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February 18, 2009

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iPhone – Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Review

by Master Pillow

As one of the highest profile titles to be released on the iPhone, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, has been subjected to much scrutiny. Will this be the iPhone’s killer app? The pedigree of the license cannot be called into question although there have also been many games based on this franchise that have suspect quality.

Taking place between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed puts you in control of Darth Vader’s secret apprentice tasked to hunt down and destroy the remaining Jedi. Vader also harbors deeper Machiavellian plans to overthrow the emperor and seize control of the empire and his apprentice is the tool in which his plans may come to fruition.

With a story that has more or less been blessed by creator George Lucas himself the game carries the potential of more narrative heft as it has the ability to bridge the two trilogies and fill in much needed gaps in the storyline. Then again, if you are playing solely for plot you might be better served buying the console version of the game as it fleshes things out much better than this mobile edition.

Storyline aside, what will make or break this game is not witty or revealing dialogue but rather its core game play. First off, know exactly what you are getting into here – this is a 100% on-rails action game. All the locations and settings are made up of pre-rendered, albeit, highly detailed art.

You do not control the apprentice in a traditional sense as players are given no ability to maneuver him or his limbs in any direction. Once given a short description of the current mission the apprentice will appear on screen and move in a predetermined path through the level. Players only have direct control over which force powers he employs. This is inputted using the iPhone’s touch screen and using preprogrammed finger strokes or symbols that define each individual power. For instance swiping with two fingers over the screen from left to right activates force lightning while swiping two fingers from top to bottom is force pull. Therefore, the player just needs to decide which force power to employ at any given time.

The game does make an effort to add some extra strategy by making some powers have limited range but it doesn’t take much brain power to realize which power is needed at any given time.

Enemies range from generic storm troopers to AT-AT Imperial walkers and an assortment of force users. The larger array of enemies for what amounts to a cell phone game is a plus but their AI routines seem stuck in the Neanderthal period. Storm troopers will regularly do nothing but frontal assaults or just hang back and shoot while standing rooted to one spot.

Even the bosses lack complex strategy as the way to defeat them is telegraphed too easily. Some of these are actually unintentionally funny such as the Jedi master killed by always walking under a giant Venus Fly trap mutant plant. It’s a wonder how this particular master survived this long in the first place if they are moronic enough to perpetually fight you while standing underneath a carnivorous monster.

The touch screen commands work very well and thankfully the developers don’t force the player to draw symbols too complex to activate force powers. There is a bit of a learning curve but after one level you’ll more or less have it down pat. After the successful completion of a level the apprentice usually gains at least one new force power and, with the exception of one that seems pretty useless, are needed in future levels.

However, this brings up the game’s biggest hurdle – its incredible brevity. This is one short game with only six levels. The actual playtime to complete will range from 60-75 minutes depending on your skill level and that’s including the cut scenes that advance the story.

Considering when I bought this it was $9.99 that’s a pretty hefty cost to game play ratio. Replay value is exceeding low as the difficulty level is almost non-existent. After completion you do get access to survival mode but this won’t hold your attention for more than a few extra minutes. The price has decreased since then to a more reasonable $5.99 but still that leaves the game in the higher price range on the iTunes app store.

Speaking of the story it’s completely gutted and truncated in spots as those who play the console versions can attest. This rears its ugly head in the later levels when the narrative accelerates and jumps like an out of control pogo stick that you actually are left feeling as if you might have slept through numerous cut scenes. Characters change motivations in a blink of an eye or disappear from the story entirely for no reason and the final boss fight descends upon you with no notice.

It all gives the feeling that perhaps the developers had many more levels planned for this version but had to cut things out due to time constraints. This feeling carries over to other aspects of the game. The sound effects for instance are usually one of the hallmarks of a Star Wars game and it doesn’t disappoint but it gets incredibly grating to hear the same music looping over and over. There are times that due to the pre-rendered backgrounds you can’t tell where your enemies are as there were a few screens I used force push but the enemies who were hurled offscreen took forever to walk back in range for me to get at them. Also, for a game meant to be played in short bursts on the go, I encountered a few points in the game such as a dialogue sequence before a boss fight that could not be skipped or fast-forwarded. This meant if you died you had to watch the same scene over and over again until you won. If you are pressed for time you might get extremely frustrated.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is not close to being the iPhone’s killer app. The pre-rendered graphics are pleasant on the eye and the apprentice’s 3D model is adequate enough but it still does not feel anywhere to the hype that the phone can generate Playstation One level eye-candy. The game play will work for those looking for a relaxed experience but those wanting full control of motion better look elsewhere. With a short adventure, high price and suspect replay options the game works better as a graphical demo than a true gaming experience.

** out of ****

Developed by: Universomo
Published by: THQ Wireless Inc.
Released: 9/15/2008
Version: 1.0.11
Size: 20.2 MB

© 2009 The Galactic Pillow

1 Comment Post a comment
  1. evie
    Feb 19 2009

    It sounds like a game that requires NO dexterity, yay! Finally, a game that I can play on the iphone. 🙂I think the $9.99 price tag for a 75min game is quite steep though, especially during bad times like these, but if every member of the family plays it, I guess it will be worth it. Hopefully iphone game developers will create more interactive and fun games, with a lower price tag in the future.(?)

    Reply

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