In 2007, the hotly anticipated Star Wars video game The Force Unleashed debuted its epic trailer at that year’s E3 convention. This trailer’s most notable feature was the amazing and dramatic footage of an anonymous Force-wielding character bringing a huge Star Destroyer crashing to the ground using only the Force.
It definitely impressed me, and I made a mental note that I was going to play this game.
I recently had a chance to play a version of this game that included this mission (previously, I had played the Wii version, which was cool because you got to wave the wand like a lightsaber and things like Force Push actually required a push action, but the Star Destroyer battle was omitted), and found myself immediately in two minds about it.
While I don’t think this battle was the unmitigated disaster that so many people on the internet seem to have written it off as, it wasn’t the jaw-dropping teeth-clenching awe-inspiring life-defining battle it had been built up as. Here are a few reasons why.
Unleashing the Force… and then running away
This is the concept art for the sequence. Notice the confidence of the Sith Lord in the picture.
Remember the trailer. He didn’t run. He was in absolute control of the situation, which was all sorts of incredible cool that had Star Wars geeks and action gamers alike foaming at the mouth.
Now watch what happens in the XBox 360 and PS3 versions of the game:
While bringing down a Star Destroyer with just your mind is undoubtedly cool, running away from it as it crashes (while admittedly more realistic) does not quite smack of the invincible-dark-side-god-of-war-type adventure the trailer promised.
You almost get the impression that turning to the light side has made the Apprentice a complete wuss… which is kind of the opposite reaction to what was hoped for.
For those with the Wii version or PS2 version of the game, however, you don’t get to do the battle, but you do get to pretend your character is a lot cooler:
I wonder why that is. Running away (or not) clearly has nothing to do with the main character’s development, as the story is essentially the same in all game versions.
I can’t help but wonder if it’s a dig at the player: you’re not as cool as your avatar is. And, true enough, the dark side apprentice does most of his more awesome moves when the input from the gamer is minimal… or zero.
Either way, this is reason one that the Star Destroyer sequence didn’t quite measure up to expectations.
Unleashing the Force… and twiddling your thumbs
The Star Destroyer is the biggest boss in the entire history of Star Wars games (unless you include the X-Wing v Tie Fighter expansion, which featured a Super Star Destroyer). It might even be the largest enemy ever faced in an action video game ever.
Needless to say, gamers were expecting an epic battle.
This article (and the following comments) contains some interesting points on why the gameplay of this battle didn’t measure up to expectations. Some of the following ideas were developed from this article.
The entirety of the sequence involves dealing with periodic waves of six TIE fighters as they lash the narrow bridge you’re standing on, and then using Force Grip on the Star Destroyer to manoeuvre it into prime position for a take-down. To do this, you rotate the thumbsticks according to onscreen prompts.
There are a few bizarre things about this battle that I would like to go into briefly.
1. Not overwhelming – predictable pattern bosses
It kind of vaguely made sense in the original Star Wars when the Empire only sent four TIE fighters after the Millenium Falcon: they wanted to find the Rebel base. Okay, fine. But a Star Destroyer has, clearly, hundreds of TIEs at its disposal. Why only send six out at a time? Why not unleash everything you have against this dangerous enemy all at once, overwhelming him rather than annoying him?
Bosses that move to predictable patterns are prevalent in video games for two reasons. One is that they are easier to program, and that’s an important aspect of any game that’s on a timeframe/budget. The second is that the boss needs to be beatable, and this is the most obvious Achilles’ Heel.
Not only does the Star Destroyer send out six (no more, no less) fighters at a time to deal with an increasingly pesky enemy, but those fighters actually weave a consistent and predictable figure eight pattern in front of the character. Never do they fly overhead. Never do they go behind him or surround him. No, they just weave a nice figure eight and let themselves be easily blown out of the sky. Even the sixth pilot to die continues his nice easy weaving pattern, apparently not at all concerned that this predictability has cost his wingmates their lives.
2. Not dangerous – impotent boss
It’s not unusual for boss fights to feature endlessly spawning minions. This is especially the case in RPGs like the Final Fantasy games, and is more often than not an artificial way to extend the length of a battle. An obvious attempt to make it feel more epic.
But in these battles, the minions are typically annoyances, while the boss himself is still the most dangerous foe.
One would think that a Star Destroyer would, with any one of its many many massive guns, be able to unleash electric hell on any narrow platform, let alone the Sith himself. But when I battled this Star Destroyer, it let loose a single laser bolt every few seconds, but never even came close to hitting the walkway, let alone my character. Clearly an impotent light show.
Thus, when you finally bring it crashing down to the ground, you can’t help but wonder if it would/could have done any damage had you left it up there indefinitely. It does take away quite a lot from the accomplishment when it was never able to hurt you anyway.
3. Straight over the plate
The strangest and most-widely-hated element of this battle was the fiddly nature of aligning the Star Destroyer perfectly before you could pull it down. Initially side-on to the Apprentice, he needed to get it facing him before he could pull it down.
Again, this smacks of artificial battle-lengthening. As one of the commenters on the above-linked article astutely mentioned:
Why couldn’t they have just let you pull the stupid thing out of the sky without getting it in the right orientation? If I could pull a 1000 meter long object OUT OF THE FRIGGIN SKY … I do not think I would worry about what way it was facing.
It’s a valid point.
4. A change of pace
The Force Unleashed is a fast-paced game. You don’t need cover (mostly); in fact, if you run full-tilt towards your enemy, throwing Force power after Force power at them, you’ll more than likely prevail. Finesse and delicate controls are not elements of combat in this game.
And yet, when faced with a Star Destroyer, the single largest foe of the game, in a situation where pure sledgehammer violence, blunt force trauma, is needed, the game demands you engage in a fiddly orientation minigame.
An incredibly counter-intuitive thing, and I don’t think it really worked ideally.
Unleashing the Force
An epic battle is a hard thing to put together. Designing the set for this battle would have been incredibly intimidating, especially given the incredible expectations surrounding it.
And they didn’t do a terrible job. It just didn’t meet the (possibly impossible) standards set by the awesome trailer.
My suggestion #1
But that said, I would have liked a bit more danger from the Star Destroyer. I would have liked to have been able to use the Force to weld shut its hangar bay doors so it couldn’t send fighters after me, and then I would have liked to have ripped off every one of its guns and shield generators. Disabled its escape pods. Sent the reactor into overdrive. And THEN brought it crashing down.
Also, though occasionally offering a taste of the visceral excitement of pulling a huge object from the sky through shrieking metal sounds and controller vibration, the actual control manipulation required is very delicate, and pulls against the sledgehammer nature of the battle. I would much rather the controls demand holding down five or six buttons at once for the actual pull-down.
Also, I want to be wicked difficult, like it should be. Pulling down a Star Destroyer should get the Empire to send everything it has my way, on land, sea and air, in a desperate attempt to overwhelm me before I destroy a huge asset like that.
My suggestion #2
Or, have an on-foot mission on board a Star Destroyer, in which you clear it of enemy troops. Immediately following this is another on-foot mission on the planet the SD was orbiting, and a sequence where you bring the abandoned Star Destroyer down upon an Imperial city, causing massive carnage that way.
Just like in the concept art.
There would be a case for fiddly alignment there, and the battle could be accompanied by waves of enemies charging at you across the ground.
This would be truly epic destruction, and would really feel as if the Force had been unleashed.
I’ve got my fingers crossed for a rematch in The Force Unleashed II.