‘The Force Unleashed’ is the Evil Hodor of Star Wars games: big and simple, only capable of saying the same thing over and over again, and, unlike Good Hodor, entirely lacking in loyalty to its benefactors. It captures the very essence of everything that is bad about computer games in general, whilst also being one of the worst additions to the Star Wars universe since the screenplay for ‘Revenge of the Sith’.
First off, you’ve got the fucking ludicrously over-powered Force abilities. The Force used to be something subtle, a small influence that gave our heroes the slight advantage they needed. The Emperor may have used it to barbecue Luke, but that was a powerful villain displaying his power at the climax of the entire story. Now, apparently every single force user has god-like abilities to warp reality and fling enemies around the map as though they’re over-stretched scrotums filled with soggy spaghetti.
The creators actually managed to sacrifice theme and credibility for the sake of gameplay, and then manage to make the gameplay tedious. In one particularly egregious moment, you are tasked with dragging a Star Destroyer out of orbit and smashing it against the ground – you may think that this would be some kind of epic set piece, except that unending waves of TIE Fighters keep appearing to interrupt you, forcing you to deal with them – and this happens every few seconds. It takes a climactic moment and makes it repetitive and boring, as you gradually drag the Star Destroyer to the ground, each tedious inch punctuated by an abjectly non-threatening wave of mooks.
As you take on the Empire you are faced with unending hordes of Storm Troopers. They start out basic, barely posing a threat except in numbers. However as your character grows in power, so too do the Storm Troopers, until you’re regularly facing hordes of shielded, power-armoured monstrosities capable of knocking you down and stunning you repeatedly. Not only are they incredibly annoying to fight, but WHERE THE FUCK DO THEY COME FROM? I mean, the Empire sends these goons out on every single mission by the later stages – you’d think they’d have no problem eradicating the Rebel Alliance in about sixteen nanoseconds with some of these arseholes.
Almost by definition, they are a match for the most powerful lightsaber-wielding evil Jedi apprentice the Galaxy has ever seen – and there are thousands of them. There are missions based around Imperial attacks on rebellious worlds, but how long can an attack last when you have unending supplies of elite troopers protected by unbreakable forcefields? Just drop one of those absurd, twelve-foot “Purge Troopers” in the middle of a rioting city: I’m pretty sure that if they can make a gimp out of a man who can crash Star Destroyers with his mind, they can deal with a few pistol-armed dissenting peasants.
And all if this escalation in enemy threat makes redundant the work being done by the game’s RPG-style ability development. “Starkiller”, the protagonist, ends the game with such seizure-inducingly powerful abilities that the simplest explanation is that he is actually a god. But, when every single enemy you face in the later levels is a similarly-powerful new version of a Storm Trooper, Starkiller’s abilities feel mundane. In other games, as you level up you face more and more challenging enemies because you’re going on ever-more dangerous missions. In ‘The Force Unleashed’, you’re revisiting the same video-gamey environments, only now the standard foot soldier is packing a flamethrower and a thirst for blood.
And whilst the game play may be nonsensical and stupid, that’s NOTHING compared to the story. In one memorably awful moment, we are treated to a conversation in which our protagonist describes feeling the suffering of an enormous non-sentient toothy earth-vagina – literally at the same time that he is electrocuting hordes of enemies until they submit, and then electrocuting them some more – the game actually allows you to continue attacking the limp forms of your enemies long after they ceased being a threat, even Jawas.
I mean, doesn’t that figure? “I’m psychically sensitive to the suffering of this huge fleshy blob of tentacles in physical distress, so I am going to torture my way through ranks of sentient humanoids to save it, and end my own guilt.” The sheer disconnect between narrative and gameplay actually manages to be greater than that of the likes of ‘Skyrim’ and ‘Oblivion’, and even most MMOs. There is such a huge gap between the what we, the audience, are told, and what actually happens on-screen that I’m inclined to think George Lucas was behind this limp wank-rag of a story.
You can’t use dialogue to convey a narrative that is in no way backed up by the experience of playing the fucking game. ‘Jedi Outcast’ managed to do it right six fucking years earlier – as a player you could electrocute people, choke them to death, throw them off cliffs and listen to them scream, go into the game console and change the settings for maximum dismemberments, and then stand there over your foes’ lifeless bodies, carving them into progressively smaller chunks with your lightsaber… You could do all of that neat stuff, because the emotions imposed on the player’s character were entirely focused on his personal quest for vengeance and redemption. They didn’t have fights in which you cut enemies in half, only to follow them up with a cutscene about how in touch Kyle Katarn is with his feelings of compassion and mercy.
In essence, before ‘The Force Unleashed’ there were two types of Star Wars story. There’s best kind, the thematic approach, which focuses more on the emotions and relationships, which uses special effects and extraordinary settings and scenarios to internalise likable characters. And there’s the worst kind, the meat-head variety, where narrative and compelling character arcs give way to extreme visuals, unnecessary violence and “totally rad Force powers, man.”
‘The Force Awakens’ introduces a third genre of Star Wars story: the Shit Kind. This is Force Encounters of the Shit Kind, and it’s more obnoxious and shallow than a Petri dish of vomit.