The first sign that Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is a mediocre port comes as soon as you boot up the game: you can’t navigate the menus with a mouse. On its own, this isn't an awful fact, but it's an omen of bad things to come. Aside from resolution and brightness options, there are no visual options to tweak. There is no antialiasing and no way to enable it. And frame rate troubles will haunt your every saber swing. It's too bad that so little respect was shown for the platform--and to those that will spend money on this product--because the underlying game is rather good. As Darth Vader's secret apprentice, you slice through grunting Rodians with your glowing lightsaber, go head-to-head with slobbering rancors, and punt jawas into the distance as if they were pigskins. You might be lucky enough to avoid this troubled port's technical flaws and experience the full pleasures of The Force Unleashed, but be warned: Picking up a copy of this physics-heavy action game is one gamble that may not pay off.
The Force Unleashed's main campaign is the same as the one that appeared on consoles in 2008. For more details, check our full review of that version, as all of the ups and downs of the original release still hold true. When the action comes together, it's hard to stifle your excitement. As Galen Marek, aka Starkiller, you execute your foes by carving them up with your lightsaber, using your Force push ability to propel them down corridors and zap them with jolts of Force lightning. The best moments come by way of the Force grip power, which you use to lift objects and foes and fling them around, leaving a trail of death, destruction, and Wookiee corpses in your wake. Unfortunately, the difficulties of the earlier console version are along for the ride, too, such as the imprecise targeting that makes it too difficult to pick up the object you intended. Thankfully, the keyboard and mouse controls don't usually add more to the frustration, and they do a good enough of job of letting you chain your powers together during most battles. The fixed-camera boss battles, which are more comfortably played with a controller, are an exception. As a result, you'll probably want to stick with a gamepad for the most consistently rewarding experience.
Sadly, technical problems may hinder your chances for enjoyment. On two out of three test systems--all of which exceeded the game's recommended hardware requirements--we encountered performance issues that heavily interfered with the experience. The frame rate was wildly inconsistent, taking huge dips whenever there was a lot of action onscreen, and on one system, frame rate troubles were accompanied by snaps and crackles in the audio. Should you run into visual issues, there is no way to adjust graphics settings to improve the game's performance. The Force Unleashed allows you to only adjust the display resolution and brightness levels, so forget tweaking your lighting and anisotropic filter settings. Even if you can run the game without trouble, you'll lament that the widescreen cinematics are stretched on a monitor with a 4:3 aspect ratio. It's a shame that these issues will overshadow some absolutely excellent art design for so many players. Environments like the robot graveyards on Raxus Prime look fantastic, and swirled, stylized textures add fantasy flair to the overall look. The visuals won't blow you away when compared to other PC games, but they have plenty of dramatic appeal.
This edition of The Force Unleashed includes three stand-alone missions, two of which were released as downloadable content for the original console version. The Jedi Temple mission is excellent, pitting you against large groups of foes that will have you on the move and exploiting every Force power to its fullest. It drops you right into the action from the outset and maintains a high level of excitement, particularly during a thrilling battle against a crowd of droids. A few puzzle sequences help break up the tempo to keep the mission fresh, and lots of destructible objects make the action seem especially explosive. The visuals are lovely--in keeping with the best levels from the main campaign--and some ethereal music plucked from the Star Wars library makes one sequence feel, appropriately enough, otherworldly. The second of these missions takes place on Tatooine and features familiar characters, as well as more great art design. There are also a couple of fun boss fights and an intriguing alternate-history story. For more information, check out our review of the Tatooine Mission Pack.
The final additional mission was not available as console DLC and is exclusive to the Ultimate Sith Edition. Compared to the other stand-alone journeys, this mission on Hoth is a disappointment--though not from a story perspective, thanks to a fascinating ending that will give Star Wars fans an opportunity to munch on all sorts of non-canon fodder. The gameplay is less compelling and involves moving from one ice cave to the next, chopping and zapping rebel soldiers and wampas. The action is broken up only by a couple of boss battles and a few light puzzle elements. The mission is fun, but its predictable pace and bland level design hinders it from reaching the heights of the other two added missions.
It's a wonder that Star Wars: The Force Unleashed: Ultimate Sith Edition for the PC was released at all considering the insignificant effort that seems to have been put into it. Even in the realm of sloppy ports, this one seems particularly egregious, considering its almost total lack of visual options and performance troubles. It's unfortunate that this version feels so rushed because in spite of the core game's scattered flaws, it's an ultimately enjoyable adventure that tells a great story populated by memorable characters. Alas, if you're a PC enthusiast who is tired of rushed console ports, The Force Unleashed is another game to add to that ever-growing list.