Did you know Darth Vader has a secret apprentice?
Well, duh, no — ‘cause if you did know, he’d have to kill you. At least that’s the story line in "Star Wars: The Force Unleashed," a new T-rated action game from LucasArts.
The action takes place while Vader and the emperor are consolidating their power after establishing the Galactic Empire at the end of what we Earthlings call "Episode III" of the "Star Wars" saga.
In the intro, you play as Vader, who’s hunting a fugitive Jedi on the Wookies’ home world. You get a taste of the action to come when you use the force to push those mangy fur balls off cliffs or fling them in to each other. It’s pretty impressive.
After beating down the Jedi, Vader discovers someone who’s even stronger in the force — a son. Vader decides to tutor the youngster in the ways of the Dark Side and keep him secret, even from the emperor. The boy grows into Starkiller, your character in "The Force Unleashed."
Starkiller definitely rates high on the cool meter. He’s young, athletic and holds his lightsaber in an unorthodox behind-the-back grip. His sidekicks are a hot starship pilot and a droid that’s programmed to try to kill him — just to keep him on his toes.
Your main job as Vader’s apprentice involves hunting Jedi. However, one of your early victims looks into your future and sees something more than the path of an assassin.
In fighting your battles, you’ll discover that your lightsaber is very handy but it’s usually much more effective — and fun — to unleash the force. Examples:
• Force push emits a focused wave of energy that can smash through barriers or send objects and opponents flying.
• Force grip lets you pick up and fling objects and enemies, or bend things into useful positions.
• Force lightning is a visually spectacular way to stun foes — or kill them if they’re small.
• Force repulse emits a shockwave that can topple most things in its path.
• Lightsaber throw lets you hurl your weapon. It will strike your target and return to your hand.
You won’t have all of these powers at the beginning. As you progress, you’ll gain new abilities and strengthen old ones. You’ll also unlock force combos that let you pull off cool maneuvers if you hit the right buttons.
The controls are efficient and easy to use — although you’re likely to end up simply mashing buttons in battles that require more than a few combos.
The graphics are quite good, with excellent character rendering and animations and some impressive environments. The levels are diverse and generally well constructed, offering plenty of opponents, secondary missions and a few puzzles. Some of the action gets a little repetitive, but not any more than in similar games.
The biggest problems are a few glitches that can trap you in corners, abrupt transitions between action and cut scenes and an occasionally wonky camera angle during boss battles.
In the Wii version, which I tested at the E3 Media & Business Summit, the controls were smooth, intuitive and very fun. However, those still yearning to wield their Wii remote like a lightsaber and have the actions precisely duplicated onscreen will have to wait for another title. Control movements are still very stylized, with small swings and jabs translating into major onscreen action.
"The Force Unleashed" should please anyone who likes action games. However, "Star Wars" fans should find it specially interesting since it offers key insights into the events leading up to "Episode IV."
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable Wii
On the Web: www.lucasarts.com/games/theforceunleashed.