Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

Like Obi-wan Kenobi observed in A New Hope, we feel a great disturbance in the Force. After playing Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, it's clear what tipped our senses off. Far from delivering on an amped up portrayal of Jedi power, The Force Unleashed short circuits with poor controls, lukewarm combat, and substandard visuals. The story is worthwhile, but having to deal with so many shortcomings is enough to frustrate any padawan to turn to the Dark side.

Set in the period between Episodes III and IV, The Force Unleashed takes you across the galaxy in search of the last vestiges of the Jedi order. As Darth Vader's secret apprentice, you've been tasked with exterminating the Empire's enemies. You'll travel to a number of locations tracking down Jedi including the Wookie home world Kashyyyk, junk planet Raxis Prime, and fungal Felucia briefly pictured in Episode III.

The Force Unleashed is far from the most attractive game on DS, but you won't have much time to take in the surroundings when dealing with waves of Imperial forces and Jedi foes. Moving from planet to planet, you're on a constant combat spree. Experience earned from fallen enemies enables you to bolster your Force powers and even unlock new combination attacks. You can even customize your lightsaber via crystals hidden on each planet, as well as dress in a range of costumes that boost your abilities.

Combat actions are executed by tapping icons displayed on the touchscreen. Force push and pull line the left side of the screen, whereas lightsaber throw and Force lightning sit on the right. You're able to jump and swipe at enemies with your lightsaber by tapping icons situated at the screen's center. Touching a single icon triggers that move, but you're also able to string together actions for special combos. Sliding the stylus over force pull and then the lightsaber icon, for example, raises an enemy into the air in order to be impaled on your lightsaber.

New combos become available as you progress through the game, which expand your arsenal of attacks. Those core moves, however, are more than capable of handling anything that walks your way. As such, combos end up being practically useless. Enemies succumb easily enough from a few slashes or throws of your lightsaber that going through the effort of scribbling out a Force combo on the screen is unnecessary.

At least the combat system is fluid and functional, unlike the mechanics of movement. Flowing, responsive controls are a must for any action game, without which combat feels as disjointed as it does here. Either the D-pad of face buttons can be used to move about, which makes it comfortable to hold the stylus in one hand for combat and the other for movement. Unfortunately, the controls aren't at all responsive – you feel like you have to press down hard on the D-pad in order to get the slightest of movement.

When you finally do move, it's jerky and lethargic. It's a struggle to walk through levels, particularly those with angled corridors or pathways due to the game's rigidity. You're only able to effectively move in four directions – forwards, backwards, left, and right – which results in jerkiness whenever you transition from moving in one direction to another. More like suiting up as C-3PO instead of a nimble Jedi, movement is a real struggle.

These problems unfortunately persist in multiplayer. Two modes – Free for All and Balance the Force – make it possible to compete wirelessly against three friends. The deathmatch-style gameplay of Free for All is straightforward enough, although head-to-head dueling in Balance the Force offers something fresh. Alas things are just as unresponsive as in the single-player game, meaning all of the competitive zeal is zapped out of both multiplayer modes as a result.

And it's that element that really does The Force Unleashed in on DS. It's difficult to enjoy a game when equal time is spent fighting unresponsive controls as you do enemies. Functional 3D graphics certainly don't add anything to the experience and unfortunately the two multiplayer modes can't make up for a lukewarm single-player game.

Something's been unleashed here, but it isn't the Force. Dedicated Star Wars fans should seek out the superior PSP version, or maybe even the mobile game instead. DS diehards are better off dusting off the excellent LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

The Dark side of the Force unleashed: unresponsive controls, plain combat, and rudimentary graphics choke an electrifying story