Since the conclusion of the new Star Wars trilogy, fans of the legendary sci-fi franchise haven't had much to get excited about, unless they're part of the minority that actually doesn't mind the new Clone Wars film. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is a noble attempt at remedying this problem—it's just a shame the great story plays out in the form of a mediocre game.
Force Unleashed's premise is certainly a bold addition to the Star Wars canon. You play as Darth Vader's super-powerful secret Sith apprentice, and wind up a pawn in various nefarious schemes which culminate in multiple betrayals. It would be criminal to give away all the details here, but suffice it to say that anyone that cares at all about Star Wars will definitely be interested in the events of the plot line and intrigued by the game's two possible endings.
Unfortunately, those who want to enjoy the story will have to put up with the bevy of frustrations that come along with Force Unleashed's gameplay. Wielding a industrial-strength force powers and a lightsaber sounds good on paper, but in practice it's awkward and unsatisfying. While you can pick up almost any loose object and chuck it at some foe, the game's poor targeting system too often makes it a real pain to grab the one you want, and sending a levitating chunk of metal flying in the direction that you'd like it to go is invariably more difficult than it should be. Failing this, the lightsaber is usually the simplest way to drop a stormtrooper, but it feels crude and underpowered, more like beating him with a stick than gracefully slicing and dicing.
In the end, the gameplay degenerates into button-mashing hack-and-slash. There are more moves and powers that you can earn by doling out points earned by leveling up, but, aside from the core moves, there's little of use. There's an unmemorable encyclopedia of combos to unlock, few of which are powerful enough not to ignore. While there are indeed moments where everything works and it's a blast, it usually feels a bit too much like bland drudgery.
The visuals, on the other hand, might be enough to keep some players going until the next plot twist. The graphics are vibrant and radiate atmosphere, and the effects are of a similar calibre. The Force Unleashed is also a showpiece of physics technology, and the explosions and object behaviors are duly impressive. Some of the boss battle finishing moves, though they pointlessly demand loosely timed button taps to advance the action, are pretty spectacular if not totally over-the-top.
As a whole package The Force Unleashed is tough to unconditionally recommend. The plot is surprisingly significant and arguably more interesting than the majority of the new film trilogy (although players will still have to face the occasional line of laughably bad dialogue that we've come to expect from Star Wars). The graphics and technology are certainly worthy of the franchise, too, but it all comes at a cost. Repetition and frustration are the meat of the gameplay, and the rare spectacular moment doesn't go far enough to redeem the game as a whole. Those who have a hankering for a good Star Wars tale might enjoy what The Force Unleashed has to offer, so long as they aren't expecting much more than that.