Hands on with N-Gage's Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

Is it good to be bad or bad to be good?

Hands on with N-Gage's Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

Considering the starkly delineated morality of the Star Wars films it's perhaps something of a surprise to be thrown into N-Gage's much anticipated Star Wars: The Force Unleashed as Darth Vader's secret apprentice, out on a mission to wipe out the remaining Jedis. (We're in the messy period between Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope if anyone's interested in the timeline.)

What's even more of a shock when working your way through the tutorial, however, is to discover the game's based around a gesture system that's officially called CellWeaver. This uses your phone's (in this case a N81) numeric keys as a 3x3 grid onto which you 'weave' your actions.

For example, when you face your enemies, above each hangs a symbol that can be mapped out on the keypad. By hitting the keys in the right order and then pressing '0' to trigger the move, you apply the Force to them, such as lifting them into the air. From this point, you'll have to match the next symbol shown above the enemy to trigger your next move and so on until you've defeated them all and thrown them off the screen.

Bringing some variety into this gameplay is the way the groups of opponents often have the same initial symbol – meaning it's simple to throw them into the air – but then each might have a different secondary symbol, forcing you to choose in which order to target them further. And, of course, each Force attack is time-limited so if you don't complete the sequence within a certain period, the attack will end and the enemies will be back to their initial states.

Another layer is provided by faster finger moves which use the '1', '3', '7' and '9' keys (the Force actions typically involve the '2', '4', '6' and '8' keys – at least in the demo version of the game we played). These four quadrants are highlighted in a red circle when enemies – who are typically outside the range of your Force power (as displayed by the greyed-out status of the circle containing their symbol) – fire their blasters. You, in turn, have to hit the right button to deflect a health-bar-depleting energy bolt.

It's not all about attack, though, as you have options such as the Force Heal ('2', '6', '8', '4' and '2' or sequence combination thereof), which boosts your health, or the Jedi Mind Trick ('5', '8', '4', '2' and '6'), which confuses the enemy.

So the focus of the game seems to be forcing you to use limited time in the most tactical way; either taking some hits while you finish off the enemy and then quickly Force Healing before you perish, or taking more time and targeting your opponents in an organised, priority-based order.

This was particularly the case when it came to the demo level's boss battle that saw you in a prolonged (think five-minute) bout against Master Kota, which mixed periods of attacking the rebel Jedi by throwing crates at him with defending yourself against various waves of droids.

Whichever approach you take though, you'll have to be quick. This isn't a game that lets you look at the screen and drink-in the graphics, which is a shame because the on-rails movement means the combination of effectively 2D backgrounds and 3D characters makes The Force Unleashed one of the smartest-looking N-Gage titles, especially in terms of colour palette and lighting.

Still in defeating Master Kota there was the suggestion that you won't necessarily have to play the entire game as a bad guy – a touch of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic perhaps (for those that are familiar with BioWare's excellent console RPG) – as there seemed to be the chance that even Darth Vader's secret apprentice has a backbone…