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It's Star Wars, and it's a "Million Seller" - how bad can it be?
I am a fan of Star Wars. I'm a big fan of the original trilogy of movies, I don't completely hate the prequel films, and even got some level of enjoyment (as a kid, anyway) out of the two "Ewok Adventure" films, and the short-lived Droids cartoon. Though I didn't get to go see it right away, I did go see Star Wars: The Force Awakens and enjoyed it very much. I plan to go see it again, if I have the opportunity before it's out of theaters, and will be purchasing the BluRay once it's available. I own at least 3 Star Wars-themed t-shirts and a zipper hoodie, and as of this writing, I own 2-dozen video games set within the Star Wars universe. I have the final VHS release of the original trilogy (before George Lucas began changing subsequent releases with his revisionist history), I own the "special" edition DVD set, and at some point, I hope to own the original trilogy on LaserDisc. I'm holding out for a BluRay release, hoping that, at some point, Disney will decide it's worth putting out something equivalent to the original theatrical release (or at least the final VHS/LaserDisc version), though that could be a sticky Wicket (see what I did there?), if Lucas made that a stipulation of his $4 billion sale of Lucasfilm to the Disney corporation. After all, those of us "in the know" won't settle for a cut of the original film where Han Solo didn't shoot Greedo first, right? Needless to say, I'm a big fan of the Star Wars universe, characters, and mythos.
Continue reading Star Wars, 1990
When Star Wars: Dark Forces was announced as March's game of the month for the Together Retro game club at http://Racketboy.com, I wasn't quite sure how to feel. On the one hand, I was excited at the prospect of trying out a game I had never had any experience with. Certainly it had attained its Greatest Hits package because enough people liked it. Right? And plus, I was back into the swing of seriously collecting PS1 games again. So it was a great excuse to snatch this one up. But on the other hand, I'm really not a Star Wars fan. I mean, I saw the original trilogy growing up. I certainly was aware of the license. But I was never all that into it either. So I've always avoided games based on it.
Upon first firing it up, I felt a bit of relief. The truth is that I don't have all that much experience with first person shooters. I did enjoy Wolfenstein 3D and Doom during the golden age of freeware. I loved the GBA Duke Nukem sequel. But for the most part my experience with the genre was limited. So imagine my comfort when I realized that Dark Forces was cut from the same mold as Doom.
It should certainly be distinguished that Dark Forces is not quite a Doom-clone either. I mean obviously it borrows at least something from such an influential game, but it also adds a lot as well. The most impressive addition being the ability to freely look up and down, thus adding an extra layer of importance to the 3D environment.
The first few levels impressed me immensely. Even without being a Star Wars fan, there was a lot to enjoy here. The absolute high point for me with this game was the level design. Each level was amazingly well thought out and featured various puzzles or gimmicks that made them stand out. Whether it was dealing with the absence of light until getting a power generator running, or navigating through multi-level platformed mazes in a sewer, the game offered incredible levels to explore and enjoy.
Unfortunately there was one major drawback to the game that completely derailed my progress: the lack of ability to save anywhere. You see, in Dark Forces you can only save your game after you beat a level. This might be fine in a game like Doom where you can shoot your way through a level in no time. But whereas Dark Forces concentrated so heavily on mission-based levels with puzzles and mazes and other various objectives, this really hurt things. At least for me.
After spending about an hour and a half making my way through a maze-like level one evening, it got to a point where I simply had to go to bed. So that was it. I had to just hit the power switch and lose ninety minutes of progress. The slightest thought of powering up my console to replay that same ninety minutes over again just enraged me. Especially if I wasn't able to complete the level before having some other real world thing to deal with. There was no way, man. No way.
So honestly much of the month was spent with that mindset. I'd pick up Dark Forces with the intention of making some more progress. But then I'd look at the clock and figure I best just play something else instead. I figured I just didn't have the time to devote to a single level like that. Considering many (probably more recent) games of this nature my let you save your progress as you go, I'd probably do better with them. Y'know making my way through a game in baby steps.
But that got me to thinking a bit about the whole concept. I mean, is it wrong to want your game to be so flexible? I couldn't help but think back to Resident Evil with its infuriating typerwriter ribbon save system. Now certainly I don't look back on Resident Evil with any disdain, but I will say that I was thrilled that saving was a far more easy and constant prospect by the time Resident Evil 4 was released. I'm also somewhat reminded of the save-state debate that's developed since the dawn of easily attainable ROM's via the internet. While we old timers might look down on the youngin's for "cheating" by using save-states, how many of us actually have time to handle all of our day-to-day adult responsibilities and keep replaying the same dungeon over and over again? (I'm looking at you Ice Palace).
