The date is September 16th, 2008. This was the day LucasArts released a game that would become beloved to both Star Wars and gaming fans alike. When many of us think of the great Star Wars games of the 2000s, we think Knights Of The Old Republic (which is now getting a remake), Star Wars: Rogue Squadron (maybe pushing it a bit as this came out originally in 1998, but it recently also got a refresh with 2020s Star Wars Squadrons), and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Notice how The Force Unleashed, or TFU, is the only game that hasn’t received a remake or proper remaster since its original release. I think that it’s a terrible shame, as TFU was one of my more prominent gaming influences while I was growing up.
I got started on The Force Unleashed later in the 7th console generation’s life. The Xbox One had been released, and Lucasarts had been shuttered by Disney. By this point, the much less beloved sequel to The Force Unleashed had been released, and following mixed reviews, the franchise had been put on hold. As a massive Star Wars fan, I hadn’t even heard of The Force Unleashed until I was scrolling through the current crop of Deals With Gold (remember when Deals and Games With Gold was an actual thing?). After scrolling for a while, I came across The Force Unleashed, and decided to drop the cash to pay for it, even though it was a fairly old game at the time. I’m so glad I did. I’d been looking for a Star Wars game to play for a while, KOTOR was too complex for my younger self, the original Battlefront games were too old, and the closest thing I’d played to a real Star Wars game was the LEGO Complete Saga. The Force Unleashed turned out to strike that perfect balance between RPG and action that I’d been looking for ever since becoming a Star Wars fan in my early years.
In The Force Unleashed, you play as Starkiller, an orphan boy that Darth Vader took from his village at a young age and trained to become his apprentice. The opening sequence is one of the most memorable parts of the game, as it showcases the force powers you’ll be learning to wield later in the game as Starkiller, while playing from Vader’s perspective also gives you backstory to Starkiller’s character in an organic way. We also get a good indication of how the future levels will work, as well as the tutorial the introduction provides on how to use and manipulate the multiple force powers you’ll learn later on.
Before the previous canon was wiped out by Disney, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was an official story that fitted in perfectly in the Star Wars universe, as it tells an engaging story that ties up a few loose ends from Revenge Of The Sith. It deals with the fallout of Order 66, where several of the Jedi have been hiding, and what Darth Vader was doing before the events of Episode IV, as well as how the rebellion was formed. This all made for a satisfying story arc that perfectly captured the Star Wars mood and really scratched the post-prequel itch before the days of Rogue One and the recently released Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The thing that I remember most from TFU is the combat. I don’t think that a Star Wars game before, or since, has captured the same sense of freedom to experiment with the force. The range of abilities that it grants you begins with a simple force push, and expands later on to grander affairs such as force lightning and lightsaber throwing. Talking of lightsabers, the hand to hand combat that this game provides feels great. The impacts are weighty, and the versatility of combos and combining force powers and lightsaber strikes keeps things fresh even after multiple playthroughs.
I remember completing TFU on multiple difficulties, and it was always the combat that kept me playing. The sheer range of abilities on offer here was and still is, astounding. Even fourteen years later, games are still struggling to create complete and complex combat systems that don’t overwhelm players or become one dimensional. The Force Unleashed achieved that in 2008, which I think is an absolute credit to its gameplay.
One of the wonders of The Force Unleashed is just how Star Wars it all feels. The game’s main theme was scored by Mark Griskey, and the sheer Star Wars feeling you get while playing is a phenomenal achievement. Even now, there are very few games outside of this one and 2017’s Star Wars Battlefront II that give the same feeling of being immersed in pure galactic bliss. Part of this is due to the excellent sound design boasted by TFU. Every blaster is heard, every lightsaber hum audible, and every slash, block and deflection Starkiller executes is clear and present.
Honestly, one of the reasons why this game feels so replayable to me is just because there’s a feeling that you, the player, are drawing a path through the Star Wars universe. It’s such a shame that Disney chose to remove the events of this game and its sequel from Canon after they acquired Lucasfilm.
Looking back to the game’s levels, I remember the Felucia level really being a highlight. The showdown with Jedi Master Shaak Ti really stands out, by making who was a fairly minor character in the films feel major, and by tying up the loose ends left by Order 66 in Revenge Of The Sith. I think that The Force Unleashed really did an amazing job of bridging the gap between Revenge Of The Sith and A New Hope, before shows such as Star Wars Rebels and Obi Wan Kenobi came in to fill the gap left by Disney’s Canon reset. The boss fight with Shaak Ti was tough, but through the flexibility of Starkiller’s abilities, the challenge is always enjoyable.
Enjoyable challenge is actually a theme that fits in with much of The Force Unleashed’s design and why it’s such a good game. Difficulty in any game is a hard thing to get right, but in The Force Unleashed, it’s less about struggling over and over again against an immovable object, and more about how you choose to address it. Do you use force lightning to stun your enemy and then sneak behind to stab them in the back? Maybe throwing your lightsaber from a distance is the best option in some scenarios. Or perhaps just a simple force push and a full frontal assault would work best? The point is, it’s completely up to you. It’s actually more fun the higher up you go on the difficulty chain, as the game then forces you to really consider what moves you’re making and what abilities you’re using. Progression through the story isn’t the only way to progress through TFU however, as there’s also a satisfyingly deep upgrade system.
The Force Unleashed is a fairly arcadey game. This doesn’t stop it from having a meaningful progression system backed up by hidden collectibles that double as cosmetics. As you progress through the galaxy, you’ll discover holocrons, both Jedi and Sith. These contain things such as force points for upgrades, lightsaber colours, and other upgrades. These force points are used to upgrade both the power and appearance of your force powers. For instance, force lightning. If you choose to upgrade force lightning to channel your inner Sidious, you’ll find that it starts off weak, almost as a single bolt. After a while, you’ll see its power increase to a stream of lightning that knocks your opponents off their feet and stuns them. This is a similar sort of upgrade that you’ll get as you collect more force points, both through holocrons and defeating enemies.
Since The Force Unleashed 3 was cancelled by Disney, I’ve been replaying The Force Unleashed every once in a while. Every time I play it, it really shows how ahead of its time the game was, as its systems remind of systems that came to be much, much later on, such as the varied and choice-centric combat system. It’s also just such a blast to play, whether you choose to play by being a lightning wielding demon, or a force pushing, telekinetically throwing monster of a Sith. Honestly, it never stops being fun blazing through a group of Stormtroopers as Starkiller, and TFU is just so Star Wars that it’s made me want to go and watch through them all again!
Go and play Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, it’ll make you question its age over and over again as you slash through hordes of enemies, living up to your character’s name.
You can pick up Star Wars: The Force Unleashed by visiting the Xbox Store. Thanks to the power of Xbox and backwards compatibility, you can be playing it on your Xbox One or Xbox Series X|S.