Author Topic: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (Switch) Review  (Read 250 times)

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Offline John Rairdin

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Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (Switch) Review
« on: April 20, 2022, 05:17:18 AM »

The port might be better than the actual game.

When Star Wars: The Force Unleashed released in 2008, it was a major player in an effort to keep Star Wars going with new stories following the conclusion of the prequel trilogy in 2005. Alongside Dave Filoni’s Clone Wars theatrical film and subsequent television series, The Force Unleashed was to serve as a link between the prequel and original trilogies. It was a major media push, and as such was released on every major platform of the time including the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS, PSP, IOS and N-Gage. If you’ve played The Force Unleashed in the last few years you likely played the version originally developed for the Xbox 360 and PS3. If you hop on Steam and buy the game today that’s the version you’ll get. However, given the wide disparity of power between the various release platforms, this version was far from the only one, and each version is substantially different. This Switch release of The Force Unleashed represents the first official effort to preserve the version developed for Wii, PS2, and PSP. But as this was generally seen as a lesser version back in 2008, how does it hold up today?

You play as Starkiller, the son of a Jedi slain by Darth Vader in the great jedi purge following the conclusion of the Clone Wars. After being taken in by Vader you serve as his apprentice as he plots to overthrow Emperor Palpatine, presumably with Starkiller by his side. I won’t go into spoilers, but suffice it to say that Starkiller’s path will ultimately not be that clear cut, and betrayals and plot twists will lead him down a path entirely his own. The story in isolation is fairly good. It compellingly sets up the major players in the rebellion against the Galactic Empire, and Sam Witwer’s performance as Starkiller is generally solid, though it pales in comparison to his modern role as Darth Maul. Where the story actually runs into trouble is that it implies Darth Vader always intended to overthrow the Emperor, and that he was just waiting for an opportunity. This makes his eventual turn at the conclusion of Return of the Jedi feel less about seeing a glimpse of Anakin within Vader, and more about him just being sick of ol’ Palpatine calling the shots. It weakens Darth Vader’s character as a whole, which is why you won’t hear me complaining about it being removed from canon following the reboot.

The Force Unleashed plays out in a series of mostly linear, hack-and-slash levels across a variety of planets. You only visit most locations once, making the game extremely visually diverse. The one significant exception being repeated visits to the Jedi Temple where Starkiller faces off against ancient Sith lords. These levels were presented as DLC in the Xbox 360 and PS3 version but since the platforms targeted for this version largely didn’t support DLC, they opted to sell you the entire game at once instead.

Starkiller’s combat repertoire starts out with a limited moveset. You have basic lightsaber attacks, a lightsaber throw, a lightning attack, and of course the ability to manipulate objects with the force. It comically is an almost identical moveset to the recent Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, to the point that my brain struggled to swap between the controls because they were so close to being the same. As you gain experience you’ll be able to upgrade the potency of your abilities and unlock new combos. You can do this at any time from the pause menu, which is great for letting you adapt on the fly once you’ve already started a level. Your lightsaber itself can also be augmented using both cosmetics found hidden throughout stages, along with crystals that increase the attack power of certain abilities. Combat on the whole feels somewhat clunky. Animations don’t really react to making contact or being blocked. It is often hard to tell if you’re actually doing damage without staring directly at the enemies health bar. It gets a little more interesting as the game goes on with more abilities allowing you to make better use of your environment. What doesn’t get better is the crippling lack of boss variety. I hope you like fighting this AT-ST in the second level because you are going to fight it many more times throughout your 8 hours or so with the game. The most they ever do to shake up this fight is throw in two AT-STs at once. The same goes for every force user fight. Once you’ve fought the rogue Jedi in the first stage, you essentially know the moveset of every other Sith or Jedi you encounter. This is ultimately the greatest flaw in any version of The Force Unleashed. Despite not being that long, combat manages to feel extremely repetitive.

By now it should be obvious that while I by no means hate The Force Unleashed, I’ve always considered it a good but definitely not great game. While this release hasn’t changed that for me, I will admit I’ve enjoyed it more than I expected and most of that comes down to how flawless this HD port is. As this version was originally developed to be capable of running on the PSP and PlayStation 2, the Wii had a lot of extra horsepower to work with. It isn’t often we see the Wii as the most technically capable platform in a lineup but here we are. The original developers of this version at Krome Studios took advantage of this by including much more complex materials in the Wii version than we’d normally see on that platform. Characters feature great texture work, despite some low poly models. Bump maps on virtually every surface of every character help light react realistically. Every dynamic object in the scene, including characters and anything that can be manipulated with the force, cast real time shadows. It is a surprisingly good looking game on Wii and all of those technical features have been preserved here, at a crisp 1080p docked, 720p handheld, and flawless 60fps in either configuration. Given Aspyr’s imperfect history with preserving platform specific visual flourishes, I was extremely impressed with this effort. Some clarity came when I saw that Krome Studios, the original developers behind this version of the game, were responsible for this HD release. They have excellently preserved their work here. It is, in a word, perfect, and really highlights the original technical ingenuity better than was ever possible at 480p. As a bonus you can play this version with motion controls if you have a particular affinity for the Wii version, or make use of the more traditional control layout found in the PlayStation 2 version. The multiplayer versus mode is also intact here, along with all the cheat codes found in the original release. The only possible missing piece I can think to mention is the PSP exclusive bonus missions are not included in this version. However, as these were always exclusive to that version, bringing them up to par with the visuals of the Wii release would likely have been beyond the scope of this release.

The Force Unleashed is a heavily flawed though still enjoyable experience from an era where Star Wars was trying to find its next identity. It tells an interesting story, even if its ultimate effect on Anakin’s perceived story arc means it's better left outside of modern canon. While its gameplay is linear, and repetitive, I can’t argue with the satisfaction of pulling down a section of the environment and using it to take out a whole group of stormtroopers at once. It by no means weaves its story into the greater universe with the expertise of something like Shadows of the Empire, but it almost certainly served as a gateway into better things like Jedi Fallen Order. As for this particular version, Krome Studios and Aspyr deserve immense praise for their efforts to preserve this oft-forgotten version. Outside of the missing bonus levels from the PSP version, this is the definitive version of this release. This is by no means a masterpiece, but it is an excellent version of a fairly good game.

Offline pokepal148

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Re: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (Switch) Review
« Reply #1 on: April 20, 2022, 05:13:46 PM »
Krome has generally been really good about preserving their old assets for games they worked on during that era.