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Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

Delusions of grandeur?

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

Well, they weren't lying: the events of The Force Unleashed will change your understanding of the original Star Wars trilogy. The game has, of course, been relentlessly hawked to fans as much for its narrative promise as its gameplay. And the team can be forgiven for a little over-zealousness: the title's Episodes III and IV-bridging plot is fully Lucas-authorised and canon. It fills in the blanks between Palpatine's formation of the Galactic Empire and the fall of Anakin Skywalker, and the creation of a Rebel Alliance to strike back at the newly operational Death Star.

Moreover, we have been promised that the story of Darth Vader's secret apprentice would shed new light on the final three cinematic chapters of the saga. And while it was never going to be an "I am your father" moment, The Force Unleashed pulls this off with élan through a darkly ironic twist at its climax.

LucasArts' other grand promise for the game has been emancipation from the restrictive, wishy-washy moral code of the Jedi order with an experience that is indiscriminate in its application of the mantra, "Kicking ass with the Force." You can't argue with the sales pitch, and if you've been paying attention to our earlier previews and the trailers, you should already have an inkling that the studio has made good on that, too.

The concern has always been whether stunning looks and spectacular physics would translate into a great game. And, despite moments of riotous, blissfully creative carnage, The Force Unleashed ultimately falls short of its lofty ambitions - despite a concerted effort to Jedi mind-trick you into acquiescence.

What a terrifying beast! Until you realise it has forgotten how to move, so you can just chuck your lightsaber at it. Oh.

It all gets off to a cracking start. We've already enthused in detail about the opening mission, but it merits a restating. In search of a rogue Jedi on the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk, you guide a striding, imperious Darth Vader through what amounts to a Force-wielder's adventure playground, with scores of Chewy's brethren offering themselves up for your murderous amusement.

As a statement of intent it's pitch-perfect. You can fling Wookiees hundreds of yards at the press of a button, impale them on a hurled lightsaber, lift, aim and throw huge rocks with ease, and smash through massive barricades with the Force. Debate all you like whether the dark side is stronger: it's indisputably cooler, and this feels like a watershed moment in the franchise's videogame history.

The downside to this bravura introduction is that when you take control of the apprentice and the adventure proper begins, you suddenly find yourself stripped of many of the powers you have just been applying with sick glee.

This is narratively consistent - you are, after all, just a student layabout - but it is nevertheless something of a comedown after the initial superheroics. The other reason for this is that The Force Unleashed's combat system is progressive, allowing you to upgrade Force and melee techniques as you earn more points.

Wish you were here? Unlike the instant appeal of classic locations, traipsing through the bland, mushroom world of Felucia is a drag!

Each time you level up you earn currency to spend on upgrades to Force powers, combos and talents. The system is flexible and broad enough to suggest a range of different strategies depending on how you prefer to play: do you max out your health bar first? Speed up your recovery of Force energy (there's a meter that drains every time you use special powers)? Stick to the hands-off approach and pour resources into super-charging Force Grip?

Tantalising you with this here's-what-you-could-win glimpse of the dark side is certainly effective. But given the length of the experience (more on that later), this drip-feeding of powers feels a little odd in a game supposed to be about the Force being unleashed.

The game is at its best when there's an opportunity for you to wield your powers creatively. The much-heralded Digital Molecular Matter physics system underpinning the experience does not disappoint, and you can interact with the environment in many satisfying ways.