I know I've gone off on a bit of tangent here. But I guess it's nice to know that even if I didn't get a chance to really get as much gameplay enjoyment out of Dark Forces as I may have wished, at least it caused me to do some thinking.
Once upon a time, in a galaxy located somewhere in the desolate universe named Cali-Forn I. A. a then, arguably, still talented George Lucas created what was originally supposed to be a Flash Gordan movie, but somehow, people felt that Lucas was too big of a hack, even then, to give him film rights to the franchise so told him to make his own setting. And create it he did. 4 years later, in 1977, came the franchise that made being a nerd more acceptable in the form of Star Wars, the sci fi space opera story of Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress except with more implied incest and Harrison Ford shooting stupid fish men who everyone but me can understand. The nerd world rejoiced and Star Wars became a hit, a classic, and a source of milk money for Lucas.
Since then we've had Star Wars products like you wouldn't believe: lunch Boxes, costumes, toys, hell, my friend's keg was an R2-D2 replica. Crank his top and you get cheap watered down beer. Good times. Continuing this trend of getting money to support his habit of ruining my childhood, the products eventually sifted into video games and here I stand with the six hundredth title in the Star Wars video game lineup: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, or as it will be herein referred as: STFU.
STFU is a game that takes place in between episodes three and four of the movies, which in actual numbers is between the last star wars movie and the first star wars movie. The game attempts to fill in some of the gap between the two films, much to the ire of many fans. You take the role of Darth Vader's secret Jedi apprentice, Galen Marek, who is only known within the game under the moniker of Starkiller; a character who continues in the Lucas tradition of trying to make bad ass out of someone who looks like they'd been pampered all their life. Marek is essentially trained by Vader to be his assassin in eliminating the remaining Jedi until Vader feels fit to overthrow the Emperor and take his parking spot, because I guess the handicap area just isn't cutting it.
The plot sees some twists, which I thought were interesting, if not predictable. However, one thing I wish to say is that plot was actually one of the strongest elements in this game. While sometimes the plot feels a bit thin and experienced sudden inexplicable jumps within the story in cut scenes, I felt that the overall plot was better than any of the newer movies. Starkiller is a fairly likeable, if somewhat under played, character with poor dress sense and the supporting characters are all interesting, if again under played. In fact, that seems to be the first half of the problem with the plot in that while there are a lot of cool characters, but none of them seem really explored too much. For instance, the love interest between Starkiller and his pilot never seems to be explained as to how it develops outside of one cut scene. The two never really seem to spend any time together, but I can see that as understandable in that we're here to play a game, not watch a movie. Out of interest, Darth Vader's character finally comes back into being a good villain instead of anything Hayden Christiansen did with him. The biggest problem with the plot, however, is that it never really feels like you're able to change anything since the canon has already been established as to what's supposed to happen via episode four. There is an exception in that you're allowed to slightly alter the ending with a decision you're able to make within the game, but the end result is ultimately the same.
The game play consists of you taking Starkiller through a variety of very linear missions that essentially amount to: "Go from point A. to point B. through environment F. and kill subject D", while you engage enemies in hack and slash saber play with a slightly stiffer control than Devil May Cry. Controlling Star Killer is easy, and I will say that he is well enough animated and has a variety of moves to unlock, however part of the problem is that you'll never use 90% of these moves unless you just want to be fancy, as a single combo is enough to last you through the game. Infact, it's disadvantageous to use anything but this combo as the electricity benefit that goes along with it stuns your opponents preventing sudden reprisals while you recover. As such, a lot of what should be the awesome fight scenes that occur during the cut scenes boil down to you pressing square square triangle triangle until whatever you're killing is killed and killed good and trust me, there's a lot of stuff that needs to be killed out there as EVERYTHING is trying to kill you, but I'll get into that later.
To aid you in you single handedly combating an army of genetically enhanced super soldiers and fish men assholes who apparently just don't like you being on a planet they happen to be on is one of the tauted features for the game's creation; the ability to use the force in new and unprecedented ways that surely belong behind a bullet point. This amounts to you getting three abilities that can be used in a number of ways: moving objects through the force via force grip and force push and shooting lightning from your fingertips and your giant polish sausage that doubles for a light saber, since I guess a weapon that might actually cut stuff is too hard core for an assassin. So, you have all these new and revolutionary powers at your disposal! Surely these break open the flood games of creativity and give you limitless strategies and improve gaming kind for forever! Not really. Everything that is done here using the force has been done before in an under rated game called PSI-Ops and pretty much anything else that decided to be derivative of it. In fact, anything found in STFU, PSI-Ops did better and more creatively and with far fewer limits to how you could use your powers. Using the force in itself is a problem, mostly due to one of the most glaring flaws in the game. The targeting.
