Star Wars games revisited: The Force Unleashed

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Image courtesy
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Image courtesy /

2008 was a strange time for everyone. A new president, best Olympics ever and the looming threat of global financial collapse. Among the nuggets of joy from that far and distant age came a little action-adventure game from LucasArts called Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.

Why are we talking about a 15-year-old game you may ask? Steam sales of course! In celebration of the extended events around Star Wars Day, most Star Wars titles are being sold at a discount. This is typical fanfare but this year is an especially game heavy event with the release of Jedi: Survivor as well as a tone of new Star Wars content in Fortnite. As such, many gamers will be thirsty still for the ultimate in-universe experience. In this regard, The Force Unleashed has quite a bit to offer.

First up, let’s acknowledge that we are doing a bit of archaeology and really cracking open the proverbial time capsule here. 15 years is an eternity in gaming. The technological and cultural changes in that time are utterly staggering. Many games have had multiple re-releases in a shorter time span. Looking at you Bethesda! By today’s standards, the core structure of The Force Unleashed is deeply outdated, but we won’t criticize the game from being a product of its time.

In true 2000’s fashion, the game was extremely edgy and dark. As an 11-year-old boy at the time of release, I was certainly the primary target audience of this particular product. Or at least my parents’ wallets were.

A multimedia project sharing the game’s name was also part of the marketing. Much in the vein of Shadows of the Empire or Clone Wars, there was an accompanying novelization, comic book, soundtrack and toys.

The game thrusts you into the combat boots of the all powerful ‘Starkiller’ , an agent of the dark side and the secret apprentice of the Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Vader. As you crisscross the galaxy in search of surviving Jedi, your powers over the force increase. Starkiller is no ordinary force user either. His command over that mystical energy field is simply in a league of its own. He brings utter devastation to every corner of the galaxy unfortunate enough to not escape his notice. In perhaps the most iconic moment in Star Wars gaming history, the secret apprentice even rips an Imperial Star Destroyer out of the sky using nothing but the power of the force.

The developers went out of their way to make the game the ultimate playground for over-the-top force usage, and boy did they deliver. The Force Unleashed presents players with perhaps the greatest ever tool-set for combat exploitation using the force. Entire legions of stormtroopers are flung through the air, cut into pieces and best of all, met with the irresistible wrath of force lightning.

On a technological level, the game excels itself. Ragdoll physics in addition to the force is just an incredible combination. Physical barriers are often required to be force pushed or electrified in order to traverse a level. The controls and camera work could have done with some fine tuning, but the same could be said for many games that came out in that day and age.

Another point of interest in this regard is that The Force Unleashed belongs to that strange category of games that aren’t just multi-platform releases, but were multi-generational games too. In addition to the standard Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 releases were tuned-down versions of the game for the PlayStation 2, PSP, Wii, DS and even for the iPhone. In addition, the Nintendo Switch also received a port of the game last year.

How do I know this first hand? Well, I may or may not have purchased this game on three separate occasions on three separate consoles in three different decades…

The changes in quality notwithstanding, there are entire levels not included in the base game for the modern editions. This is because patching and downloadable content was not possible for the older consoles and so the extraneous content was included upfront in a watered-down capacity.

That being said, the extra content is where the game truly shines. The extra levels in the Jedi Temple and in the dark side ending from the Ultimate Sith Edition are some of the most fun elements the game has to offer.

Perhaps the most enduring part of the game is its cast. The most notable performance is of course that of Sam Witwer as the secret apprentice and also as the voice of Palpatine, which he would continue to voice on and off. After this, Witwer became a mainstay of the Star Wars universe and would go on to lend his voice to a variety of characters, including Darth Maul in The Clone Wars and Rebels. Witwer and others also lent their faces to their in-game characters using motion-capture technology, a first for Lucasfilm, ever the technological frontrunners. This meant that for the first time, voice actors needed to match their age and gender, thereby creating a very different recording atmosphere as a more emotive performance was needed. Voice actors had the opportunity to record their lines in-studio with each other present rather than in isolation as was usually the case. The voice work also reintroduced Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa, reprising his role from episodes II and III and then later once again in Rogue One and Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Despite some great original music, including a killer main theme from Jesse Harlin and a more than decent score from Mark Griskey, The Force Unleashed suffers from the same fate of a lot of Star Wars games in the sense that much of its soundtrack is recycled from the film saga. John Williams is of course the lord and master of film scores, but even hearing ‘Duel of the Fates’ for the hundredth time every time there’s a lightsaber encounter or ‘The Last Battle’ in a combat flying sequence grows tiresome, especially when we know this wasn’t the original intention of the piece.

Despite some rough edges and the passing of time, The Force Unleashed remains a staple entry in the long history of Star Wars games. What it lacks in depth, it makes up for in sheer excess and intensity. Truly there is no substitute for lightsaber and force combat.

With a remake of the even more classic Knights of the Old Republic hopefully coming at some point in the future, one can hope that a major facelift for this aged icon may also be a possibility.

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What’s your favorite Star Wars game? Let us know in the comments below! For all things Star Wars, check out Dork Side of the Force!