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Tuesday, 13 May 2008 07:42

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed hands on impressions

Recently I got a look at the much anticipated Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, both the Xbox 360/PS3 version and the light sabre wielding Wii version.

LucasArts are currently on a spruiking tour of the globe, highlighting a number of 2008 titles coming to a console or PC near you. 

One of these is Star Wars: The Force Unleashed arriving on six platforms mid September.  Radioactive IT has had a brief run with the game, highlighting the differences between the console versions.felucia_022.jpg

Taking place between Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope, The Force Unleashed creators have take advantage of a largely unexplored timeline in the Star Wars universe.

Taking the role of Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, players will be tasked with developing light-sabre and force skills in order to unleash devastating attacks against those seeking to impede the Sith Lord’s machinations.

Running through some cut scenes it was evident that the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game are set to deliver an authentic Star Warsy feel, with cinematic scope and level of detail to satisfy the most ardent fan.

We began with a training level, where players actually get to control Darth Vader himself, strolling (rather than running) into battle on the Wookie home world Kashyyyk.  The big DV provides a perfect training conduit as he effortlessly shrugs off attacks from loud hairy Wookies, countering with his own devastating lightsabre blows and force powers.

Visual and audio effects continue the Star Wars franchised feel as producer Dan Wasson took us through the tutorial mission.  “Kicking arse with Force powers unleashed” was the design philosophy Wasson and his team were aiming for, and Vader’s devastation of the Wookie defence is evidence of this aim.nextgen-lightningtroopers.jpg

Some small awkwardness with the controls is evident with some of the more complex force moves, but picking up and choking a Wookie before flinging the hapless victim across the virtual stage is a lot of fun. 

Industrial Light & Magic have collaborated on the production of cut scenes for the game, bringing some satisfying motion capture and cinema style lighting and camera angles to each frame.  Using something called CloneCam actors have been mimicked to a masterful level for each crucial story telling scene.

Fast forwarding through some spoiler cut-scenes to the game proper, wherein the player takes control of the ‘Secret Apprentice’ we get to see the technology that LucasArts are showcasing in this release.

Firstly the DMM (Digital Molecular Matter) is shown off, different materials such as wood and huge metal blast doors react realistically to impact and blaster fire.  The now ubiquitous use of the Havok physics engine comes into play along with the LucasArts licensed use of Euphoria artificial intelligence.

Driven by Euphoria, Storm Trooper opponents will grapple for a hand-hold with any suitable material as they are whisked into the air by a player delivered force attack. In this way DMM, Havok and Euphoria combine to give a realistic playing arena to explore.

It looks impressive, though the sound of a Storm Trooper going ‘Whoa!’ as he is dragged into the air is a little atmosphere destroying, and the everyday combat AI of opponents was not given too much chance to impress during the presentation.

There are God of War style button mashing boss battles, including a pretty impressive take-down of a monstrous Rancor. rancor5.jpg

Next up was the locally Australian developed (Krome Studios) Nintendo Wii version of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.  In a somewhat stark comparison to the Xbox 360/PS3 it is obvious the little white box cannot pump out the visual or even audio detail found on the other platforms.  The fact that Krome are also doing the PlayStation Portable and PS2 versions of the game shows the technical design attitude brought to the Wii version.

Minus also DMM, Havok and Euphoria, the Wii version initially comes across as a stock standard third person action adventure – though these are rare on the Wii platform anyway, and as such it is nice to have even only for that reason alone.

However Wii owners do get a bunch of additional treats unavailable to the more technically advanced versions.  Firstly the control mechanism, as you would expect, wielding the Wii-mote and Nunchuck gives an intuitive sword play style way to inflict lightsabre attacks.  Force attacks are done in a similar way, with moves such as the Slam attack resolved by raising and dropping the Nunchuck.theforcenlwii_808994.jpg

The mini-game boss battle moves on the Wii require physically mimicking the Wii-mote and Nunchuck on screen moves to deliver health meter destroying blows to the enemy.

Five missions specific to the Wii give a content edge and further insight into the Star Wars: The Force Unleashed story.  Finally the Wii version features a side multiplayer game of lightsabre duelling that provides added party value in keeping with the Wii target demographic

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed looks like it will fulfil many requirements of the most ardent Star Wars and Video Game fan.  And given it will arrive around September 17th for PS3, Xbox 360, PSP, PS2, Wii and DS, fans should be able to pick up a copy to prove this for themselves.  And if they can’t, there is always the fall-back to the promised merchandising promotional items that are scheduled to accompany this release.

LucasArts is preparing an unprecedented promotional effort around the launch of The Force Unleashed, encompassing a full line of toys and game-based action figures from Hasbro, as well as a full publishing program from Dark Horse, Del Ray, Prima Games and Palace Press.  Plenty to spend your money on.

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Mike Bantick

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Having failed to grow up Bantick continues to pursue his childish passions for creative writing, interactive entertainment and showing-off through adulthood. In 1994 Bantick began doing radio at Melbourne’s 102.7 3RRRFM, in 1997 transferring to become a core member of the technology show Byte Into It. In 2003 he wrote briefly for the The Age newspaper’s Green Guide, providing video game reviews. In 2004 Bantick wrote the news section of PC GameZone magazine. Since 2006 Bantick has provided gaming and tech lifestyle stories for, including interviews and opinion in the RadioactivIT section.

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