If you need more proof that video games are reaching the same league as movies these days, just take a look at Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, the upcoming action game from LucasArts. The Force Unleashed will get almost the same full treatment as a movie, given that it will be supported by a wide variety of ancillary products, including a novel, action figures, a miniatures line, a comic book, and more. However, at the heart of all this is a game that will let you play as Darth Vader's secret apprentice, a budding and powerful young Sith tasked with hunting down the last of the Jedi knights. LucasArts finally unveiled the gameplay to us recently, and this is looking like one of the most exciting--and easily the most beautiful--Star Wars games ever.
The Force Unleashed will fill in a lost chapter in the Star Wars saga: basically, what happens between Episode III and Episode IV? This is a period when the Jedi were scattered and hunted down, the Galactic Empire consolidated its hold on the galaxy, and apparently Darth Vader was secretly grooming an apprentice to help him one day overthrow the Emperor. You'll play as that apprentice and go on missions for Lord Vader, but your existence must be kept a secret, so this will give you an opportunity to battle rebels, Jedis, and any unlucky Imperials who happen to get a glimpse of you. The developers consulted heavily with George Lucas on the story and characters, to the point that what happens in The Force Unleashed is now considered Star Wars canon.
If the goal of The Force Unleashed is to make you feel like an incredibly lethal killing machine, then it looks as if the designers have accomplished that. The first level shown to us has the apprentice running through a TIE Fighter assembly station, which a rogue Jedi has taken over. The apprentice let loose with a variety of powerful Force powers and lightsaber moves to dispatch the enemy. Force push doesn't just knock an enemy back; it can hurl a group of enemies through the air, as if they've been hit by an explosion.
Then there's Force grip, which lets you grab someone or something and dangle it in the air. This is a great demonstration for the game's Euphoria technology, which is available only in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game. Euphoria basically gives all enemies self-preservation instincts, so they'll act and behave as if they want to stay alive. If you dangle someone in the air, they'll try to grab something--anything--for dear life. This isn't a scripted movement, but it's all completely procedural and dynamic. Moving on to more powers, there's good old Force lightning, but instead of simply being able to zap bad guys, you can also infuse your lightsaber with lightning to make it more powerful. Later on in the game, you can use lightning and Force grip to create living bombs. Just pick up an enemy using grip, charge him with lightning, and then hurl him at a target to create an explosion.
One of the ideas in the game is to let you be as creative as possible when it comes to combat. You're not just slashing at enemies and toying with them using your Force powers. There's a fair amount of environmental interaction in the game. Most levels will have a mechanism of some sort that will provide you with a steady supply of objects that you can manipulate. For instance, in the TIE Fighter factory, fresh TIE Fighters come off of the assembly line. You can then use your Force powers to grab them and hurl them in someone's faces; or, even cooler, use grip to hurl someone into the path of an oncoming TIE Fighter. On a junkyard world, magnetic lanes keep a steady supply of junk flying overhead. On that same level, you might need to use lightning to power up engine turbines, which will then fly off and smash into objects. Execute a cool kill and the game will switch to a payoff camera that gives you a cinematic view of the action.
There will also be environmental destruction, thanks to the game's Digital Molecular Materials system. Basically, this means that objects will behave like you'd expect. If you use Force powers to bash in a metal door, the metal bends procedurally. (One neat thing is that you can bash a door open, go through it, and then use Force powers to bash it closed, thus preventing enemies from following you.) If you use those same powers against organic material, such as giant alien mushrooms, they'll bend but won't break, creating a cool swaying motion. Meanwhile, glass will shatter, whereas wood will splinter, and so on.
The next stop on our demonstration was the planet Felucia, which was briefly seen in Episode III. This is the alien world full of giant purple mushrooms, as well as inhabitants that are Force aware. This means that they're not only resistant to Force powers, but some of them may also have powers of their own. Then there are the giant rancors, the two-legged monsters of Star Wars, one of which was seen in Return of the Jedi. Battling the rancor will require you to use those lightning bombs previously mentioned, but if you whittle away at its health enough, you can perform one of many vicious kill moves, which range from jumping atop its head and stabbing down through its skull with your saber to just hurling your saber through its eye. (When it opens its mouth to scream, you can see the blade jutting into its throat.)
The final level that we were shown was Raxis Prime, the junkyard world. The entire opening of the level is pretty dramatic once you realize that you're standing atop a crashed Star Destroyer; if you look down off of the ledge, you'll see the distinctive, buckyball-shaped shield generators on the bridge superstructure. The goal on Raxis Prime is to take out a Jedi Master named Kazdan (which is not a reference to Empire Strikes Back screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan). The trick is that Kazdan has created Force golems, which are basically Force-animated constructions that are highly resistant to your powers. The battle with Kazdan himself will be a challenge.
Although it sounds as if you're going to be a complete and total badass throughout the game, the designers say that the theme of The Force Unleashed is that of redemption. Does that mean the secret apprentice will discover the error of his ways and change sides? We'll see. It'll be interesting to see how it all pans out, and how his relationships with the other characters in the game change. For instance, there's Juno Eclipse, an Imperial pilot who serves as the apprentice's pilot aboard the Rogue Shadow. She's also the love interest. The apprentice is voiced by Sam Witwer, who was seen in The Mist, Dexter, and Battlestar Galactica (in which he played the pilot Crashdown). Eclipse is voiced by English actress Nathalie Cox.
The Force Unleashed will ship for the PS3 and Xbox 360, but other versions are also planned for the Wii, PSP, Nintendo DS, and PS2. Though the underlying stories will be the same across all platforms, there will be differences between most of them, as well as unique content designed for the platform. The PSP version will feature historical battles from the movies, whereas the Wii version will have some levels that aren't in the Xbox 360 or PS3 versions. In the Wii version, we saw a Jedi temple level, but more importantly, LucasArts demonstrated how the Wii Remote is used for lightsaber attacks while the Nunchuk is used for Force powers. The designers also showed off duel mode, which is a head-to-head battle where two players can pummel one another using Force powers. Duel mode will have nine arenas and plenty of unlockable characters, and the goal is to kill your opponent three out of five times. It can make for a fairly wild battle, considering that players can kick in temporary invulnerability, or use a Force unleashed boost to double their Force powers. A timer runs down throughout the entire affair, and if it ends, the game goes into sudden-death overtime.
All the versions of the game we saw look spectacular. The Wii version obviously doesn't look anywhere as good as the PS3 or Xbox 360 games, but compared to other games on the platform, it still looks busy and fluid. LucasArts showed off the Xbox 360 game during the demonstration, and it's easily one of the best-looking 360 games that we've seen. The colors and visuals are just bright and sharp and eye-catching, and the level of detail is extremely high.
Unfortunately, LucasArts wouldn't discuss multiplayer for the 360 or PS3, but there's still plenty of time before the game arrives, so we expect more updates in the near future. The Force Unleashed will ship for all platforms simultaneously sometime this summer, and this is definitely one game that you should keep an eye on.