Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Force Unleashed


When I first heard about Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, I was cautiously optimistic. I enjoyed both Knights of the Old Republic games and both Battlefront games as well. I learned that Unleashed was going to be an action game (combat, jumping, etc.), and I was still onboard—after all, the graphics I was seeing were awesome. It wasn't going to be an 'RPG' like the KotOR series, but everyone kept saying that the 'story was going to be great'.

Then I saw some things that started to give me pause. A Jedi using the force to crash a Star Destroyer? Okayyyy. Again, somewhere, someone explained this away as well. The character in this game was supposed to be something of a force 'Freak'—a Jedi wrecking ball, raised from childhood to be an engine of destruction. Alright, I'm still willing to play along.

A few days after the game came out, I bought it and played it. My initial reactions were still positive. The first level, where you play as Darth Vader, battling through hordes of Wookiees was very enjoyable. The graphics /were/ great, and the game play was pretty good, too (of course, not being a 'twitch reflex' person, it took me a while to get the hang of things). By the time I reached the first cut-scenes my cautious optimism had returned. Okay, so the lead character was a little shallow—but there was time to develop. His droid, Proxy was interesting, able to holographically mimic various opponents. An interesting idea. And thankfully, they didn't completely rip off his personality from KotOR's HK-47. Still, I like the idea of a droid 'Cato' to your character's Inspector Clouseau.

Even the original meeting with your pilot (and love interest, Juno Eclipse) was reasonably well done. Okay, so her costume's prominently displayed cleavage was a bit much. I mean, as a guy, I like that sort of thing, but...it just seemed so blatantly done (which I'm sure it was, considering the target audience of this game). 

I was all set for the story to blow me away, as everyone kept saying it would. The characters seemed to be the kind that might prove interesting once developed. Even when I started hitting portions of the game where the game-play began to frustrate me (mostly due to my own ineptitude) I kept playing in the hopes of seeing the story play out. 

Unfortunately, the game play frustrations continued and were only multiplied as the characters failed to develop at all. The dialogue was just bland. Your hero and his love interest exchange stilted barbs—which is of course a sign that they are falling in love. And yet there seemed to be absolutely no reason for either of them to care about the other, except for the fact that they just happened to be in the same ship sometimes. Simply put, they have a 'relationship' because the script says so. Meh.

The further along the story got, the more I grew to detest it. Admittedly, a lot of that detestation stems from the fact that I (like many fans) think the original Star Wars trilogy was much, much better than the prequel trilogy. So when the writers deliberately trampled over plot points from the original trilogy, just to 'fill in the gaps' between the two series, I was disgusted (in a very fan-boy way). 

A game reviewer that I enjoy ("Yahtzee", from Zero Punctuation) put it best when he said: "Apparently the plot is supposed to tie the Star Wars prequel trilogy to the original series, which raises the question: Why would we want to do this terrible thing? Its like tying your breakfast to a plague rat."

It started with the fact that every Jedi or Sith presented in the game (including the hero) were even MORE bad-ass than any we had seen in any of the movies. I can get over that as just being style—after all, its more fun to play a complete bad-ass (and bashing Jawas into the ceiling until they die from it is, admittedly, very enjoyable).

It continued, however, by including a whole plot line about Princess Leia—in which she is under arrest by an Imperial Moff under suspicion of treason. Since this pre-dates Star Wars, it essentially tramples over the plot of the very first movie. If Leia was already being imprisoned and threatened with death, why was she allowed to roam free again in her own ship and get the Death Star plans? Why did she even attempt to pretend she was a Senator on a diplomatic mission?

Even moreso, Leia's FATHER is arrested—caught red-handed plotting treason against the Empire. The Emperor himself is going to kill him and other rebel leaders. And yet, after you rescue him, apparently Bail Organa just returns to Alderaan and...sits there to wait for the Empire to blow him up with the Death Star—a Death Star that Bail obviously KNEW about already, since he was imprisoned on it. This is just sloppy plotting. I mean, Alderaan is defenseless. The Emperor could have just sent a ship there and picked up Organa again—arrested him publicly to make an example out of him, or even use him as an excuse to disband the senate (which he was already going to do anyway). And how stupid does it make Bail Organa look? He could have done lots of things: evacuate people from Alderaan, make a public announcement about the Death Star, try to drum up more rebel support, anything but just sit there and do nothing.

