E3 2008: Star Wars: Force Unleashed Hands-On

We leap through environments and tear them up with the Force in this upcoming action game at E3 2008.


Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

The E3 2008 event is still going strong, and we're still on hand, bringing you coverage of exciting new games like Star Wars: Force Unleashed. Development on this impressive action game is practically complete (it ships in September), and it looks and plays extremely smoothly. The level we got our mitts on was a TIE fighter factory guarded by Imperial soldiers and Stormtroopers in the PlayStation 3 version of the game, though the game should be very similar across most console platforms, with the exception of the Wii, which will actually let you use the motion-sensing Wii Remote controller to swing your lightsaber manually. We're told this was the second level, so at this point, we had only a few of the game's different Force powers. In the game, you play as the secret Jedi apprentice to the mighty Darth Vader between the events of Episode III and Episode IV (better known in theaters as Star Wars), but because your mission is to seek out and destroy any possible threats to the Empire, your journey will pit you against both the Rebel Alliance and Imperial troopers (who have been branded as Vader traitors), as well as other Jedi who have gone into hiding.

In the TIE fighter factory, we fought our way through various rooms and connected corridors toward our objective, which had something to do with...TIE fighters. Honestly, we forget. We were too busy utilizing our "Force Grip" power (the right trigger button) to lift up screaming enemy soldiers and fling them through the air. You can use this power simply by turning to face the object (explosive barrel, enemy soldier, or whatever else isn't nailed down), which brings up a small translucent cursor over the item to target it; if the cursor is red, you won't be able to lift it because it's too heavy or bolted down, but if the cursor is blue, it's yours for the telekinetic taking.

Being bad has never felt so good.
Being bad has never felt so good.

The controls seem very straightforward--the left analog stick moves your character and the right stick controls the camera, which is what you'd expect from a conventional third-person action game. The square button is used to execute melee attacks with your lightsaber, a very effective weapon with a standard three-hit combination attack if you hammer the button repeatedly, but not nearly as fun as pressing the circle button to use the Force push ability, which emits a translucent wave of blue energy and forcefully pushes any enemies or items in your path away from you very quickly indeed. The Force grip ability is activated with the right shoulder button, and after you've picked up something (or someone), you'll keep hold of him/her/it as long as you keep the right trigger pressed (though your character can't move while lifting something), and when you let go of the item, you'll automatically Force push it away. Force powers deplete your blue Force meter, which appears at the top left of the screen just under your green health meter. The Force meter seems to replenish at a good, brisk pace, and your health seems to do so as well, though you can also gain health from fallen enemies (who leave behind glowing green orbs that restore a small amount of your health). Fortunately, with your amazing Jedi powers, it's easy to avoid most damage from regular grunt soldiers anyway because you'll automatically deflect incoming blaster fire from the front with your lightsaber, though getting shot in the back or whacked with a melee weapon will still hurt.

In the narrow corridors of the factory, we had plenty of opportunities to play Stormtrooper bowling by levitating and then hurling crates at rows of enemies, knocking them off their feet (and in the case of corridors near deep pits, off the edge). The X button lets your character jump--your standard jump is already very high, and you can double-jump with another button press, as well as use the left trigger to dash forward while airborne. This less-than-exciting sounding ability actually gives you excellent mobility and lets you close the distance with faraway enemies very quickly.

The Force Unleashed looks incredibly polished.
The Force Unleashed looks incredibly polished.

We continued to fight through the factory until we hit a trapped area, which was bare of any objects we could throw. Soldiers came pouring out into the room, which was promptly walled off with impenetrable laser shields. Fearing we might have to actually stop throwing stuff around for a second and actually fight like a Jedi, we pulled out our lightsaber and hacked a few foes to death until we realized that any enemies who touched the laser walls would be vaporized. This is about the time we remembered our Force push ability and went on a shoving spree, sending soldier after soldier to meet a disintegrated end.

The Force Unleashed looked like a very impressive technology demo when we first saw the game at E3 two years ago--it has now clearly matured into a polished and great-looking game with some very fun game mechanics. And the game apparently only gets better in this regard because you'll eventually learn a total of eight different Force powers and 20 different lightsaber combination attacks. You'll also be able to pull off spectacular killing moves, such as one we watched against a giant rancor beast, which involved a God of War-style button-matching minigame that let us leap on top of the creature and plunge our lightsaber through its skull a few times before blasting it with lightning bolts, then using the Force push power to smash the ground beneath the beast, sending it plunging to the cavern below. The Force Unleashed looks like it will offer lots of varied action while making you feel like you have godlike power. The game is scheduled to ship in the US on September 16, in Asia on September 17, and in Europe on September 19.

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