With all the reports surrounding LucasArts at the moment, we have to admit we were a little bit worried when we sat down to play the E3 build of The Force Unleashed. Silly Jedi...
It's clear from the off that a lot of thought has gone into the plot, which is set in the time between Episode III and Episode IV. You're not just visiting unnamed planet X or generic space station Y. Everything in the game references something or other in the Star Wars universe.
In our travels, we stopped by the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk, a TIE Fighter factory in orbit over the smuggler's moon of Nar Shaddaa (seen in Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight), the junk world of Raxus Prime and Felucia, the planet where the Twi'lek Jedi woman gets gunned down in Revenge of the Sith.
The nods to the lore are evident right from the start, where you assume the controls of Darth Vader himself. The dark lord has come to find something hiding among the Wookiees and nothing will stand his way.
Putting Vader in as a playable character is a brave choice for The Force Unleashed. Vader is iconic, after all. His actions have never been anything less than extraordinary. So to put him in a situation where the Sith Lord could be reduced to a clumsy oaf who accidentally walks off bridges or gets stuck on piece of terrain could grossly undermine him.
But restrictions and additions have been included to keep Vader himself. We breathed a sigh of relief when we discovered he can't run. It would have been an instant fail if we'd seen Lord Vader look like Benny Hill while chasing wookies around Kashyyyk.
As Vader you posses several Force powers right from the off, turning the prologue into a Wookiee-killing jolly. But as the combat tutorial takes place between the prologue and the first level, you're thrown in at the deep. And while having unlimited powers should feel empowering, in fact you're still trying to figure out how to play the game and turn your lightsaber on.
A slight shame, because once you know what you're doing the controls are intuitive. A and X provide different types of lightsaber attacks, Y activates a Force push and B makes Vader jump like a bunny. The right trigger controls Force Grab for when you feel like lobbing a Wookiee off a walkway.
The left trigger enhances other abilities such as jump and throwing your lightsaber with added Force power. For example, to toss your lightsaber like a boomerang instead of merely swinging it around, you hold down the left trigger and hit either 'A' or 'X'. It'll only take an experienced gamer about half a level to get the hang of it.
When you do, the game shines. Wave after wave of stupid Wookiees who run at you cry out to be killed in imaginative ways. Our reign of terror saw trees soar through the air, bodies thrown from mile-high tree houses and corpses rammed into live bodies like battering rams.
As anyone familiar with the last prequel movie should know, Kashyyyk has a lot going for anyone blessed with telekinesis and a desire for destruction. We battled across platforms hanging high in the treetops, fought Wookiees in Vietnam inspired huts and tore up the greenery just because we could.
At the end of our hike we found the Jedi we were looking for. After dispatching him with ease (you are Vader don't forget) and watching a twist in the plot, the story sets off in a direction that has similarities with both trilogies. It's obvious Unleashed is going to visit the same parent-offspring themes seen in all the films.
Fast forward a few years and instead of playing ultimate badass Vader, you now assume the role of The Apprentice. He can run (yes, run!) and is generally more agile than Vader, so the drudgery of the prologue dissipates and things speed up a little. But being the 'apprentice', you only have a few powers to abuse, which streamline the controls somewhat and give you a chance to learn the mechanics from the ground up.