Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
) is a 2008 LucasArts video game
and part of the The Force Unleashed multimedia
project; other TFU
project developers and publishers include Dark Horse Comics
, and Del Rey Books
. The project bridges the two Star Wars
trilogies and introduces a new protagonist, Starkiller
, as Sith Lord Darth Vader
's secret apprentice.
The game's development spanned four years and involved substantial collaboration between LucasArts and Industrial Light & Magic. The Force Unleashed was developed for the PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, and Xbox 360 consoles and on the iPhone OS, second-generation N-Gage, Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable, and Java-equipped mobile phone handhelds. The game was released in North America on September 16, 2008; in Australia and Southeast Asia on September 17, 2008; and in Europe on September 19, 2008. A PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 demo became available for download on August 21 and LucasArts plans to offer downloadable content for the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions. Reviews offered mixed response, praising TFU for its compelling story, robust physics, and impressive art, but also citing frustrations with gameplay. Despite these mixed reviews, the game was a bestseller in the United States and Australia.
Game planning began in summer 2004. Initially, about six developers started with a "clean slate" to conceptualize a new Star Wars
game; the small group of engineers, artists
, and designers
spent more than a year brainstorming
ideas for what might make a good game. Over 100 initial concepts were whittled down to 20 to 25 that included making the game the third entry in the Knights of the Old Republic
series or having the protagonist be a Wookiee
", Darth Maul
, a bounty hunter
, a smuggler
, a "gadget-wielding mercenary
", or "the last Skywalker
". The decision to focus on the period between Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
and Episode IV: A New Hope
helped energize the design team. Consumer feedback helped the developers narrow in on seven concepts, and elements from those seven went into The Force Unleashed
s overall concept.
Production was greatly aided by the generation of a large amount of concept art, which was intended to visually bridge the two Star Wars trilogies, convey the impression of a "lived-in" universe, show how the galaxy changes under Imperial rule, and to seem familiar yet new. An off-hand comment about the Force in the game being powerful enough "to pull a Star Destroyer out of the sky" inspired an image by senior concept artist Amy Beth Christenson that became an important part of the developers' idea pitches and evolved into a major moment in the game. These illustrations also inspired the creation of dozens of simple, three-dimensional animations. Eventually, a one-minute previsualization video highlighting the idea of "kicking someone's ass with the Force" helped convince the designers that The Force Unleashed would be "a great game"; Star Wars creator George Lucas, upon seeing the one-minute video, told the designers to "go make that game". Once the concept of creating a "third-person action game with over-the-top Force powers" was solidified, the development team grew from ten to twenty people. The idea of "reimagining" the Force as "amped up" in The Force Unleashed aligned with LucasArts' overall goal of harnessing the power of the latest video game consoles to "dramatically" change gaming, specifically through the use of simulation-based gameplay.
In April 2005, after "several months" of planning, the LucasArts team received Lucas' encouragement to create a game centered on Darth Vader's secret apprentice in the largely unexplored period between Revenge of the Sith
and A New Hope
, "trying to draw the two trilogies together". LucasArts spent six months developing the story. Lucas spent hours discussing with the developers the relationship between Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine
and provided feedback on what Vader would want out of and how he would motivate an apprentice. Lucas Licensing reviewed many game details to ensure they fit into canon
. Focus group
feedback indicated that, while hunting down Jedi
at Vader's order would be fun, the character should be redeemed, in keeping with a major Star Wars
motif. Although the game introduces new characters, developers felt the presence of characters already part of Star Wars
would help "ground" the game within that continuity.
Engine and physics
During pre-production, about 30 people were on the project team. LucasArts spent a "few years" developing the tools and technology to create The Force Unleashed
. Prototyping, level construction, marketing, and public relations took about a year. Until late 2006, the production team was ascertaining "how many polygons, lights, [and] characters" next-generation platforms supported; a year of full production began in early 2007. A series of quickly-produced "play blast" videos helped the developers focus on mechanics, the user interface, and finishing moves. Development of the Xbox 360 version came first; PlayStation 3 development started when the production team had enough development kits. Making the game to run on both the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 was "a monumental task".
