You hear the big chord and the brass fanfare, and you know what's coming. It's easy to get excited when you hear the rousing Star Wars theme, though the franchise has hardly been known for exceeding expectations in recent years. If you're interested in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed for its story and theme, you won't be disappointed: It supplies a weighty plot with a few stunning surprises. If you're more interested in the action, you'll find that the game is a mixture of fun and frustration that you'll get some enjoyment from, but ultimately fails to live up to its potential.
Starkiller is a great new character, and his story fills in some significant gaps.
You're cast as Galen Marek, aka Starkiller, Darth Vader's secret apprentice. The Clone Wars have ended, and Vader orders you to hunt and destroy the last of the remaining Jedi. Exploring the universe from this dark perspective is remarkably compelling. The story is brief (expect to finish the campaign in about seven hours), but it contains multiple twists, features some friendly and not-so-friendly faces, and is both explosive and remarkably intimate. You'll interact with Vader, of course, but Starkiller spends most of his time with an android called PROXY and his female pilot, Juno Eclipse. Sharing the details of the trio's adventures would spoil too much, so suffice it to say that you'll grow remarkably fond of Starkiller and his companions, and their moral conflicts carry a lot of weight.
Unfortunately, the game's limited visual capabilities somewhat soften the story's dramatic impact. The cutscenes are rendered within the game engine, and are undercut by stiff animations and abrupt, jarring transitions in and out of gameplay, as well as some odd-looking character models and occasional glitches, such as blinking geometry. Audio also takes a hit, which is odd, considering that much of the voice-over work is lifted directly from the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 version of the game. Poor compression is the culprit here, and it makes the dialogue sound as if you're listening to it on an old record player.
That's not to say that Force Unleashed looks and sounds bad, considering the aging hardware pumping these elements out. The moderately sized environments are fairly detailed, and the saber action and powerful-looking Force abilities produce flurries of particles and other special effects. However, there are some brief moments of slowdown not seen in the Wii version, which uses the same graphics engine (and looks essentially the same). John Williams' music and some original tracks, as well as the familiar swooshes of sabers, sound like you'd expect, and they only occasionally suffer from the poor compression to which the voice-over was subjected.