use the Force Push, which is a simple technique that unleashes a powerful wave that knocks down or destroys any nearby objects. This can also be used to break through heavy barriers such as doors or to destroy other objects. It's a powerful weapon that allows you to break through many foes quickly. If you want to further damage opponents and temporarily disable them, you can use the Force Lightning command to send a charge through them. Using this with your other attacks can make for some pretty cool combos that allow you to dispatch enemies quickly with little effort. What's most interesting is that you can use your force powers to perform other tasks, such as moving switches to open areas, which makes these abilities fully integrated into the game's design. There are other powers such as the ability to repulse any nearby objects by charging up your force powers plus the ability to throw your lightsaber at opponents or create a temporary shield for yourself. As you begin the game, your powers will be somewhat limited, but using the extensive upgrade system, you can increase your abilities and weapon ranges, which adds to the fun. It's also essential later on when you face off against more powerful enemies and boss creatures.

The game's overall design is both intuitive and non-intrusive. You are given a map with an indicator where your next objective is and can easily figure out what to do next by calling up your objectives on the main menu. Force Unleashed's level designs are large and open-ended, but your tasks are somewhat linear in approach, making progression fairly straightforward. The game's overall pacing is good as well with a good balance between combat and puzzle sequences, though the combat is much more important. Most of the enemies you face don't pose much of a problem individually, but they can inflict damage when they attack in groups. Luckily, you can recharge your life bar by defeating them, which makes the game easy to play. There are frequent save points so you won't have to spend a lot of time backtracking through the levels. The Force Unleashed isn't the most challenging game we've ever played, but it offers some challenging boss battles and some intense combat, which makes for a solidly entertaining gameplay experience overall that delivers some very cool sequences to boot.

Adding to the immersion are the visuals which are excellent and evoke the Star Wars universe effectively in several dramatic settings. From a deep space station filled with the Empire's storm troopers to exotic planets teaming with vegetation and life, this is a game with some incredible visual environments. One of the most memorable levels is the scavenger planet, where you can see literally hundreds of pieces of debris flying overhead. The game's character animations are well done, with the main character showing an impressive range of movement. Players can also customize his appearance with different outfits, which is another cool feature. The game's voice acting and cut-scenes are well done, and the compelling storyline helps to immerse players in the dramatic sequences. The Force Unleashes has the production values and polish you'd expect from a Star Wars title and helps to bring the universe to life in vivid fashion. There are a number of new characters in the game, but also a few returning favorites which should please fans of the original trilogy. Overall, the game is a bit too linear in places, but delivers a solidly entertaining title that should please fans of the franchise. Between its interesting storyline, well-presented in elaborate cut-scenes, makes for an impressive cinematic experience that brings this lost chapter in Star Wars history to life vividly. The Force Unleashed's unique gameplay mechanics, cool physics effects and interesting backstory make for a solid effort that delivers on the concept's promise effectively throughout.
- Michael Palisano

Grade: B+

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