Darth Vader trains an evil apprentice in 'Star Wars: The Force Unleashed'

Justin Hoeger
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)


2 ½ stars


SYSTEM: Microsoft Xbox 360; also for Sony PlayStation 3,

PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, Nintendo Wii, DS

PRICE: $59.99 ($34.99 to $59.99 for other versions)


There's a part in the most recent Harry Potter film where Dumbledore and Voldemort face off. All the fabulous powers of magic that have been hinted at in the previous four movies come to bear at once as the two wizards manipulate fire and ice and wind and water in a titanic duel.

It's a dazzling segment in a film series that has mostly seen student-level magic up to this point, aside from a few high noon-style duels.

The best moments of "Star Wars: The Force Unleashed" are like that scene. Pity that the game isn't made entirely of "best moments." As the story goes, while Darth Vader was out hunting Jedi in the woods one day, he found a child strong in the Force. After a blast of a first level in which the player controls a nearly unstoppable Vader as he rampages through a Wookiee settlement in search of his prey, the Sith Lord finds and kills the boy's father before taking the kid under his wing and training him in the arts of the Dark Side in hopes of eventually overthrowing his own master, the Emperor.

After years of training, Vader starts sending his secret apprentice, dubbed Starkiller (George Lucas' original name for the Skywalkers), out to assassinate Jedi who escaped the Empire's purge. And that's where the player comes in, controlling Starkiller on his missions for Vader.

Starkiller has his own ship and an unstable droid buddy, PROXY, who can imitate other beings and who is programmed to kill the apprentice as a perpetual training exercise.

He also has a formidable array of powers, from Force blasts and lightning bolts to powerful lightsaber attacks and an all-purpose Force grip that lets him pick up, manipulate and throw enemies and objects alike.

His powers start out a bit weak, but he'll gain experience points of a sort as he fights, and he'll find skill orbs that allow him to upgrade his powers and learn new ones once they're available.

The "Star Wars" movies hinted at some of the amazing things wielders of the Force could do, but they seemed to hold back in actually showing them, for the most part. Yeah, Yoda could lift an X-Wing and Vader could choke a guy from across the room, but if the Force is so dang powerful, why didn't the Republic-era Jedi just throw a Separatist fleet into a star or something? Too "Dark Side" for the Jedi? Guess so.

Well, "The Force Unleashed" brings impressive acts of Force to the fore, though without giving players full control over them. While Starkiller's standard moves are pretty cool, his greater mastery of his power is played out through timed button-pressing exercises and some non-interactive scenes at set points in the game. They look cool, but it's a bit disappointing to only have full control of relatively minor uses of the Force.

Likewise, it's not long before Starkiller starts running into enemies that can drain his Force energy or resist certain powers.

It's obvious why this was done from a game-play perspective; the game would get old quickly if Starkiller could just power through anything in his way. But it's frustrating to be limited so much in a game whose own title suggests no limits.

It's also frustrating that the camera is a hassle and the controls aren't nearly as tight as they should be for this sort of game. One of these issues is bad enough, but having both seriously starts to cut into the fun. A game camera that zooms in too close or gets hung up on background objects, combined with controls that make it easy to tumble off a cliff by mistake but difficult to target a specific enemy in a crowd, is a recipe for irritation.

Jedi duels should be better - there's only one opponent, after all - but even then, targeting is a hassle. It's far too easy to rush in for an attack and hit nothing but air.

On the other hand, the story is interesting, and the ostensibly evil main character is rather likable. The game fills in crucial events leading up to the formation of the Rebel Alliance and details Vader's penchant for treachery against his master.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.