Some LucasArts bright spark has seen the light: Force powers – those wonderful flinging, frying Jedi tricks – are infinitely more interesting than whanging around a strip light that goes ‘whooOOom’. An even brighter spark built a decent God of War clone around them on next-gen consoles. And a final, brighter spark chose to treat the Wii with some respect. Force Unleashed Wii isn’t the fully functioning next-gen Death Star, but a plucky Rebel Alliance. The Euphoria and DMM2 engines that shove physics down your throat on 360 and PS3 would make the Wii explode like so many comical droids. So, as with a Jedi mind trick, illusion is key. Ragdoll physics here, a pinch of Havoc box-tumbling there and you’re set.
A Force Push will shunt stormtroopers off their feet, while a Force Grip will pilot a crate into the face of any goon too hefty for a midichlorian-fuelled shunt. Lightning surges through groups of enemies and Repulse sends them scattering like fascist bowling pins. Pedants will spot that lightning doesn’t arc through metal or that Force Pushes don’t realistically dent the walls. The wise will see that no move has been pruned for the Wii. This isn’t to say the powers are perfectly realised. Force Unleashed is a misleading title; ‘Force Gradually Unlocked’ is more apt. Offing enemies earns you points that upgrade you from Ewok-botherer to Vader mark two. Earlier scraps can be depressing as you skulk around pecking at health bars like a Jedi pigeon. And until you’ve fattened your Force meter with pickups, dull saber combat is needed.
Hearing the remote spit out the distinctive ‘whooOOom’ is endearing in a ‘mum watching her sprog ‘being’ the Angel Gabriel in a Nativity play’ kind of way, but it doesn’t disguise saber mastery worthy of Lego Star Wars. Yes, flicks are complemented by button presses for Force-boosted combos, but the inputs are too pernickety. When you have to hold down A, B, X and Z, place the remote in your ear and recite the Lord’s Prayer just to open a door, something’s gone very wrong. If the button-starved remote lets down combat, the Wii itself churns out some remarkably miserable visuals. The opening stage in particular, the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk, is uglier than a shaved Chewbacca. Interiors are handled better – it’s good to see that in times of galactic strife both sides find time to buff their floors to a shine – but trying to match the expansive fantasy worlds was unwise.
That said, within these sights forming sore eyes there are numerous graphical flourishes that delight. Wobbly Force energy (only the most technical terms for you, dear readers), Starkiller’s character animation (particularly his clawed hand as he ‘unleashes’ a Force Grip), clashing sabers – the incidental Star Warsiness is bang on. Key enemy-destroying set-pieces (crushing an AT-AT into the size of a pea, for example) are awesome; it’s a shame they’re confined to quick time events.
Actually, the Star Warsiness is handled very well throughout – more so than in any title since those dreamy Super Star Wars SNES days. We originally scoffed at the weight afforded to the tale by the producers but we take it back. The story of Starkiller is obvious – comical sidekick, will-they-won’t-they love interest – but the narrative really ties Episodes III and IV together. Frankly, we’re amazed Lucas allowed such a key part of Star Wars lore to get locked down in a game. He could have easily milked a film or five out of it.
But can nifty cutscenes make up for an action heart that, although beating with righteous Jedi intentions, too often succumbs to awkward controls and dumb pacing issues? The answer largely depends on whether or not you have Boba Fett on your pyjamas. You do? Then we’re tempted to say this is the most compelling Star Wars game ever made. We won’t though: only the Sith deal in absolutes.
Sep 16, 2008