The Force Unleashed – Niall

February 10, 2009 § 2 Comments

Alternative title: Oh Christ, Not This Shit Again

Okay, possibly a bit harsh. Before I go off on one, I would just like to establish that this game wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t nearly as bad as some of the shit that has graced these pages recently. In some ways, it was actually…good?
Urgh. I feel dirty.
Remember that this was never going to be an easy game to review. Especially for me, having grown up with Jedi Knight and the original Star Wars, not to mention the fact that The Phantom Menace appeared during my childhood, when I was still vulnerable to the charms of Jar-Jar Binks and the rest of his fucked-up species. I was torn from start to finish over this thing, just the way I am with the entire franchise. Can incredible choreography and special effects really compensate for a lack of Harrison Ford? Were we merely blinded to the original trilogy’s shortcomings? Were the Gungans really that terrible, or should we be more pissed at those frigging Ewoks?
All I can really say now is brace yourself – because this is gonna be a long one.
With that out of the way, here follows a brief summary of my first hour or ten shooting up with a nice vial of Star Wars and a mug of my beloved chocolate milk. Now sit back and enjoy this rare glimpse into the mind of Niall Megatron Chan Boitano Bryson Slater.
And please bear in mind – I really wanted to hate this game.

First minute:
Dear god, what were they thinking? The side of the box is lurid yellow! It’s actually leaping off the plastic into my face and grinding its sweaty ballsack up against my eyes. They’re trying to fucking provoke me. Yeah, turn it away. I don’t want it distracting me from all the horrible things George Lucas is about to do with the hard-earned 25 quid I splurged on this. Okay, START.

Second minute:
Fucking loading screens fucking fucking FUCKING screens fucking loading menus shitting arse shitarse shit FUCKING menu FUCKING load fucking FUCKING load BOLLOCKS FUCK. YES I WANT TO SAVE TO HARD DRIVE NO I DON’T CARE ABOUT THE REVOLUTIONARY AUTOSAVE FEATURE OH FUCK MORE LOADING SCREENS FUCK FUCKING FUCKERY.

Third minute:

Oh great, Darth Vader. Bitch, impress me.

Fifth minute:

Hahaha. I must admit, I’ve always wanted to use the force to crush my screaming enemies underneath a cascade of DMM rubble while frying their brains out of their skulls with over-the-top force lightning. This is REALLY satisfying actuallZOMGWTF MY RUBBLE DISAPPEARED INTO THIN AIR FUCKING BASTARDS I WAS PROMISED REALISM YOU’VE JUST RUBBED YOUR BALLS IN MY FACE HAVEN’T Y

Twelfth minute:

That was a nice relaxing tea break. Ah, now what was I doing? Hey, that’s a pretty jungle. Oh, look. It’s Darth Vader. Have at thee, rebel scum!

It was around this point I started to notice that the lightsabre fighting is really quite weak. Partly because it’s just so unspectacular there was no reason for me to take any notice of it, but mainly because the tutorial mission gives you all the powers of GOD and then some, leaving you wondering just who exactly would pick generic button mashing over creative and hilarious force-powered infinite destruction.This meant that for a good deal of the game I simply didn’t touch the smegging sabre except to execute a few lovely force-impale attacks I happened to stumble upon. I’ve been saying for a long time that Jedi Knight was the only franchise ever to do swordfighting well, and I have not once been proven wrong. Jedi Outcast was the absolute peak of their achievement. I’ve been left wondering whether it would have been better to just do away with the lightsabre and make the protagonist solve all his problems with the force. An interesting idea which, sadly, has never been taken seriously. I think it would force (ba dum tish) the designers to approach massive combat setpieces more carefully. Anyway, enough rambling. The hack n’ slash gameplay is adequate, which was more than I was expecting. That’s all there is to say about it really – but I do miss Kyle and his dismemberific swashbuckling skills.
Fuck lightsabres. I just found the “force explode” button. That should just about cover every possible combat situation. I’M THE MOTHERFUCKING FIST OF THE EMPEROR YOU HAIRY BASTARDS. EAT PHYSICALLY SIMULATED FORCE-PROPELLED ALIEN TREE. FUCK YEAH.
Fifteenth Minute:

