In Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, you grab your trusty controller and wave it around, causing your onscreen counterpart to swing his lightsaber. If you're a Star Wars fan--and a Wii owner--you've undoubtedly anticipated this opportunity, though in this instance, it's a better idea than it is a real mechanic. Any type of flailing will do, so the direction of your swings won't really matter, and saber combat boils down to repetitive arm waving. When you throw in a variety of force powers and some poorly implemented quick-time events that all utilize motion controls, you'll find that Force Unleashed is possibly the most waggle-heavy action game available on the system, a distinction that seems fun for the first hour or so, only to quickly lose its appeal. Fortunately, all that random slashing about is somewhat mitigated by occasionally enjoyable action sequences that make you truly feel like a powerful dark Jedi.
You're cast as Galen Marek, aka Starkiller, Darth Vader's secret apprentice. The Clone Wars have ended, and as Starkiller, Vader orders you to hunt and destroy the last of the remaining Jedi. The story is brief (expect to finish the campaign in less than six hours), but it contains multiple twists, features some friendly and not-so-friendly faces, and is both explosive and remarkably intimate. You'll interact with Vader, of course, but Starkiller spends most of his time with an android called PROXY and his female pilot, Juno Eclipse. Sharing the details of the trio's adventures would spoil too much, so suffice it to say, you'll grow remarkably fond of Starkiller and his companions, and their moral conflicts carry a lot of weight.
Unfortunately, the game's limited visual capabilities soften the story's dramatic impact more than you might like. The cutscenes are undercut by stiff animations and abrupt, jarring transitions in and out of gameplay, as well as some odd-looking character models and occasional glitches, such as blinking geometry. Audio also takes a hit, which is odd, considering that much of the voice-over work is lifted directly from the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 version of the game. Poor compression is the culprit here, and it makes the dialogue sound as if you're listening to it on an old phonograph rather than a machine as capable as the Wii.
Not that Force Unleashed always looks bad, though it does often come across as awkward and unfinished. Larger environments suffer most, as exemplified by the sight of a distant AT-AT that seems to lumber across a great void of nothingness. In Force Unleashed's more moderately sized environments, the visuals coalesce far better. Some environments are fairly detailed, and the saber action and powerful-looking force abilities produce flurries of particles and other special effects with nary a hint of slowdown. For those keeping score, the Wii version looks essentially identical to the PlayStation 2 version, so it doesn't appear to take advantage of the newer console's capabilities. John Williams' music (and some original tracks) and the familiar swooshes of sabers sound good, just as you'd expect, and only occasionally suffer from the poor compression to which the voice-over was subjected.
The star of the visual parade is the robust physics engine powering your most impressive moves. Using force grip, you can grab and fling any number of objects, including your enemies--and with force push (activated by thrusting the Nunchuk forward), you can shove items and foes out of your path. These skills and their variants deliver the game's best moments. Whether you're flinging Felucians into each other or offing swarming rebels with a burst of energy, there are a number of "Did you see that?" moments that will have you grabbing your friends to show them your saber-slinging prowess. It's disappointing that these moves can't be strung together more easily though. The controls--both buttons and waggles--can be unresponsive and sometimes lack the fluidity of the other versions. Nevertheless, you've got a number of other tricks up your sleeve, such as a whirlwind of force energy that sucks in nearby enemies and then flings them outward. This is also your most wrist-wrenching move because it involves holding down four buttons and thrusting both the remote and the Nunchuk forward.
While the environments aren't totally cluttered with useful objects, this actually works to the game's advantage because the targeting issues prevalent in the other console versions are diminished as a result. There are still some moments when you'll grab a different object than you intended, but given that there are fewer objects to grab, these moments will only provide the occasional frustration. Of greater concern is the camera, which the game tries desperately to get under control, but often leaves you stretching for the D pad to maneuver it into a better position. Oddly, you can only move the camera horizontally because pressing down on the pad activates a useless first-person view. Regardless, Force Unleashed requires a lot of camera fiddling, which is an annoyance that's compounded by the unintuitive nature of using the D pad to do it.
Nevertheless, the game moves along at a relatively quick pace, so between droid encounters and boss battles, you'll always be in the thick of the action. You won't find much challenge here; there are plenty of health drops scattered about, and should you die, you'll restart at the most recent checkpoint with all the damage you've already done to your enemies still intact. This is probably for the best because it keeps the pace moving. Some variety comes by way of Force Unleashed's God of War-style quick-time events, which result in some terrific, violent-looking moves, whether you're smashing on an opposing Jedi or defeating a rancor in a series of thrilling acrobatics. As cool as they look, these sequences don't work that well. You usually need to tilt the remote or the Nunchuk to match the onscreen diagram and then thrust it forward. It requires surprising precision, and not only does it take your eyes and your mind off of the action, but it is more annoying than fun.
Unlockable costumes and other extras won't give you much reason to return, but you may get a bit of enjoyment out of the simple but amusing Dueling mode that lets you and a local buddy choose from a number of Star Wars characters (unlocked during the single-player campaign) and go toe to toe. While each playable avatar is better at certain moves than others, each character plays pretty much the same, so you'll zoom around levels on Hoth, Bespin, and other locales, flinging your opponent around and slicing him up with the lightsaber. Most of the elements of the single-player game are here, for better or for worse, including graspable objects and quick-time events. But it's kind of neat to bash on each other as Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker, and while it's not quite the real Star Wars fighting game you've always yearned for, it's a decent diversion that will amuse fans.
So if you're hankering to wave around your remote and slash up Jawas, this is your chance, though The Force Unleashed may not be as raucously entertaining as you may have expected. Nevertheless, if you've got five or six hours to kill, this is a decent way to spend them, particularly if you're a Star Wars devotee looking to fill in the gaps between Episodes III and IV. It's too bad that so many annoyances and all that random arm waving get in the way because they detract from a game that had the potential to be a lot more.