So there I was, already shaking my head at the plot, when it completely jumps the shark (or more appropriately 'nukes the fridge'). In the final confrontation, your character defeats both Darth Vader and the Emperor, back to back. I was just stunned. So, pretty much, this guy you're playing is the 'Best Jedi Evarr'. He's done what no other character in any movie has been able to do. To me, this just completely defuses everything that happens after the game (i.e. the entire original trilogy). I mean, compared to Starkiller's Badassery, everything else pales in comparison? Luke? He's even more of a blip than everyone at Lucasfilm and Lucas Arts seems determined to make him. I mean, he can't even defeat ONE enemy, let alone both one after the other. 

And how can one follow such a horrible climax? By turning to a very horrible cliche SECOND ending. So, you've defeated Vader and the Emperor. You've saved the entire galaxy. But suddenly (if you're playing the game as a good guy), your mentor says. "No, don't kill [the Emperor]! If you do, you'll be no better than he is!" At this point, the game takes over, and you don't kill the Emperor. And, surprise, surprise, he turns around and stabs you in the back (with force lightning). Gee, didn't see that one coming. So not only is your character the 'Best Jedi Evarr', he's also the most stupid: The one who had the chance of ending the Emperor's reign and saving the galaxy (thus saving Alderaan and countless billions of lives) but just...well, decided not to because it would be arbitrarily 'bad'.

As I recall from the movies, Jedi had no trouble killing when they had to. Windu killed Jango without any remorse. Windu was going to kill Palpatine without any regrets. Hell, even YODA was going to kill Palpatine. Why? Because as long as he was alive, he was a threat to the entire galaxy. But at the end of this game, after killing HUNDREDS of others along the way, we are told that just killing one more (the source of all the killing in the first place) is 'bad'. I'm sorry, but some people need killin', and the Emperor was one of them. I think any non-stupid Jedi would agree with me.

And then, when your character has died (stupidly), we're given one more slap in the face. Seems that the symbol for the Rebellion was Starkiller's family crest. It was adopted by the Rebellion to honor the man who had 'saved' them. Nevermind the fact, he was a moron who could have stopped the war before it began...and nevermind the fact that even in other Lucasfilm projects (i.e. the new Clone Wars CG animated series) they seem to show that the symbol was just an evolution of the crest of the Old Republic, worn on the shoulders of the Jedi knights.

All in all, the plot of this game just pissed me off. I'll admit that a lot of it seems nit-picky. I'll also admit that I am an unabashed fan-boy of the original trilogy. But to me, the whole thing just seemed like another in an unceasing effort to bury the goodness of the Star Wars franchise under the heartless glitz and noise of the new material. And keep in mind, I really didn't HATE the prequel trilogy. There were a lot of things I enjoyed about it. What I do hate is the way that the people in charge of the franchise seem to be shoving it down our throats, trying to make us love it more than the original movies by making everything 'better'. 

Oh, and on a final note? The whole scene with forcing the Star Destroyer to crash on a planet? Wow, was that frustrating and lame to play. An 'action' sequence that goes through 15-20 minutes of the same, repetitive thing can no longer be termed an action sequence.


  1. That's a lot of the reason why the whole development team behind this game was summarily dismissed before the game was even released.

    Lucasarts felt that they had given these guys a script that was a 10 on a scale of 1-10 and gotten back a product that was somewhere around a 4.

    The Metacritic reviews of this much-hyped product largely bore out that thought. The game still sold well, but it wasn't the Halo type blowaway that they'd hoped it would be.

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  3. I just found your blog (while searching very carefully for some details on the Isis Coordinates; unfortunately, 'Isis' is not a term you want to throw around on Google very freely, especially when it has to do with the placement of bombs! :-) ), and I have to say- I agree 100% with everything you say here- especially the inexplicable 'Yep, we'll just let completely-outed rebel Bail Organa head back to Alderaan and chill for half a decade with knowledge of this battlestation...' plot point, and the notion that the entire Rebel Alliance leadership was so spineless that it took Starkiller to get them to form it.