Before Disney owned the Star Wars IP, came a game aimed at bridging the gap between the two movie trilogies – Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was born. Initially developed by LucasArts, the game has come to the Nintendo Switch via developer Krome Studios and ported by Aspyr. I know what you’re thinking – it was only a matter of time really, considering it seems to get released on every console. It even had a Nintendo DS release which was amazing since you could play Star Wars on the go. And a mobile (iOS) release.
Players are cast into the role of Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, Starkiller. You’re trained to hunt down and destroy Jedi. That’s right, you aren’t playing a hero. You might know that already since the game is rather old now. But if you’re new to the game then that’s a selling point in my opinion. The Dark Side is so much better than the Light.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.… Came Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
There’s been a lot of great Star Wars games. A lot. But the first one that I loved was Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Vader becomes your
daddy master just like I always dreamed. Probably not the best parental figure, but whatever.
First, we need to talk about which edition of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed this is. There’s been a fair few, including a mobile edition. Thankfully, this isn’t that version. This port is an upscaled version of the title that was released on Wii, which wasn’t much different from the PS2 and PSP versions. It just has the addition of motion controls. There is also exclusive PvP local multiplayer mode if that’s your kind of thing. It makes sense to go with the Wii version considering the number of Wii games that have been ported over to the Nintendo Switch. Obviously, the easiest one to do.
The story places you in the role of a Force-sensitive named Galen Marek, AKA Starkiller. Vader kills Galen’s dad and takes you on as his secret apprentice. All so that he can one day Daddy Vader can overthrow the Emperor years later. Your days are spent completing various missions such as tracing and killing the remaining Jedi that is still hiding throughout the galaxy. You are basically solidifying Vaders position so that when the time is right, he can sort out his business with the Emperor.
Ultimately, the events that happen throughout the game bridge the gap between Episodes III and IV while establishing some interesting origins for later subplots. Although one of the ending choices takes you away from that “bridging the gap” business and straight into new timeline territory. Not that it matters. This game is now officially a non-canon ‘Legends’ tale thanks to Disney splooging a load of money to own Star Wars.
The gameplay then takes the form of a linear hack ‘n’ slasher. You travel to various worlds and slice through a whole lot of droids and aliens with your lightsaber and force powers. Although you could just do what I do and use the lightsaber wherever possible. I want to channel my inner Sith and get up close and personal. Your lightsaber has a variety of combo attacks as you’d expect where you can chain together attacks to slowly unlock more force powers. Combat is fairly standard and isn’t anything special. A letdown considering it’s the main focus of the game.
Talking of lightsabers, it suffers from what a lot of Star Wars games suffer from, in that they aren’t the weapons they are in the films. Sure, they look the part and make all the right sounds. But when you have to hit someone with it multiple times just to kill them you realise that you might as well be hitting them with a baseball bat. Is it too much to ask for a lightsaber that just slices right through people with one hit? How am I meant to feel like Daddy Vaders all-powerful apprentice when I can’t even take the good guys down with one hit as he would? We all know a Stormtroopers armour is next to useless, yet can take more than one lightsaber hit here.
Killing enemies gives you experience points, which go towards an upgrade system that contains various attacks and powers upgrades. You can swap out the crystals in your lightsaber to bump up the effectiveness of certain attacks which I’m not sure is how lightsabers work, but whatever. It’s no longer canon so roll with it. Despite having to hit enemies a few times with your wizard stick, most foes go down fairly easily even without any upgrades and you don’t get any meaningful improvements. It does give you some options over Starkiller’s growth though and experience points give you a good reason to fight legions of the good guys that you could otherwise just run right past.
Boss fights are a slight challenge but come from a time when developers loved giving up quick-time events. Nearly every major boss fight requires one to finish them off. None are difficult to hit, but it’s a nice mindless way to finish a fight. It’s not something that bothers me, even though they don’t really add anything to the gameplay. And levels, before you get to them, are generally fairly formulative. You run into a room with a locked door, kill the required number of your enemies to progress, and then do the same thing in another room. There is some light platforming here and there, but there is nothing approaching a meaningful challenge. Most games typically find ways to entertain the player through more than just a story by an ongoing introduction of new gameplay elements or enemy types. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed doesn’t do any of that.
Graphics & Audio
Sadly there’s been no visual upgrade. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed badly needed one, so it’s a disappointment. As much as I love seeing classic games getting released on the Nintendo Switch, it’s massively disappointing to see that they aren’t getting any upgrades visually. Microsoft did it with Halo when they released the Master Chief Collection and the difference was staggering. I’m not asking for the same level of upgrade, but something would certainly be nice. It’s not like Star Wars can’t afford it!
Because of the lack of graphics, a fair bit of the game feels like you’re merely redoing the same level. Everything looks terribly dated now. Some scenes still look nice, but it’s pretty clear that this is a game that was built for consoles with much poorer hardware. On the plus side of that, it does mean that with new hardware you can get a solid frame rate, reflective surfaces, and higher resolution than originally. Given that the game has not been re-skinned though, it’s aged poorly.
One thing that bothered when whenever I’ve played this previously is the camerawork. At times, it feels like you’re fighting that more than you are anything else. The camera has a tendency to snap to a particular view from behind Starkiller. This isn’t helpful when you’ve been hit and can no longer see who hit you. Or my favourite, where I can’t see Starkiller because the camera has decided to go behind pieces of the environment that I’m yet to destroy.
Sound-wise, it’s okay. The music for Star Wars games has always been good. But like the graphics, the audio hasn’t been upgraded. I’m fine with that as it’d be weird otherwise. At least it matches the look of the game. The soundtrack will always be good though.
The campaign is only about eight or so hours. You might find though that bashing away at foes and flicking them away with force powers is fun for an hour or so. But then you’re left wondering if there’s more to the experience. And unfortunately, there isn’t. If this was a modern game, you’d expect to unlock a load of new things, like you do on Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. A game that I think all future Star Wars games will aspire to be like. That was the pinnacle of Star Wars gaming. Going from that to The Force Unleashed just shows you how far we’ve come, not just in graphics but in general gameplay.
Sadly, once you’ve completed the game, there’s not enough to make you want to go back for more. It’s a really dated game and it shows.
For all that, it’s a fun game from a nostalgia point of view. I loved this game originally and I still love it now. Sure, it badly needed some upgrades and it’s disappointing that it wasn’t given them. But the story is a load of fun and the definite highlight and you have an excuse to listen to Star Wars music which always gets you pumped. It seems like that’s what they were going for with releasing this on the Switch. You shouldn’t have to rely on nostalgia to sell a game. All it’ll do is remind people of how poorly this game has aged and how little there actually is to it.
Unfortunately, the decent story and soundtrack aren’t good enough to outweigh the negatives. If you never played it originally, then you’ll be left wondering what all the fuss was about. And if you have, you’ll be laughing at the time when this game looked absolutely amazing compared to now. You’ll also notice how the gameplay is severely lacking in so many ways.
That said, I’m a sucker for Star Wars, so will I continue the game through to completion? Yes, yes I will. But I’m not going to be entirely happy about it and I definitely won’t be playing it in front of anyone else. I would likely get judged based on the graphics and questioned on it. It’s a fairly mediocre game compared to what we can play in 2022. So with that in mind, I score Star Wars: The Force Unleashed the Bronze Award. Still love the game though!
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.