The game is based on LucasArts' proprietary "Ronin" game engine but also integrates third-party technology: Havok for rigid body physics, Pixelux Entertainment's "Digital Molecular Matter" (DMM) for dynamically destructible objects, and NaturalMotion's Euphoria for realistic non-player character artificial intelligence. LucasArts' programmers had to overcome technical hurdles to get Havok-, DMM- and Euphoria-coded components to interact. Developers also had to strike a balance between realistic and entertaining physics. LucasArts opted not to develop a personal computer version of The Force Unleashed because doing the game well would be too processor-intensive for typical PCs; scaling down the game's procedural physics for the PC platform would have "fundamentally" changed The Force Unleasheds gameplay.
Lacking Havok, Euphoria, and DMM, Krome's Wii version relies on the company's in-house physics engine. Some character animations may be ragdoll while others are preset; in developing the game, Krome tried to keep the distinction between the two "blurred". The lighting system in the Wii version is more advanced than that in the PS2 version, which Krome also built; the PS2 includes more graphic details than their PSP version.
ILM collaboration and cast performance
The Force Unleashed is intended to make players think they are "actually, finally, in a Star Wars movie". It is the first game on which LucasArts and Industrial Light & Magic collaborated since they both relocated to the Letterman Digital Arts Center in San Francisco, California. This collaboration allowed the companies to co-develop tools to make film-quality effects. LucasArts worked with ILM's Zeno tool framework and helped ILM build its Zed game editor. Lucas said having the two companies working together "under the same roof" was "a great collaboration".
It took Senior Manager of Voice and Audio Darragh O'Farrell four months to cast The Force Unleashed. ILM's face- and motion-capture "CloneCam" technology recorded actors' voice and physical performances. This led to a change in LucasArts' casting process: for the first time, actors needed to match characters' age and gender. Actors performed their lines together, rather than in isolation, to better "get the sense" of their characters interacting with each other. Consequently, the script's dialogue was reduced while reliance on characters' expressions — captured through the CloneCam — increased.
LucasArts music supervisor Jesse Harlin said the music matches the game's motif of redemption and goal of bridging the gap between Revenge of the Sith
and A New Hope
The game's soundtrack includes material composed by John Williams for the films in addition to material created specifically for The Force Unleashed. The 90-minute soundtrack was recorded by the Skywalker Symphony Orchestra and mixed at Skywalker Sound in Lucas Valley (near Nicasio, CA in September and October 2007. During gameplay, a proprietary engine combines certain "musical elements according to the pace, plot, and environment of the game at any given moment", resulting in a unique musical experience.
Two weeks after the game's release, LucasArts announced development on two downloadable expansion packs
that will be available via the PlayStation Network
and Xbox Live
. The first expansion will add "skins
" that allow the player's character to appear as a Star Wars
figure other than Starkiller. The skins chosen to be part of the expansion were based in part on what the developers "heard from fans". The second expansion pack will add a new mission to The Force Unleashed
. Although a moment in the game's main story was considered as a "jumping off point" for the expansion, LucasArts decided instead to make the new mission instantly accessible to players. The mission's location — the Jedi Temple
— appears in the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable versions of The Force Unleashed
, but was cut during planning from the PS3 and Xbox 360 platforms.