You will find in this game that there are MANY times you'll try and hit something or use something only to find that you're just standing there like a goon, throwing barrels into the wall instead of the giant tin man who is firing rockets into your face like it was going out of style or using your lightning ability on some part of the environment because Starkiller apparently is angry that he was rejected as Dynamo in the Imperial run version of The Running Man. Half the time even when you do have a target that is actually killable, it isn't the one you need to kill. I realize your character is supposed to be an apprentice novice assassin when you first take control of him, but logic dictates you try and kill the asshole putting fist sized holes into you with his flak cannon over the imperial officer that falls over and dies from one hit. Hitting and acquiring specific targets is almost impossible if there's a group of targets and you're just better off diving headfirst into battle and duct taping the left analog stick in the proper direction with hopes your character doesn't decide to try and attack guys that are 10 feet behind him.
Speaking of falling over, you'll find that's something the enemies like to do. They trip over a lot of stupid stuff. You'd think for elite soldiers who don't have shoe laces, they wouldn't fall all over themselves half as much as they do. "What causes this?" you may ask. Another bullet point called Euphoria AI. As advertised, they claim it makes the enemies smart by giving them sub routines that make them wish to preserve their lives and act more realistically. In reality? This makes the Empire's most deadly soldiers blundering morons who fall all over each other a third of the time, stare at walls another third of the time, and lastly pay attention to you and ONLY you for the remainder. You will find that you'll walk into an area that is a huge battle between storm troopers and the native alien species who are duking it out until they see an iota of your existence where everyone suddenly drops what they're doing and goes apeshit crazy in an attempt to club you with their rifles until you have detached retinas.
The AI also really knows how to take advantage of the flaws within the game and exploit them on the level of any fighting game tournament player. Granted, I played the game on hard to prove I'm hardcore like that because the demo was pretty easy, but there are points in the game where the computer takes advantage of things that make it very very frustrating. The third boss in this game will haunt my nightmares of hard bosses, not because he was especially difficult in terms of developing a strategy to defeat, but because of unavoidable cheap hits that because of the difficulty take off massive amounts of your life bar. For example, when you're knocked down on the ground, it takes Starkiller a few seconds to get back up at which point you're defenseless. You might as well just have a big sign on the seat of your pants that says "Insert wide load here", as you will be raped and there is nothing you can do about it. At one point during my attempts to fight this boss, he knocked me down due to an unavoidable counter that he performed. After which he used force push to blast my almost full life bar down to about 15%. There are many times in boss fights that characters have almost entirely unavoidable, unpredictable, or plain unblockable moves that take off half your life bar and if they happen, you might as well just toss your controller down and wait for your game to reload after you die. This isn't just bosses however because there's a number of segments where you are just bombarded with enemies whose families you must have murdered in their sleep as they strive to do nothing but piss you off through cheap unblockable hits, some of which come from off camera so you never knew in the first place to dodge. This is a problem considering your main means of attack is either standing still and throwing things from a distance with your force grip or moving just slightly while you whack people with your big red club to teach them they've been naughty children.
There's also a section of the game that causes some people unforeseen amounts of frustration and it's the section where you have to bring down a star cruiser with the force. The problem here isn't that the section is difficult in itself, it's that the displayed controls are misleading. Instead of indicating that you should be pushing the left analog stick to the left, it appears that you're supposed to be pushing it to 9 O'Clock, so for the first 10 or 15 minutes of doing this segment I was faced with a mystery as to what I was doing wrong exactly which leads to another problem. If you have no clue what you're supposed to be doing, this game is very unforgiving and gives very few clues as to what you're doing wrong.
Overall, the game is mediocre and causes a number of problems for a number of crowds I found. You think that this would be a dream game for die hard star wars fans, as even with all this criticism the game is still worth a play through if you're an action fan and have some patience, however they seem to take issue with the a few issues, such as the apprentice's lightsaber being a foam replica and never really doing much damage to anything in particular or just the overall idea of the plot. On the other hand, action fans may be put off with some of the unfair and bad mechanics within the game as well as the rather shallow fighting. There also isn't very much replayability to the game, because you never can really interact with any of the characters or change the fate of the apprentice. So if you're thinking of getting STFU, give it a rent first, you can probably beat it in a single sitting as it's only about 10 missions long and decide from there as it might just be best to wait till the price has been reduced.