The Wii version of the Force Unleashed feels rough around the edges, but Star Wars fans will still find plenty to enjoy.
To begin with, it should be noted that this is NOT the same game as the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions. While the HD variations of The Force Unleashed were developed by LucasArts (with Aspyr producing the crappy PC port), the Wii, PS2 and PSP versions were handled by Krome Studios (who would later go on to develop the absolutely dreadful Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes). All Krome's games were nearly identical (minus a few details which I'll get to later), meaning that this is yet another PS2 port for the Wii.
The Force Unleashed tells the story of Darth Vader's secret apprentice Starkiller, taking place between the third and fourth movies. Early on, the plot constitutes little more than "go to planet X and kill fan-favorite Jedi Y," although the fun characters keep the narrative more involving than in most video games. About half-way through, the plot twists start piling up, the characters become more fleshed out and the whole thing begins to feel like an over-the-top work of fan fiction. That's not to say it isn't entertaining, but the story just doesn't feel like something that would take place in the same universe as the original trilogy (or even the prequels and the cartoons, for that matter).
Compared to the HD versions, the Wii Force Unleashed follows the same plot while featuring several more levels, including four totally new missions in the ruins of the Jedi Temple and the underworld of Nar Shaddaa (all of which are some of the game's highlights). Where the 360 and PS3 had epic vistas and flashy lighting, Krome generally chose to go with more gritty, claustrophobic environments. This is probably a good thing, as on the occasions that the game does widen its scope it can be very messy looking. The Felucia levels look particularly awful, with some very muddy textures and plants that pop into view when you're two feet away from them. I recently finished playing through GoldenEye 007 on the Wii, and I think I can say without fear of exaggeration that that game looked like it was an entire console generation ahead of The Force Unleashed.
Still, I didn't buy a Wii for pretty graphics; it's gameplay that counts. The Force Unleashed is essentially a Star Wars take on God of War, with lots of hack-and-slash lightsaber combat and some impressive-looking (if shallow and somewhat frustrating; more on that later) quick-time events. Enemies keep coming at you wave after wave, but given that Starkiller's abilities seem about on par with your average Death Star, you won't have much trouble slicing through them. That is, as long as the third-person camera actually allows you to see your enemies. The camera in The Force Unleashed feels extremely loose and unpolished, constantly coming to rest in awkward positions or behind objects that will totally obscure your view. You can adjust the camera with the D-pad, but reaching for the D-pad will surely limit your ability to attack with a Wii remote swing. There's also a lock-on function, but it's quite clunky and tends to lose track of your target easily. Why Krome just didn't go with a Zelda-style lock-on camera is beyond me. That said, the core combat is still intense and satisfying, even if it lacks the tactical edge found in the Jedi Knight titles or Knights of the Old Republic.
On the subject of controls, Wii version allows you to swing left, right, up, down and forward with surprising accuracy. It's not true 1:1 control (as the game has no support for MotionPlus), but the fast-paced nature of the combat wouldn't have suited such precise control anyway. Force powers are managed with a combination of motion controls and button presses, and some can be quite intense (much like for the melee in GoldenEye, a quick nunchuck jab really hits the spot) . There's also a very complete (and optional) set of tutorials, so the learning curve isn't that bad. The only real control issue comes during the QTEs, which often involve rotating the Wii remote and nunchuck to an indicated angle before thrusting them forward. This works fine for the remote, but the nunchuck seems to have issues, leading to some very frustrating moments where the game simply won't read your thrusts (at which point you'll fail the QTE).
One of best features of The Force Unleashed (and one of its few big advantages over the Jedi Knight games) is its physics engine. Even without the much-hyped "Euphoria" and Havok engines, Krome has constructed a very immersive physics system that really makes the player feel like a powerful Jedi. Environments are full of objects for you to pick up and throw around, and knocking Stormtroopers off ledges never loses its appeal. In fact, I found myself preferring constant Force Pushes to lightsaber combat, as the resulting environmental destruction was extremely satisfying. Just about every other Force power also works great, although some may be too powerful for their own good. For example, there's an attack called Maelstrom that sucks any nearby enemies into a miniature tornado around you before releasing an energy wave that both damages your enemy and tosses them a great distance. This attack takes a fair amount of time to execute, but that's no problem because you become completely invulnerable the moment you start charging it up. I was able to take down rancors with ease by standing right under them, activating Maelstrom, watching them futilely attempt to stomp on me, releasing the attack and then repeating that process again and again (your Force energy recharges so quickly that it might as well be unlimited).
There's also that lingering feeling that Krome's game is playing second fiddle to the LucasArts versions, with some of the HD consoles' more advertised moments abruptly showing up in a manner that feels really tacked on. The most blatant example is the much-hyped Star Destroyer crash, which still looks neat, but plays out entirely in a cutscene that lasts only a few seconds. Perhaps a little less reverence to LucasArts' production would have let the Wii version feel a bit more like its own game.
But that's just in the single player mode. The Wii and PSP versions of The Force Unleashed are the only ones to feature multiplayer modes, allowing two players to swing their Wiimotes to the death. This mode feels a lot like a Soul Calibur title while also serving as a preview for Krome's next Star Wars game, the averagely-reviewed Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Lightsaber Duels. There are a decent number of arenas and character models, providing a neat diversion that lengthens the lifespan of the game nicely (why LucasArts didn't include something similar in their version is a mystery). And that's good, because there's no way to replay individual single player missions beyond playing the whole (roughly eight-hour) game over again. Sure, you can keep all you upgrades from each previous play-through, but that only serves to make the early levels extremely easy. Why are the levels filled with replay-encouraging hidden secrets if I can't actually replay them? Really, how hard would it have been to throw in a mission selection screen? It's not like this is an epic role-playing adventure; it's a straightforward action game. Having to waggle through the tedium of Felucia every time I want to visit Nar Shaddaa is a real bummer.
I went in to the Wii version of The Force Unleashed with low expectations, and it certainly didn't disappoint me. The game is a simplistic, flashy thrill ride, evoking the sort of satisfaction one might get from a dumb-fun summer blockbuster. The Wii edition is easily superior to the PC port (whether it matches the HD consoles' version is a different matter), and while there's no doubt in my mind that The Force Unleashed should have been a lot better, it's still good time-killer.
+ Great physics engine and nice destructible environments make Force powers very fun
+ Who doesn't love torturing stormtroopers?
+ Multiplayer duel mode is a nice addition
+ Story and characters are entertaining, if a little too over-the-top
- Visuals are pretty lackluster, even by Wii standards
- You can't go back and replay individual missions. WHY?
- QTEs are shallow and glitchy
Reviewed on 12/8/2010