The game is intended to be "easy to pick up and play"; the development team included "horrible" gamers to help ensure the game's accessibility. Players can "play it easy" and "run and gun
" through the game, but those who take a stealthy, more tactical approach "will be rewarded". To help keep the game accessible, the main character automatically blocks with his lightsaber
some weapons fire; manually deflecting fire can become advantageous in battles. Developers treated the main character's lightsaber like another Force power, and wanted to ensure "something visceral and cool" happened with each button-push. The game has a combo
system for stringing lightsaber attacks and for combining lightsaber attacks with Force powers. The game includes enemies that are easy to overcome; game difficulty arises from presenting these enemies in "overwhelming" numbers that can wear down the player's character. The enemies, which number over 50, have various strengths and weaknesses; developers faced the difficulty of effectively placing them throughout the game's varied environments. Additionally, enemies learn from the player's character's attacks; using the same attack on different characters can sometimes lead to the player's character doing less damage. Experience points
earned by killing enemies and finding artifacts can be used to increase Starkiller's powers and traits.
The game's developers wanted each platform to offer players a distinct, "unleashed" experience. Some gameplay elements were not ported to all platforms because of each platform's differing features. For example, the Wii's "social experience" led to the design of that version's two-player duel mode. Although the story and characters are consistent across all platforms, specific details vary between them; the opening level on Kashyyyk
is a daytime attack on the Xbox 360 and the PS3, while the Wii, PSP and PS2 depictions happen at night with different levels. LucasArts plans to offer downloadable expansions for both the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions: one content package will make characters other than Starkiller playable throughout the game, and a later package will add a new mission. The Wii, PlayStation 2, and PSP versions, all developed by Krome Studios
, allow the player's character to participate in Jedi trials, encountering the spirits of long-dead Jedi. The Wii version uses the Wii Remote
to simulate the ability to wield a lightsaber
, while the Nunchuk attachment will simulate Force power use. In addition to duel mode, the Wii version also includes five levels not included in the Xbox 360 or PS3 versions. The PlayStation Portable version features an exclusive "historic mode" that allows players to reenact five battles and events from the Star Wars
films as well as multiplayer for up to four players. The Nintendo DS version, developed by n-Space
, allows players to use the stylus to input a chain of lightsaber effects combined with Force powers. THQ
's Universomo studio developed mobile phone, iPod Touch and iPhone, and N-Gage versions of The Force Unleashed
that is "very different" from other platforms', but still tells a story about Darth Vader's secret apprentice. These games feature a "CellWeaver" gesture system: each enemy has a symbol above its head that corresponds to a "gesture" or button combination that controls the player's character's attack.
Before the game's release, Lucasfilm
claimed it would "unveil new revelations about the Star Wars
galaxy" with a motif of "redemption". The story progresses through a combination of scripted events, in-game cinematics, cutscenes, and dialogue.
The game, set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, begins with the player controlling Darth Vader (voiced by Matt Sloan) and searching Kashyyyk for a surviving Jedi. Vader discovers the Jedi's Force-strong child, whom he raises as his secret apprentice (voiced by Samuel Witwer), unknown to Emperor Palpatine (also voiced by Witwer). Upon reaching adulthood, Vader sends the apprentice (known as "Starkiller", and whom the player now controls) to hunt down the remaining Jedi as training for his ultimate goal: assassinating the Emperor. However, the Emperor's spies discover Starkiller's existence and the Emperor forces Vader to kill the apprentice; Vader hurls Starkiller into space, but secretly dispatches droids to retrieve and revive him. Vader gives his apprentice a new mission: to make contact with those who resist the Emperor's rule and foster a rebellion among them to distract the Emperor so Vader can make his move. Breaking into various Imperial facilities, Starkiller rescues love interest and Rogue Shadow pilot Juno Eclipse (voiced by Nathalie Cox), Jedi Master Rahm Kota (voiced by Cully Fredericksen), Princess Leia Organa (voiced by Catherine Taber), and Senator Bail Organa (voiced by Jimmy Smits). In the process, Starkiller learns from Kota about the Jedi way and ultimately spares the life of Jedi apprentice Maris Brood (voiced by Adrienne Wilkinson), despite her fall to the dark side. Starkiller travels between missions aboard the Rogue Shadow, whose crew develops a "kinship" despite their initially "dark" agenda.
