TF.N was invited by Lucas Arts to play test The Force Unleashed at the Presidio the week before 4th of July. We played the newest game to continue the Star Wars Video Game Saga on all the platforms the game is being released on (PS3, Xbox 360, PS2, Wii, PSP, & Nintendo DS – the game is not being released for the PC). Helping us were Chris Cook (PR Specialist), Josh Richardson (Core Tester), and Dan Wesson (Wii Producer) of Lucas Arts. From TF.n were Tony, Randy, Zachary, and Daniel.
The Story of the Secret Apprentice and basics of the plotline has been discussed to death, so we’ll focus on the game play and eye candy. The game play among all the platforms breaks down into three main areas: total immersion, physical interaction, and portability. Obviously each platform has its strengths. All the platforms start out with an Imperial Attack on the Wookie home world. You start play as Darth Vader and are positioned with ramped up force powers to fend off every major attack – Vader is no slouch, which is why he is so feared. (Side Note: He does have one force power that is explicitly stated in the books he would never have because of his injuries: Force Lightening. But I’m not quibbling – just noting.)
It’s at the end of the Vader level you meet the child you take under your tutelage and make your secret apprentice. The Vader level is your training ground for the force powers you have as the Secret Apprentice and a showcase for their potential as you ramp up over the course of the game. With these ramped up force powers everything becomes a potential weapon and the Vader level gives you abundant opportunity to experiment and start a foundation for your game techniques.
XBox360 / PS3 The PS3 and Xbox360 are the total immersion platforms. These platforms are the ultimate in eye candy and game experience. Good excuses to upgrade that TV to large screen with digital inputs and install the surround sound system. The Havoc Game Engine combined with Digital Molecular Matter and the Emotive AI create a very compelling environment for game play.
The game visuals are stunning and while we haven’t yet reached nerd-vana with a photo realistic 3D environment. The TFU game environment is far from static. On planet levels, the plants move in conjunction with environmental conditions, the lighting and shading are well formed and all the levels (even indoors) feel expansive. No “gray mist” limiting your distance vision or feeling claustrophobic on outdoors levels.
The game play is smooth and Lucas Arts did a good job of utilizing the console controllers in an intuitive manner to allow quick button combinations for both basic and complex interactions.
Read a first person experience of playing the Xbox 360 and The Force Unleashed here.
PS2 / Wii The game play is similar between the PS2 & the Wii and both trail in visual quality and feel behind the Xbox360 and PS3. I hate to short change the PS2, but the killer application of The Force Unleashed is on the Wii using the Wiimote as your lightsaber. This is the setup every Star Wars gamer has envisioned since the release of the Wii. Don’t let a lack of “feedback” from the Wiimote discourage you from trying The Force Unleashed on the Wii. Once you slip into character and start wielding the virtual saber you are not going to want to put it down. (Atari brought us Atari Wrist, the Wii and TFU will bring us Wii Shoulder.)
And of course on the non-portable platforms only the Wii has head to head play (1 v 1 only). Whether you finish the game or not, it’s the head to head combat that will keep the Wii version of this game on the top of the stack for years to come. There are 32 different characters that can be unlocked and played via head-to-head. That should be enough combinations to keep any Star Wars enthusiast busy for some time.
Hopefully Lucas Arts will come out with a “head-to-head expansion pack” for the Wii that increases the head-to-head combat for support up to 4 players and allow for many more arenas, maybe even over the Internet play too. (One can dream - How about “Counter Strike: Sith versus Jedi”?) Read a first person experience of playing the PS2 version here, and read a first person experience of playing the Wii version here.
PSP/DS Games like TFU are very hard to bring to the portable world. The game play is normally designed for large screens, large sound systems, and button heavy controllers. Also the PSP and Nintendo DS offer completely different handheld experiences, with DS’s reliance on the stylus and the PSP structured more like a game controller with a screen. Lucas Arts has setup game play to bind with the strengths of each portable platform.
TFU is setup to utilize the second screen on the DS as a master options menu. And using the stylus, you can select multiple attack options for some very devastating combination attacks. It took a while for me to find the correct touch and feel for multiple selections – but once you had a few combinations memorized and the proper pressure dialed in – the game play moved well. On the PSP, the graphics are better and have more depth than the DS. The combination moves require a bit of finger trickery – but not much more than you need with any other game. The PSP plays like a small version of the PS2. So you are really only sacrificing the screen size for portability and head-to-head play. That is not a bad trade off.
Both the DS and PSP have head-to-head play with up to 4 players at once. We didn’t have the option to test the head-to-head play on PSP or DS with only one portable per platform. But I suspect that there will be many a school lunches uneaten as ad-hoc lunchtime TFU tournaments are formed during the fall. At least there is no trading of unlocked virtual Jedi and Sith. I really don’t want to know how many Kit Fistos it takes to trade for an Ayla Secura.
Whether you are a PSP-a-holic or a DS acolyte, you’ll like TFU on your platform of choice.
Conclusion Unlike the disastrous Red Rock and lukewarm Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb, Lucas Arts has really hit all the right sweet spots with The Force Unleashed. This game could be bigger than Knights of the Old Republic and Battlefront combined. The Secret Apprentice storyline fits snugly within the Clone Wars / Pre-Episode 4 time-line and Lucas Arts was able to create a suite of new characters that provide additional depth and breadth to the extended universe concept.
With all the challenges going on within Lucas Arts today, we hope that The Force Unleashed does not prove to be a one-off success. The base game engine mechanics are there to build several totally immersive games before the technology is replaced by the next-gen software and hardware. The Clone Wars as a background story could be the next target for the Lucas Arts design team to utilize, or they could mine any of the Extended Universe story lines. (Thinking out loud, could ship-to-ship combat be combined with unleashed force powers? I guess the Lego Star Wars Mini-Movie Revenge of the Brick affected my in some way.)
Purists will bemoan the fact that the ramped up “totally over the top” force powers completely change the way the Star Wars Universe is currently visualized. Gamers will thoroughly enjoy the experience. The increased force powers are extremely addicting and you find yourself giggling at the destructive power you can wield even without all the power-ups available later in the game. Playing as Vader in the very beginning gives you a small taste of what your force powers will be later as the Secret Apprentice and you quickly find yourself looking for walls to blast open and objects (and NPCs) to pick up and throw around. It’s never felt so good to be bad.
To sum up – this game will sell a lot of gaming units for Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. We are already looking forward to the first of what we hope are many sequels.