Other attempts at variety arrive with mixed results. Boss encounters and battles against larger enemies, such as rancors and AT-STs, initiate God of War-style quick-time events, and while the initial button prompts can sometimes take you by surprise, most of these sequences are larger than life, featuring all of the acrobatics and pain-inducing attacks you'd expect from a Dark Jedi. You'll also find a few light but sensible puzzles that require you to pull platforms upward or bend metal slabs downward. Other sequences are simply terrible. The most egregious of these involves pulling a destroyer from out of the sky while simultaneously taking on a group of TIE fighters firing at you from their fancy figure-eight pattern. This could have been a game-defining set piece, but due to a broken feedback system--which purports to show you how to maneuver the analog sticks but does nothing of the sort--it's reduced to a malodorous misstep best forgotten. In another misbegotten sequence, you must fight the sensitive targeting system to get rotating rings to stay in place, then fight the camera while you ride an elevator and dash across a walkway--while under the pressure of a time limit. And you have to do it twice. That bit, along with another one that requires you to float upward on blue lasers, brings what should have been Force Unleashed's most exhilarating level to a grinding halt, and the gameplay never fully recovers.
The loose targeting means you won't always be grabbing what you want to grab.
As you progress from level to level, you earn (and find) upgrade crystals, and in turn you learn new combos and can upgrade your force powers to make them more effective. It's a nice touch, because it gives you the impression that Starkiller indeed grows more powerful as the game hurdles forward. It also provides some light character customization, but there are only three development trees, so by the time you reach Force Unleashed's conclusion, you may very well have maxed out most of your abilities. As your move set deepens, you'll encounter increasingly mighty foes, many of which are immune to one force power or another. This approach is a double-edged sword, requiring you to abandon your favorite combinations in favor of other, potentially less enjoyable moves.
Force Unleashed's art direction sparkles and glows, injecting brooding, rich color into every environment--even corridors and control rooms. The junkyards of Raxus Prime are most notable in this regard, but other locales, both familiar and new, are beautifully lit and feature lightly stylized textures and other subtle touches. It's Star Wars, all right, but like the story, the art direction surpasses franchise standards. The graphics engine renders this artistic vision (along with the game's overactive physics) well enough, but it often struggles to keep up. Visual bugs, momentary pauses, and frame rate drops are relatively common, and somewhat more prevalent in the PlayStation 3 version. We encountered instances of blinking textures, incomplete geometry, and on the PS3, multiple occasions when enemy character models would immediately disappear upon defeat. It's certainly beautiful to look at, but throw in weirdly long load times just to pull up menus and jarring cutscene transitions, and you start to see the corners that were cut.
The art design is rich and beautiful.
If you know your Star Wars, you probably already have an idea of what Force Unleashed sounds like--and you'd be right on the money. The sound design is of generally high quality, filling your speakers with the swooshes of sabers and the strains of John Williams' famous musical score (along with some new and appropriate compositions). So it sounds expectedly great, but like with the visuals, you may come across some bugs. While we played the PS3 version, the voice track would occasionally fade away, making it essentially impossible to hear dialogue over the music. In the Xbox 360 version, the voice track became desynched from character lip movements several times. It's too bad, because the game's audio is almost as well conceived as its art.
Once you've completed the game and are the all-powerful Dark Jedi you've always wanted to be, it's remarkably fulfilling to return to Force Unleashed's earlier, better levels to try out the powers and combos you didn't possess on your first play-through of them. Or perhaps you want to experience the second of the game's two endings (a reasonable goal, since one of them is bound to get fans talking) while wearing one of the unlockable costumes. But most players will find that aside from a return to the better areas, once is enough. When the game caters to its strengths, it soars; when it deviates, it flounders. Regardless, it's still a more than worthy entry in a long line of licensed Star Wars games, and a good action game in its own right.