GOTY GOTY GOTY GOTY GOTY GAME OF THE MOTHERFUCKING YEAR

Twentieth Minute:
Oh, hey. A boss fight. This should be interesting as long as I’m not surrounded by an invisible circular boundary which makes all my force powers effectively useless and instantly sucks all the fun out ofOH YOU BASTARDS

I sort of hoped we had left the invisible barrier behind with the last console generation. Unfortunately not. It seems to have hitched a lift on the inconsistency train along with its friends Captain Lazy Game Design and that filthy bastard on every development team who lets the cutscenes do all the fun stuff. You know the one I mean: the dickhead who decided that quick-time events would work well in games that weren’t Shenmue. He was wrong. Only Shenmue is Shenmue. The Force Unleashed is definitely not Shenmue. I know this because Shenmue was pretty much flawless. Star Wars is definitely not flawless. Nor is it Shenmue.

Shenmue only set me back a fiver.

Twenty-Fifth Minute:

I feel like I’ve just crashed horrifically after a wonderful LSD trip. Five minutes ago I was godlike. Now I’m getting my arse handed to me by stormtroopers who couldn’t hit a barn from the inside.

Little was I to know that the later levels would have my arse handed to me by motherFUCKING JAWAS. I was not aware that the little brown bastards would be capable of murdering the most powerful dark jedi in the galaxy.
At least there’s still loads of cool stuff to hurl at my hapless victims, as long as I can suspend my disbelief when a twenty-tonne TIE-fighter simply phases out of the universe, leaving a small cloud of bright orange gas where the cockpit used to be.

I’m sorry, I thought this was the most sophisticated physics engine ever devised. I thought LucasArts hired Industrial Light & Motherfucking Magic to make it for them. I thought that they would be capable of producing an explosion effect more advanced than a twelve-year-old’s pivot animation. I thought that this was a one off, which fucked me RIGHT off when the same thing happened again a minute later. Where’s my DMM crushing the metal into lethal shards and launching the fragments everywhere in an earthshaking blast wave? Lazy cunts.

Possibly I’m being a little whiny, but this has always been a pet hate of mine. It’s not as bad as I make out – some of the effects are facepunchingly impressive – but these moments are spread too thinly through the game. It suffers from the same problem as Halo 3 in that respect – truly spectacular setpieces straining at the seams of a dull, predictable campaign. I’m reminded of a moment, near the end, where you’re smashing through a series of glass panels which shatter explosively in front of you, desperately trying to outrun a massive… well, I’d love to tell you, but people tend not to like spoilers. Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, the TIE fighter factory. Actually, there’s been a slight change of plan – let’s skip to Felucia – where I’m on the tail of a Jedi mistress and her apprentice – both of whom appear to have a great dislike for wearing enough clothes to hide a mighty cleavage – I’m willing to bet Lucasarts would have us believe this is due to the humid conditions on Felucia, and not just the result of their pandering to horny teenage boys.
Sixtieth Minute:
BOOBIESBOOBIESBOOBIESBOOBIESBOOBIESBOOBIES
Ahem. *Fast-forward*
Seventieth Minute:
It’s been a while since I saw a stormtrooper. I’m starting to miss the rhytmic crunch their bodies make against metal ceilings. Now all I’ve got are these fucking mushrooms everywhere. Oh, christ, not another platforming section.

These are pretty damn fiddly, and this is coming from a guy who completed Ninja Gaiden. Twice.
Okaaay. Easy, easy. Nooow… DOUBLEJUMP.
ARGH FUCK NOT AGAIN. NO WAY IS IT THAT FRIGGING SLIPPERY. I NEVER HEARD THE ONE WHERE THE JEDI MASTER WAS KILLED BY A WET MUSHROOM.

