I like Star Wars. Whatever else may be written about me after I’m gone, please allow this simple statement to persevere. I wouldn’t call my enjoyment of Star Wars a passion, really. Not in the same way some people have a passion for bringing clean water to the Sahara. Not in the way that I’m going to get a Darth Vader tattoo on my arm or anything. But I do like it a great deal.
I don’t remember seeing the original film in the theater, but I know I did. I was four. My mother to this day cites the fact she viewed it on her own before escorting me to the theater as an example of her excellent parenting skills. “It had a lot of monsters in it,” she says. She wanted to make sure they weren’t too scary. She needn’t have worried. I loved the monsters. Loved everything about that movie. I was an instant fan.
I remember seeing the second film, and the third. And the fourth, fifth and sixth. In other words, I like Star Wars. I stood in line to see the original films when they were re-released last century. I saw them all in one day, stopping only once, briefly, for Indian food. I stood in line for tickets and was not ashamed. I didn’t dress up though. I don’t like it that much.
If I had to put a finger on what, exactly rings my bell about Star Wars, I’d have to say it’s the Jedi. The idea of these dudes running around lopping off the hands of the wicked, leaping tall buildings in a single bound and “feeling” things on a deep, spiritual level kind of blows my mind. They’re like beatnik policemen. Merry Pranksters with laser swords, shouting “Semper Fi” as they write you a parking ticket. It’s absurd and fantastic all at the same time. The kind of thing that can only exist in the land of science fiction.
The only thing that sucks about Jedi is they’re not fun. Criminally so. Think of every single thing you’d like to do if you could use the Force and wield a lightsaber. Now stop thinking about it, because Jedi don’t do it. Revenge? They’re above it. Pulling people’s pants down with the Force? Yeah, right. Don’t make me laugh. Using the laser sword to impress the girls? Give me a break. Jedi don’t date. They don’t do anything. Don’t drink, don’t smoke … nothing.
So they’ve got all these cool powers, but they never use them. Bo-ring. Enter: The Force Unleashed. This is the game for everyone who’s ever wanted to use the Force to fling banana peels into the path of little old ladies, and unzip zippers to watch people squirm.
Granted, not everyone will enjoy this game. As is typical with LucasArts’ Star Wars releases, The Force Unleashed doesn’t pretend to be genre busting, but rather follows an existing trend hoping to cash in. Just as the X-Wing and TIE Fighter games horned in on the flight sim craze, and Dark Forces followed quickly (and profitably) on the heels of Doom, The Force Unleashed borrows heavily from the third person genre’s lead instigator, God of War. In fact, I’d go so far as to call it God of Star Wars. Which is unfortunate, because I hate God of War. I found it to be pointless and frustrating, like sexy in a Smart Car.
If you enjoyed the first five minutes of God of War, then A) you and I will never be friends, but more importantly, B) you will enjoy the rest of the game and every sequel. It’s a very shallow experience. Wade into sea of baddies, press buttons repeatedly, rinse and repeat. And yes, you can say the same about almost any other type of game, but unlike with God of War, I usually find that to be enjoyable. Besides, once you slice one person in half with a sword on the end of a chain, it kind of stops being fun. The experience doesn’t, as they say, scale.
I played God of War for exactly one hour, then, frustrated and bored, ripped it out of my machine and pounded my head against a wall for relief. So, when I discovered The Force Unleashed followed in its footsteps, I almost cried. Luckily, I like Star Wars, and as every single one of us has known instinctively for more than 20 years, no amount of game design crap can make flinging dudes around with the Force not fun.
Long load times, quick-time events, ridiculously irritating boss monsters and enemies with perfectly timed ranged attacks that knock you flat on your ass, unable to move until your painfully animated self clambers back onto his feet just in time to get flattened again … none of this matters. Sure my controller has seen better days, having been flung against the wall, thrown to the floor and twisted to death in the angry grip of a frustrated gamer so deep in the throes of hating a game he wants it to die in every painful way possible over and over and over again. But still, flinging dudes around with the Force is fun, and so is The Force Unleashed. Fun enough to play God of War dressed as Star Wars. Fun enough to eat nails, even.
There was a lot of talk before the release of The Force Unleashed about a deep storyline with a choice between good and evil and all that crap. Forget that. Those were lies. I don’t know why they said all that. There’s a story, presented in cut scenes, which is fairly interesting, but you don’t get to participate. Perhaps the main character ultimately makes a choice between good and evil, but I’m not at the end yet, and so far, my participation in the story has been limited to stuffing my mouth with Cheetos as it plays out in front of me. Hardly revolutionary. Knights of the Old Republic 3, this game is not.
There was also a lot of talk about the amazing new technology driving The Force Unleashed. They claimed it would revolutionize games and movies and maybe even sex with your wife too. They claimed stuff would blow up into neat, little bits like you’d never seen before. They lied. It may be happening, but I don’t see it. Stuff blows up, sure. You can blow lots of stuff away, but I wouldn’t say I’m blown away by the blowing away. I’d say whoever got talked into investing in cutting edge tech to represent stuff blowing up got lied to. Blowing stuff up is blowing stuff up. Sorry, guys. Put your money in precious metals instead. We’re counting on you. /fingergun.
But flinging dudes around with the Force? Yeah, that’s in there. And it’s awesome. Pick up a Stormtrooper and fling him into three other Stormtroopers and kill them all. That’s something a Jedi wouldn’t do, but you can do it. And it’s awesome. Here’s another one: pick up a Stormtrooper and fling him up in the air. The camera will follow his trajectory until he flies out of sight, high up into the atmosphere, then it picks him back up as he falls back down. Bounce, splat, dead Stormtrooper. Awesome.
How about another? There’s an annoying enemy called the Purge Trooper, who’s part Stromtrooper, part robot, who shoots rockets at you and is hard to kill. Get in close and he picks you up and does a TNA move on you, slamming you to the ground. Try a standoff tactic and he blasts you with rockets. Annoying. Good for you The Force has longer range than rockets. Grab a bit of exploding junk and hurl it at him. He’ll go flying off a cliff, plummeting to the ground, and you’ll be rid of him. You’ll even get style points for killing him in an interesting way. Come on! How freaking awesome is that? A game that rewards you for creative use of deadly physics? I must kiss the man who dreamt this up. After I slap him for copying God of War.
Remember a game called Black & White, by that guy who made Fable and who always claims his games are the best games ever? Yeah, it wasn’t the best game ever. But it did have a fun mechanic in it where you could pick up little dudes with your Hand of God and then fling them across the landscape willy-nilly, crushing the life out of their tiny, ant-like bodies. There were a lot of things wrong with that game, but I was willing to overlook most of them for that one beautiful, perhaps ancillary, feature. I spent hours flinging dudes around, even when I shouldn’t have. Just because it was fun. In fact, I still refer to that game as the dude flinging game.
The Force Unleashed may, ultimately, not be the best action game (or even Star Wars game) ever made, but as far as telekinetic physics-based playgrounds go, it’s the best thing since sliced bread. All that’s missing is a camera so you can share all of the ways you’ve discovered to fling and destroy. And a Force-based sex minigame. Ideas for the sequel, fellas. Write this stuff down.
Russ Pitts doesn’t believe in hokey religions and ancient weapons, but he knows what he likes. His blog can be found at www.falsegravity.com