GC 2008: Hands on with Star Wars: The Force Unleashed on DS and PSP
Clear your mind of questions... because we've got the answers Yoda not has
Few licences can claim to be as heavily steeped in the sort of cultural ubiquity Star Wars enjoys. So it's not entirely surprising that upon playing both the DS and PSP versions of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, it seems LucasArts' expectation of the player's prior knowledge of the Star Wars universe seems almost taken for granted at this stage.
Take the opening stage of each respective version, for example. After the patented Star Wars teleprompt perfunctorily fills you in on the backstory, you wade breathlessly in as Vader, laying down some serious Sith justice in a network of tree houses populated by Wookies, before you've even had time to savour the sound of the first blaster whizzing past your ear.
Strip away the various layers of assumed familiarity and you're left with a wheezy guy in a cape, fighting a seemingly never ending army of scimitar-wielding yetis with an electric sword. It's an over-the-top beginning to a game that obsesses over the application of a perversely devastating power, entirely disproportionate to that possessed by your enemies.
It sounds like a recipe for yet another repetitive Star Wars romp but as soon as you realize that Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is as much about making skilful use of your considerable repertoire of moves as it is about the simple mechanics of clearing enemies and then moving onto the next bunch, the game's true conceit becomes apparent.
It seems the point is not merely to defeat your enemies, but to delight in doing so; to give yourself over to the Force, so to speak, and relish in indulging in its excesses. It's like an exercise in unscripted choreography, a free-form death dance, and it's extremely satisfying.
Both versions owe that much to the game's excellent core concept though there are still times when Yoda's "Do or do not… There is no try" comes to mind.
On the DS, for example, the icon-based touchscreen Force attacks feel like a missed opportunity and the lack of stylus swiping and gesticulating is notably absent.
There's no such disconnect with the PSP version's tight control scheme, but its problem is an aesthetic one, with ragged edges and frame-rate drops exposing it as a card carrying multi-platform title, with all of the usual concessions in quality. It's a flaw not shared by the DS version which has outdone itself in the 3D stakes with some impressive open vistas and well scripted background carnage.
Amid such criticisms, however, neither version feels disappointing at this stage and perhaps Star Wars: The Forced Unleashed's insatiable appetite for excess and power will be enough to distract from these flaws.
By doing what so many Star Wars games have failed to do (i.e. pander to the Force's addictive quality and the greed it inspires in players), The Force Unleashed looks set to be, at the very least, the best non-Lego themed Star Wars game on handheld yet.
It's releasing in Europe on September 18th, so we don't have long to wait to see if the whole affair can follow through on the promising demos we played. Those with Jedi-like ability will no doubt know when our forthcoming review is published, but everyone else can click 'Track It!' to be sure not to miss it.