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Hands-on: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed


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You'll be able to get your hands on a demo of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed this Thursday on PSN. However, we had a chance to get an early look at the upcoming release. As with most every Star Wars game, there's a lot of excitement and anticipation over this upcoming LucasArts project -- in spite of the franchise's notorious legacy of mediocrity. However, fans have rallied for The Force Unleashed, due to its unique interpretation of Force powers, and the dark character that stars in it. Darth Vader's apprentice is, essentially, the Kratos of the Star Wars universe. Dark, brooding, conflicted ... and yet oh-so-powerful. Certainly, the premise has a lot going for it.

However, it becomes immediately apparent that The Force Unleashed isn't going to be the definitive Star Wars game that some are hoping it would be. The visuals are rather lackluster, with none of the environments, character models, or special effects looking beyond "par." Of course, it may be because of the demo: restricted to a rather clean, barren Imperial spaceship, there isn't much to see. Perhaps the game's later planetary levels will offer a bit more eye candy. Even the framerate didn't feel smooth -- and the camera seemed annoying, requiring manual adjustment throughout.


Just like the visuals, the combat feels simply "adequate." Chopping droids in half with the lightsaber looks cool, but the overall experience of controlling the Apprentice doesn't feel sleek. Compare the controls of this game to that of Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden or even God of War, and The Force Unleashed feels clunky -- and far less visceral than any of these other action games. For example, grabbing an enemy in the air and throwing him around looks very cool. However, the execution of the grab manuver, which requires both analog sticks to control (one for X-axis and one for Y-axis control) is much too cumbersome. The Gravity Gun from Half-Life 2 functions exactly the same as the Force grab, and does so in a much more natural way.
If combat does one thing well, it's the finishing moves. Taking down an AT-ST by cutting it in half with a lightsaber looks ridiculously cool. If the developers can continue offering "wow" moments like those, we're sure The Force Unleashed will be, at the very least, a fun, flawed adventure.

There are a number of improvements we'd like to suggest to the LucasArts team about the combat -- but with its release only a month away, it's far too late to change anything significant. We wish the combat were a bit more visceral, a bit more intense, and a bit more intuitive. However, Star Wars geeks may find the presentation, and the intriguing story to be more than enough to satiate even the most casual of fans. You'll be able to judge the demo for yourself when it launches on PSN this Thursday.

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