Of all the Star Wars stories to grace gaming, few have ever had the balls to kick off their in-universe story by letting you choke Wookies as Darth Vader than the industry’s last original single-player Star Wars universe game: The Force Unleashed. Released for all major platforms in 2008 before later coming to PC a year later, this hack and slash action adventure game sought to fill in the gap between episodes III and IV, long before Disney so kindly graced us with Star Wars Rogue One or Solo: A Star Wars story.
The reception to LucasArts’ canon-compliant Star Wars game was released to middling reception at the time, but has since gone on to gain a significant cult following. Casting you in the role of Darth Vader’s previously-unknown secret dark apprentice Starkiller, it was so refreshing to experience a tale in everyone’s favourite galaxy far, far away from the perspective of the dark side. A tact which seemingly looks to have been carried over in DICE’s upcoming Battlefront II, The Force Unleashed was way ahead of its time in this regard.
The rare example of a third-person action game that doesn’t solely rely on cover, The Force Unleashed instead brilliantly understands that as a preliminary member of the Sith, business is best handled up close and personal. Starkiller can leap, dash, and spring about the screen from stormtrooper to stormtrooper, using every Jedi’s iconic weapon of choice the lightsabre to great effect. Combat could often be boiled down to mere “button mashing” at times sure, but it never takes away from the fact that you always feel (and look) like a badass doing it.
In terms of story and setting, The Force Unleashed can at least be called ambitious. Tasking you to work behind enemy lines to do the secret bidding of the dark lord, your mission will take you on a fruitful journey that features an eclectic mix of planets that expertly balances the new and familiar. Starting off on the Wookie home world of Kashyyyk, continuing onto to the new planet of Raxus Prime to track down an old Jedi master, before ultimately concluding on the Death Star, The Force Unleashed keeps everything outside of its enemies varied.
Developed prior to Disney’s decision to purge the Star Wars extended universe which remained canon prior to The Force Awakens, creating a narrative that cohesively tucked in neatly in between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope was a tall task, but also an honour. The route LucasArts ultimately decided to take explored the formation of the rebel alliance as we knew it as by Episode IV, featuring fan-favourite characters like Mon Mothma, Bail Organa, and even his daughter Leia. There were two endings, but both felt fulfilling. This would later change with the sub-par sequel, but taken in its own right, The Force Unleashed weaved an interesting narrative with a beginning, middle, and end.
In the wake of EA’s decision to shut down Visceral and its corresponding original Star Wars game, who knows when we’ll be likely to see something to the same effect, with similar ambition, budget, and impact? The Force Unleashed may not have been perfect, but it served to wet the appetites of all Star Wars fans hungry for original interactive content during a time when we thought big screen entries were no more. May The Force Unleashed be with us, always.