Star Wars: The Force Unleashed PS3 / Xbox 360

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed PS3 / Xbox 360
Once upon the late ’70s to early ’90s, in a galaxy not far away, Star Wars could do no wrong. But after umpteen disappointments, the empire that George built now suffers from the dark side of blown expectations, albeit with occasional spikes in excitement. The Force Unleashed is one of those spikes, as evidenced by its demo shattering download records, proving there remains pent-up anticipation for the once venerable franchise despite the crappiness of the prequels and recent (non-Lego) games. Folks still want Lucas to strike back and while The Force Unleashed falls short of awesomeness, it remains an enjoyable play. This is almost exclusively because the game designers finally figured out how to use the Force. The game operates as episode three-and-a-half, a canonical bridge between the two trilogies set in the aftermath of Emperor Palpatine’s Jedi purge. But rather than playing a republican refugee, you’ll be doing the Jedi-killing. This is smart, since Jedi are no fun, what with their not killing innocents or using the force out of anger or revenge. Switching teams automatically opens the game up, both in terms of game play and storytelling. In the original films, we didn’t realize that Darth was the series’ central protagonist. And while you only play Vader in the amazing tutorial-like opening level on the Wookie planet (during which you get to toss the overgrown rugs around with your force powers), the whole game is rooted in the dark side perspective. While killing a surviving Jedi, Vader comes across his Anakin-esque son, whom you will adopt as your "secret” apprentice (codename Starkiller) before the game time-jumps to the playable young adult apprentice for the remainder. Why secret? Well, as all good geeks know, there can only be one Sith master and one apprentice, because back when there was a ton of Sith Lords, they all started killing each other out of their sheer evilosity. And so it is here, as Vader intends to use you to kill the big boss, though clearly that doesn’t happen since the Emperor remains on his throne until the end of the original trilogy. What happens in between is what this game fills in. But though the ingredients are there they don’t always gel. The levels can be repetitive and some, like junk planet Raxus Prime, are frustratingly confusing. It’s really just a Lucas license laid atop a God of War-type action game. But nailing the Force physics — allowing me to use my mind (and, I guess, midi-chlorians) to electrocute Jawas, blast through metal doors and toss screaming Storm Troopers into the vacuum of space — is enough for The Force Unleashed to provide a new hope for the franchise, even if it’s not the classic we were looking for. (LucasArts)