Demo: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

I downloaded the trailer for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed for my PS3 a couple of weeks ago, and it certainly looked exciting. The graphics were very cool, the music was all awesome and Star Wars-like, the story seemed intriguing, and the voice acting was pretty good (particularly the love interest of the main character — I love English accents!). To be honest, this game hasn’t been on my radar for the longest time, apart from knowing that Tara worked on it. For the past month or so, I’ve become increasingly aware of the marketing effort behind the game. I also share my flat with a super, super hardcore Star Wars fan who knows absolutely everything about the films and reads every single Star Wars novel in existence. So, I started paying closer attention to the marketing and to what people were saying about it. Twyst seemed excited about it in particular, too, and she reminded people yesterday on the Iris forums that the Force Unleashed demo was out.

I downloaded the Star Wars: The Force Unleashed demo for the PS3 earlier tonight. I started with the tutorial that teaches you how to control your Force powers. Ater that, I played through it twice on Apprentice, the easiest difficulty level. I thought about playing it on Sith Lord, which is normal difficulty, but I decided against it. I just wanted to get into the game and get started without too steep of a learning curve. If there’s anything that discourages me from playing a game, and which makes me put down the controller and leave it for a different game, it’s my impatience at having to learn a brand new set of control standards and conventions for every new game I play. I like Star Wars, but the only other Star Wars game I’ve played is Star Wars Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II for the GameCube. That game was bloody hard for me, and a little discouraging, so I didn’t want to go down that path again for this Star Wars game.

The game play was fun and forgiving. I thoroughly enjoyed hurling objects at people, cutting people down with my lightsaber, and generally causing mayhem — oh yes, and completing the objectives of the demo. The controls were relatively easy to pick up, and I never felt overwhelmed from enemy attacks whilst I was getting the hang of what all the buttons do. My impressions of this game are favourable after having played the demo. I didn’t know much about this game a month or two ago, but now I’m planning on buying it.

Spoilers for the demo follow below in my more detailed impressions, so don’t read on if you care about that sort of thing.

The title screen prompts you to start the game, and the scene opens with a black screen and a short voiceover — an exchange with Darth Vader and I guess your character’s father. The scene fades into the image of a young, white male human — that’s you — kneeling before Darth Vader. You can’t choose your gender or customise your appearance, because it’s not that kind of game. However, I daresay I would have liked to have chosen my gender. Anyway, so you’re kneeling in front of Vader. He congratulates you on completing this stage of your training as his (secret) apprentice, and that he has a job for you. He tells you to go to this Imperial factory, where Rebel forces have started attackin, to kill a Jedi and bring back his lightsaber. Your character is all eager and such to go off and massacre Jedi and I suppose prove himself to Darth Vader. Vader adds that he doesn’t want the Emperor learning of your shenannigans, so you have to kill everyone, Imperials included. Those knowledgable in basic Star Wars lore know that Darth Vader and the Emperor are on the side of the Empire. The plot thickens!

So you’re dropped into the factory, and you proceed through it, killing everyone using your Force powers and lightsaber. The game play portion of the demo ends after you’ve destroyed a mini-boss, an AT-ST. A teaser of the game plays and you’re shown cut scenes and game play footage from various locations in the Star Wars universe.

The user interface is unobtrusive. You’ve got the standard life bar and a another bar that displays your Force power. There is a small map/compass under the life and Force bars. When you use your Force powers, the Force level goes down, but it recharges whenever your powers are not in use. I guess your life bar recharges when the life force of your fallen enemies is drawn into you; green glowy balls flew out of my enemies’ corpses and into my body after I killed them. The point is, you don’t have to worry too much about dying prematurely or not having enough Force energy to do cool stuff. You are prompted with visual cues whenever you can execute a button combo, and this is easy to understand, though I had to make a couple of attempts before successfully completing the sequence to destroy the AT-ST.

There are a few ways that you can use the Force to your advantage in battle. You can levitate objects and throw them at people, or you can use the Force to throw people around (the results are hilarious, because they scream so nicely). You can emit a telekinetic wave of force from your body to blow open doors or smash objects. You can use Force lighting to send jolts of electricity through people and objects. You can also use your lightsaber in combination with your Force powers to throw it and have it return to you. Apparently there are button combinations you can press to execute other awesome moves.

It’s probably worth mentioning that I’m playing it on an HDTV. I have to say that I’m probably not the best person to do graphics
comparisons between games on the PS3, as the only three games I currently own are Metal Gear Solid 4, Rock Band, and SingStar. Having said that, visually, The Force Unleashed looks great. Everything on the screen was so sharp and crisp. The reflections and details were very nice. It was great to be able to differentiate between different surface textures — for example, the difference between Darth Vader’s shiny helmet and Darth Vaders less shiny — but not quite cloth — costume. Oh, and the main character’s grown-out shaved hair looks pretty realistic, which is cool.

Movement and collision were pretty awesome. I had a lot of fun throwing metal crates, droids, and humans around. What’s really cool is that when I reached a bit in the game where I could bend a metal bulkhead to create an obstruction in the path of a passing TIE Fighter, the metal bent differently every time. There didn’t seem to be one set way I could bend it.

I can’t really say much about the enemy AI, except that I noticed that sometimes they weren’t in the same places when I played through the second time. They didn’t seem to follow set patrol routes, apart from the TIE Fighters and the AT-ST and its support troops. For example, the first time I played, I smashed through this metal door, and I saw a Stormtrooper right inside, being fired upon by Rebels. The next time I played through, I expected it to be there, but it wasn’t. It was a similar case with some of the enemy positioning throughout the levels. Most of the time, they were generally in the same places, but since I guess they were fighting each other before I came into the room, of course they’d be moving around. Maybe my impression of them is more intelligent than they actually are?

I have no complaints about the audio effects, the music, or the voiceovers. I was very impressed with the voice acting. The sounds effects were all true to Star Wars, from what I could tell, too. I didn’t find anything that stood out about the music, which I guess is good. I’d probably get a better impression of the music in the full version.

The level design was easy to understand. You were definitely herded into a particular direction, but it didn’t feel too confining. I like exploring every single corner of a level, so I took my time to kill every single Imperial and Rebel in my second play through the demo.

Overall, this was a fun demo, and I’m looking forward to the full version.

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