The first sign that Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is a mediocre port comes as soon as you boot up the game: you can't navigate the menus with a mouse. On its own, this isn't an awful fact, but it's an omen of bad things to come. Aside from resolution and brightness options, there are no visual options to tweak. There is no antialiasing and no way to enable it. And frame rate troubles will haunt your every saber swing. It's too bad that so little respect was shown for the platform--and to those that will spend money on this product--because the underlying game is rather good. As Darth Vader's secret apprentice, you slice through grunting Rodians with your glowing lightsaber, go head-to-head with slobbering rancors, and punt jawas into the distance as if they were pigskins. You might be lucky enough to avoid this troubled port's technical flaws and experience the full pleasures of The Force Unleashed, but be warned: Picking up a copy of this physics-heavy action game is one gamble that may not pay off.
The only thing that stinks more than the trash on Raxus Prime is this port.
The Force Unleashed's main campaign is the same as the one that appeared on consoles in 2008. For more details, check our full review of that version, as all of the ups and downs of the original release still hold true. When the action comes together, it's hard to stifle your excitement. As Galen Marek, aka Starkiller, you execute your foes by carving them up with your lightsaber, using your Force push ability to propel them down corridors and zap them with jolts of Force lightning. The best moments come by way of the Force grip power, which you use to lift objects and foes and fling them around, leaving a trail of death, destruction, and Wookiee corpses in your wake. Unfortunately, the difficulties of the earlier console version are along for the ride, too, such as the imprecise targeting that makes it too difficult to pick up the object you intended. Thankfully, the keyboard and mouse controls don't usually add more to the frustration, and they do a good enough of job of letting you chain your powers together during most battles. The fixed-camera boss battles, which are more comfortably played with a controller, are an exception. As a result, you'll probably want to stick with a gamepad for the most consistently rewarding experience.
Sadly, technical problems may hinder your chances for enjoyment. On two out of three test systems--all of which exceeded the game's recommended hardware requirements--we encountered performance issues that heavily interfered with the experience. The frame rate was wildly inconsistent, taking huge dips whenever there was a lot of action onscreen, and on one system, frame rate troubles were accompanied by snaps and crackles in the audio. Should you run into visual issues, there is no way to adjust graphics settings to improve the game's performance. The Force Unleashed allows you to only adjust the display resolution and brightness levels, so forget tweaking your lighting and anisotropic filter settings. Even if you can run the game without trouble, you'll lament that the widescreen cinematics are stretched on a monitor with a 4:3 aspect ratio. It's a shame that these issues will overshadow some absolutely excellent art design for so many players. Environments like the robot graveyards on Raxus Prime look fantastic, and swirled, stylized textures add fantasy flair to the overall look. The visuals won't blow you away when compared to other PC games, but they have plenty of dramatic appeal.
While at the Jedi temple, be sure to pray for a smooth frame rate. Just don't expect your prayer to be answered.