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TVG cowers at the feet of the voice-boxed Sith lord while trying not to laugh at his slightly camp cloak...
We've recently been lucky enough to have a look at LucasArts' latest Star Wars project, The Force Unleashed. As well as a handy first look at the game on Xbox 360 and PS3, there was also the chance to get some hands on with the Wii version. The hope was that the Australia based dev team for the Wii version, Krome Studios, had nailed the lightsaber controls for the perfectly suited Wii Remote. We'd get the chance to check this out a little bit later, but initially we were treated to our first look on the Xbox 360 and PS3...
The demo that the LucasArts team took us through exhibited some gameplay footage of a few of the levels, as well as some of the game's lavish cut-scenes that drive along what seemed to be a quite enthralling story. It all starts on the Wookie home-world of Kashyyyk where Darth Vader has been dispatched to eliminate one of the few remaining Jedi following Order 66.
It's an interesting looking first level where you're treated to the full inventory of Vader's powers such as force pushes, lightsaber throws, and force chokes at the start of the game. Rarely in a Star Wars game of this kind have you been treated to so much power on the first level. This game will not be seen through Vader's eyes though, and it's at the end of the level that one of the first twists in the story takes place.
WARNING: Potential Spoilers
In the cut-scene at the end of this first level, Vader has tracked down the renegade Jedi and is holding him in a force choke. He says, "I sense a much more powerful force nearby. Where are you master?" The Jedi insists that Vader killed his master years ago, but the heavy breathing Sith lord is having none of it. At this moment, the camera pans to a small child behind Vader who's brandishing a lightsaber that's far too big for him. The Jedi Knight shouts "Run!" to his son, and Vader promptly kills him while the camera focuses on the petrified face of the kid. The child's face is then aged before you in the cut-scene by 10 or 15 years. Now a teenager, he has become Vader's secret apprentice who sends him on Jedi killing errands across the galaxy, and this forms the basic format of SW: TFU's levels.
The second level we saw featured two opposing factions - stormtroopers and rebellion soldiers - and the apprentice's task was to fight both factions and leave none alive, lest the Emperor sense his presence. This culminates in a boss battle against one of the rogue Jedi (in this case Master Kota) who's finished off in an interactive cut-scene. In our SW: TFU Q&A, LucasArts' Adam Kahn assured us that this kind of structure is prevalent throughout the game's levels, with most of them concluding in a Jedi boss battle of sorts.
We were also shown a cut-scene towards the end of game, which certainly demonstrates some treacherous darkside drama. Upon returning to Vader after a mission, the more-machine-than-man Sith suddenly plunges a lightsaber into the boy's stomach. While this might seem like a mindless waste of midichlorians, it soon becomes apparent (when the Emperor turns up on the scene) that the apprentice was followed by spies, leaving Vader little choice. The Emperor scolds Lord Vader for his treachery and warns him not to do it again (a bit too much like a Headmaster for our liking) while the young apprentice doubles over in pain on the floor.
LucasArts Reps wouldn't tell us whether the apprentice dies or not and also assured us that there are more twists and turns in the story after this scene, so it certainly sounds like there's more substance to come from this particular cliff-hanger. Either way, the story certainly looks set to add an interesting chapter to the extended Star Wars universe.
Unleashing The Force
LucasArts were also keen to show-off some of their tech for the 360/PS3 versions of the game. First up was Pixelux's Digital Molecule Matter (DMM). Put simply, this models the different materials in destructible objects so that they behave as they would in the real physical world. Wood splinters and cracks, metal creaks and bends, while glass shatters violently. During the first level, a scripted event saw Darth Vader using his force powers to blow apart a large wooden gateway on Kashyyyk. You could clearly see DMM at work because although the section was scripted, the animations of the gateway demolishing obviously were not. Shards of timber shot off in all directions and metal contorted at uncomfortable looking angles. Later on in the demonstration, we saw the apprentice use his force powers to bend a metal girder into the path of a tie fighter with explosive consequences.
