As a Star Wars fan being given the chance to see a piece of canonical Star Wars lore which only a select few in the world have seen is quite a privilege. As you’d expect, there are undoubtedly millions of fans foaming at the mouth for information of the spoiler kind. Similarly, there is probably the same amount who should probably keep their eyes closed if they choose to scroll down.
I’m going to tell you everything I saw, everything I experienced, and everything I learned about The Force Unleashed.
Our demonstration began as all Star Wars movies do, with the iconic blue writing “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” - and of course this was followed by the equally iconic Star Wars theme music and crawl. It goes on to say that the galaxy is on the brink of darkness and that Vader has been sent to Kashyyyk, home of the wookiees, to bring down a particularly powerful Jedi. The camera pans down from the crawl and focuses on several Star Destroyers in orbit of the planet, from which Vader’s shuttle (the same one seen in Return of the Jedi) departs and heads to Kashyyyk’s surface.
Vader exits the shuttle with purpose amidst an under-siege world and receives an update from a commander who has somewhat botched the operation. Vader isn’t at all impressed and within moments makes it clear that he is the same Vader from the original trilogy: the commander is force choked for his negligence and is told that he is here for a matter more important than controlling the planet.
And so the gameplay begins. Vader cannot run or jump, but he walks at a brisk pace and you can see he means every step he makes. Immediately you’re given access to a plethora of strong force abilities which act as a teaser for what you as the Apprentice Starkiller will be able to do later in the game. The mission is designed for Vader to get through a forested area and clear out any Wookiees that get in his way. We got to see one wookiee lifted a dozen feet off the ground, rattled around like a play-thing and then thrown off a cliff edge. The euphoria physics engine was put to good use here as the wookiee really looked like he was struggling for his life, albeit futilely.
It should be noted that all of this is rendered gorgeously; if you remember the Kashyyyk scene from Revenge of the Sith you’ll have a good idea of what to expect. There’s a lot of attention to detail too; in the background, on a beach far below, we got to see a battle taking place around a downed and burning TIE Fighter. If you weren’t looking, you would have missed it, so it’s nice to know that replaying the game will have you picking up on all the little things.
Later, a massive gate held Vader at bay. Normal force pushes made only dents in the impressive structure so it was demonstrated that you can charge the force-push (similar to how Ryu charges a fireball) to obliterate the door. This sent bits of wood and metal flying just as it would in real-life; the only downside is that the pieces of destruction remained on screen only for a few moments. It is unclear whether or not this is commonplace, or if it was due to having played an early build of the game. It would be nice to see this rectified in the final build as vanishing debris downplays the emphasis the game puts on its physics engines.
Skipping ahead, Vader finds and defeats his Jedi foe and in a force grip questions him, as Vader feels the presence of an incredibly strong user of the force nearby. Vader mistakenly assumes this presence is the dying Jedi’s master and only realises his error when, upon performing a death blow with his lightsaber, it is force pulled out of his hands by a child no more than three years old. Vader breaks the Jedi’s neck and realises the young one is adept. The commander makes an appearance again with several clone troopers and makes to shoot the child – but Vader reacts and takes back his lightsaber to deflect the blasts while the camera slowly zooms in on the child’s eyes. After killing the child’s father, Vader saves his life.
It’s actually quite an emotional scene taking place to John Williams’ score from Episode III (The Immolation Scene). This is something not so common in video games, let alone in Star Wars video games, and actually got a lot of the audience looking on wide-eyed and open-mouthed. We were advised this is only a taste of the emotional string pulling other moments in the game would provide.
The scene segues into a close-up of the eyes of the child - who is now an adult - with Vader providing him with his first mission. From this small scene you get an understanding as to the relationship between Vader and Starkiller – Master and Secret Apprentice.
LucasArts worked with ILM technology to create some of the most believable acting performances we’ve seen in games. The actors were made to wear a series of white reflective spheres on their faces while several cameras recorded their performance and translated it into usable code. It is film technology being used in video games, something which we’ve seen become more prevalent as this generation of consoles have their technology exploited.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our The Force Unleashed preview as we uncover what it’s like to train as a secret apprentice, fight a Jedi master, come up against a race resistant to the force and explore more of the Star Wars universe we’ve all grown up in love with.
Pros: A canonical story within an expertly designed game.
Cons: Disappearing debris. Boo!