Crispy Gamer

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

Darth Vader isn?t quite the same bad-ass villain now that we know every ho-hum detail of his whiny youth, and yet, his appearance in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed still bears promise. This new game, created by an in-house LucasArts team, takes place between "Revenge of the Sith" and the original "Star Wars." Vader is training a secret apprentice -- a guy so wicked, so unrestrained by morality, that the force blasts out of him like a gale-force wind. With the flick of a wrist, the guy can lift nearly anything he comes across and fling it across the room. In a Tie Fighter factory, a vast space not unlike the Death Star?s landing bay, we saw the rogue Jedi fling Stormtroopers like ragdolls -- their flailing bodies ricocheting like pinballs. The scene looked a lot like the final moments of Half-Life 2, when Gordon Freeman?s gravity gun finally worked on flesh-and-blood opponents. Those seemingly godlike powers only lasted for a small part of Valve?s game. LucasArts looks like they?re pinning this entire game on these over-the-top powers. From the get-go, this Jedi is a walking wrecking crew, and he just gets stronger as the game progresses.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed depends on several new technologies meant to add juice to the mayhem. The Euphoria engine is a kind of biomechanical artificial intelligence that makes characters flail and grab rather than go limp the moment they?re swept from their feet. Another innovation comes by way of Digital Molecular Matter -- an approach to level design that imbues in-game objects with similar attributes to the real-world material of which they?re supposed to be made. In other words: glass shatters, wood splinters and metal bends. The way huge blast doors responded to Force push blasts was the most interesting: The doors wrinkled and folded differently every time. The Jedi could use his mind to break through a massive door, then turn around and fold the massive door shut to keep enemies from following him. Later on his rampage, Darth Vader?s crony willed enormous catwalks to bend into the flight paths of incoming Tie Fighters.

One of the core philosophies at LucasArts comes straight from the top. George Lucas once called special effects ?a boring thing? if they?re not tied directly to story. With Star Wars: The Force Unleashed there?s a lot of nifty technology being thrown about, but according the boss man, there?s got to be a compelling reason for all the action. Hayden Blackman, the project lead on Star Wars: The Force Unleashed understands that the game needs more than pyrotechnics to connect with players. An underlying theme of redemption, he says, will drive the story. So while players will start the game gleefully hunting and assassinating the galaxy?s remaining Jedi, there?s a good chance that complications will arise, adding some depth to the plot.

For now we only see the game?s protagonist on the warpath. On the planet Felucia, a world overrun by enormous fungal growths, we saw how his mental blasts caused the forest of mushrooms to bow and sway. Deeper into the wilderness the dark one encounters a Rancor monster, one of the game?s many boss battles. Here we learned how combat combos tying together lightsaber swings, electrical blasts and explosions of the Force could be used to take down a massive, ticked-off beast. The brawl ends with a God of War-style finisher, pulled off by making simple timed button presses. These flamboyant kills aren?t hard to pull off -- they?re meant to be a reward for taking down the vicious creature. Further down the Jedi?s path he finds himself on Raxis Prime, a junkyard planet last seen in the Clone Wars game. The planet is a graveyard where beat-up Star Destroyers go to die. The place is full of twisted metal and unstable engine cores just waiting to be picked up and tossed around. Here players encounter the Jedi Kazdan, an off-kilter crackpot who has sculpted a scale replica of Jedi temple out of scrap metal. Before taking down this powerful Jedi, players will have to defeat his Junk Titans, golems cobbled together by Kazdan to ward off attacks.

While next-generation versions of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed will take advantage of processing power to make all the sandbox-style action go down, current-gen consoles will rely on different tricks to realize the Force. The Wii version of the game, handled by Krome Studios, will use motion controls to pull off combos and final moves -- similar to the beam katana battles in No More Heroes. The current-generation versions on the Wii, PSP, PlayStation 2 and Nintendo DS will all follow the same plot as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions, but they may take the occasional detour to cover some new ground. In the Wii version we saw the wreckage of the Jedi Temple, where the Emperor?s Sentinels have been dispatched to snuff the last of those who fought for the light. Also unveiled was a head-to-head dueling -- a feature unique to the Wii. These two-player brawls let players pick from 20 different characters, and then lock lightsabers in nine different environments.

This review was based on a publisher-driven demo of the game. No release date has yet been announced.