It certainly doesn’t help when it’s impossible to tell the difference between where you’re supposed to go next and which surface is covered with a magical invisible sliding gel which will send you skittering down to certain unfair death excruciatingly slowly. At least Jedi Knight understood that it was unbecoming for the unstoppable scourge of the galaxy to be seen bouncing around everywhere like a euphoric escapee from Jump n’ Bump. It seems that games these days have traded in the mandatory shitty stealth segments of olden times for some mandatory shitty platforming segments instead.
The entire concept of platforming seems to have taken a bit of a nosedive since Ninja Gaiden and Sands of Time. I haven’t played a single game since which melded combat and acrobatics as fluidly as this dynamic duo. Sands of Time allowed you to use your enemies as springboards to bridge and merge your movements into one smooth loop so it was impossible to tell exactly where a slash became a parry became a leap became a final, satisfying, crunch. Ninja Gaiden, on the other hand, was a frenzied blur of superfluid bloodletting – much faster and much more punishing. Gaiden forced you to be precise and deliberate in your movements, as well as really fucking fast. Combined, these created a perfect in-the-zone type of combat which demanded you develop lightning-fast reactions as well as a sense of rhythm and style.
The Force Unleashed isn’t very accomplished in this respect. For some reason, you are the only non-euphoria powered character in the game. As such, you do not have the benefits of actually being aware of a nearby instant-death chasm. Expect to die a lot because one of the cheap-ass droid enemies pushed you too close to the vaseline-slick edge and you simply jerked backwards before floating diagonally down the cliffside back to yet another loading screen at the bottom. I thought the whole fucking idea was to create a perfectly immersive experience without any cracks appearing to ruin the flow. I just have trouble understanding why trivial oversights like this are always being allowed to snowball and destroy otherwise excellent games.
Fourth Hour:

Oh no! The bad guy did something evil! I am shocked beyond belief! Betrayal? In a story? I can barely breathe from the surprise.

You know, I’d like it if, just once in a while, a story would come out which had the potential to shock me. The last plot twist which I didn’t predict from the back of the FUCKING box was the one in Half-Life 2: Episode Two. Yeah, you know the one I mean. Or do you? That plot was so full of suspense, so full of twists and turns that it was all I could do to hang on for the ride. When you know what’s going to happen next, what’s the point? You no longer feel in the least bit threatened. What modern games all seem to lack is that all-important sense of urgency. The feeling that if you don’t act, and fast, there will be serious consequences. I point to Ninja Gaiden yet again for an example. When eighty slavering monsters all suddenly burst from their hiding places, every one of them eager for some warm, flabby gamer entrails, you know you haven’t got time to think – only to flee or fight. The threat becomes so much more palatable when you haven’t got a chance to see what’s coming, or when there’s a tangible sense that you’re running out of time to act. Quick-time events captured this idea clumsily, and now they’re losing their impact, because we know what to expect when one appears. It suddenly occurs to me that I’m being infuriatingly vague here. What I mean is – the greatest suspense in any kind of game comes from being forced to innovate in a worryingly short space of time. Ninja Gaiden had you bouncing off the walls to evade the scything claws of a horde of monsters, frantically pinballing yourself around in frankly ludicrous ways to stay alive. World in Conflict impressed by forcing you to think really damn fast – decide whether it’s worth sacrificing your last helicopter to save your pinned infantry – and decide soon. Even Halo 3 forced you to figure out how to kill a massive mechanical spider before it squished your stupid arse – although this lost its threat when you had to do it somewhere in the region of twelve times.
The Force Unleashed doesn’t exhibit much of this, disappointingly. I thought that the whole DMM force thing would make us innovate on-the-fly, but it never really materialises. I suppose the level designers are to blame for that.
FUCK ME THIS IS GETTING TOO DAMN LONG
Okay, just let me wrap up my thoughts quickly and end this frigging thing. I guess all it really comes down to is whether the latest Star Wars is actually a good game. This isn’t a straightforward answer, but I’ve got to tell you something – so I guess here is my verdict.
Erm…
Uh, hm-
Uhmmm…
…No.
You can’t make up for shoddy and inconsistent gameplay, no matter how epic the story or how shiny the technology. Sure, they get some things right, like the desire for big, showy setpieces with explosions and action shooting off everywhere, but these moments are spread too thinly among the abysmal platforming sections, boring boss fights and cheap, glitchy deaths. It really feels like a letdown, because they could have done this really well.
There was potential for true brilliance here – it could have ranked among Prince of Persia and Ninja Gaiden in the history books (something I don’t say lightly) – but the effort wasn’t made. It was pushed out the door without proper playtesting and it shows. All this will be remembered as is Lucasart’s final, desperate attempt to retain their credibility – a marginally below-average hack n’ slash.
Nice work, you pricks.

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