DMM appears to compliment Star Wars' infamous force powers very well, and this is also the case for Natural Motion's Euphoria technology. Most of you will know the capabilities of this tech from GTA IV where it powers some of the unpredictable behaviour you see in NPCs across Liberty City. However, in SW: TFU it adds realism to your force powers as you pickup flailing, Euphoria driven stormtroopers and hurtle them at whatever you please (e.g. other stormtroopers, explosive barrels, into abysses etc.).
Hands On With The Wii
While LucasArts is working on the next-gen versions of SW: TFU in-house, it has outsourced to Australian developer Krome Studios for the Wii, PS2, and PSP versions of the game. You certainly shouldn't expect any of the lavish next-gen tech mentioned above to appear in Krome's builds. However, the developer is building simplified versions of the mechanics at work on the Xbox 360 and PS3 games and appears to be doing a very good job of it.
The story on the Wii and PS2 games follows roughly the same path as the next-gen games, and there are even some exclusive levels for these versions as well (e.g. a boss battle with the Sith ghost, Darth Desolous). We got a chance to go hands on with the Wii version's first level featuring the apprentice. While the force power options weren't quite as extensive as we saw in the next-gen demo, they did feel like a good approximation of their bigger brother. You can grab hold of enemy NPCs and hold them in the air before propelling them across the room, while the physics behind this did behave fairly believably for what is essentially previous-gen technology. Additionally, force lightning and lightsaber throws were also included, as well as a chargeable Maelstrom attacks that lift enemies clean off the ground.
However, we know that you all want to find out whether the game makes the Wii Remote feel like a lightsaber and, unfortunately, we're going to have to disappoint you here. While the control setup is certainly functional on the early build we played, it didn't feel intuitive to the point that you had visceral control of the saber on screen. Instead, four basic swipes of the Wii Remote (up, down, left, and right) are linked to separate lightsaber attacks. The direction of those swipes does relate to the resulting move a little (e.g. if you swipe upwards then you'll perform a combo that launches your enemy into the air), but to say that it made us feel like a lightsaber wielding apprentice of Darth Vader would be a bit of an overstatement. At this stage, we're left hoping that Krome Studios will add to this configuration in the coming months to make it feel a bit more immersive.
That said, there are some interesting uses of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk for other force powers. For example, thrusting the Nunchuk forward performs a force push, while the A button performs a few moves such as lightsaber guard (if you tilt the Wii Remote simultaneously), sabre throws (if you thrust the Wii Remote forward), or a force dash if held by itself. Other controls include the C button for force lightning, while holding the Z button charges a force push and tapping it allows you to select which objects or enemies you want to pickup and hurl about.
Although there aren't any multiplayer features on the next-gen games, Krome has squeezed an interesting Duel mode onto the Wii and PS2. This is basically a standard fighting game with all the trimmings of lightsabers and the force. The arenas you'll play in have objects strewn about the place which you can pick up and throw at your adversary. You'll also find occasional power-ups that make the game a bit more dynamic, but don't expect the lightsaber controls to be any more complex than the single-player experience. The force powers and combo moves from the single-player game are also in the Duel mode and if you both perform lightning attacks (for example) at the same time then you can get locked in combat. The quickest person to rotate their Nunchuk in time with the on-screen prompts breaks the holdout and electrocutes their opponent.
The character list is taken from the game itself as well as the Star Wars motion pictures. Luke and Anakin Skywalker are there; as is Mace Windu, Darth Vader, and the game's protagonist in a variety of different outfits. Each of these characters has strengths and weaknesses in their various abilities such as lightsaber skills, force lightning attacks, and force push, so be sure to chose carefully before a fight.
Visually, there is quite an extensive graphical gulf between Krome's Wii game and the next-gen titles, but this is to be expected. While we haven't seen the PS2 game yet, suffice to say that the Wii version does look like a PS2 game from the days of old. It wouldn't be surprising if the builds for both consoles are very similar and the biggest difference lies in the control setup rather than presentation.