Senators Bail Organa, Mon Mothma, and Garm Bel Iblis meet to plan a rebellion against the Empire, but are interrupted when Darth Vader arrests them and Kota. Vader attacks Starkiller and reveals that Starkiller was never meant to overthrow the Emperor; from the beginning, he was the Emperor's tool to expose his enemies. Surviving Vader's attack, Starkiller uses the Force to ascertain the senators' location: the Death Star. Inside the station, Starkiller duels against Darth Vader. Kota attempts to fight the Emperor, but is blasted by the Emperor's Force lightning. At this point, the player chooses to either seek revenge and kill Vader or save Kota from the Emperor:
- If the player attacks and defeats the Emperor, Kota prevents Starkiller from killing Palpatine in hatred. Starkiller absorbs the Emperor's renewed attack while Kota and the senators escape aboard the Rogue Shadow, but soon is killed. The Emperor and Vader look over his corpse, concerned that in death he has become a martyr to inspire the newly formed Alliance to Restore the Republic. Senator Organa and the others agree to go ahead with their rebellion and Leia decides to use Marek family crest as the symbol of the Rebel Alliance. This is the canon ending.
- If the player attacks and kills Vader, the Emperor offers to let Starkiller take Vader's place as his apprentice if Starkiller proves himself by killing Kota. Starkiller instead attacks the Emperor, who crushes Starkiller with the Rogue Shadow. The story ends with Starkiller's broken body being grafted with armor so he can serve as the Emperor's assassin until Palpatine finds a new apprentice.
Cast and characters
- Samuel Witwer as Starkiller - The child of two Jedi, Starkiller becomes Darth Vader's secret apprentice and is dispatched by his master to kill the Jedi who survived Palpatine's Jedi purge. Although acting as a villain, Starkiller is "really just [a] damaged kid". Developers decided not to give Starkiller a name in the game, but the novelization gives his name as Galen Marek. Although Starkiller starts as Vader's apprentice, a focus of the game is to allow the character to evolve into "something more heroic, something greater". Witwer secured the role by demonstrating to developers his deep understanding of the character; in portraying Starkiller, Witwer brought many new ideas about the character and imbued him with a sense of humanity. Developers tried to make Starkiller not so evil that players would have difficulty connecting to him. The Force Unleasheds character's name is a homage to "Annikin Starkiller", the original name of the character that eventually became Luke Skywalker.
- Matt Sloan as Darth Vader - Starkiller's master, who discovers Starkiller as a child and raised him. In addition to dispatching Starkiller to kill the remaining Jedi, Vader also presents plans to unite with Starkiller to overthrow the Emperor, although there are "twists and turns" in this scheme. The events depicted in The Force Unleashed are "pivotal" to Darth Vader's history and development.
- Nathalie Cox as Juno Eclipse - Rogue Shadows pilot and Starkiller's love interest. Eclipse was not originally part of the game; early concepts had the apprentice as an older character who develops a connection with a young Princess Leia. Lucas, uncomfortable with this idea, encouraged the developers to create a love interest. The apprentice, who has had limited interaction with women when the game begins, does not at first know how to act around her. Her introduction early in the game allows the relationship with Starkiller to develop, and her inclusion helps "recapture that rich ensemble feel of the original Star Wars". According to Sean Williams, who wrote the novelization, the romantic storyline is the key to The Force Unleashed. The name "Juno Eclipse" was originally proposed as a name for the character eventually called "Asajj Ventress" — it was rejected for Ventress as insufficiently villainous. The Force Unleashed project lead Haden Blackman brought the name back for the mythic quality of the name "Juno" and the duality suggested by an "eclipse". Cox, in addition to strongly resembling the character's concept art, had "integrity and poise" appropriate to Juno Eclipse that helped the actor secure the role.
- Cully Fredericksen as General Rahm Kota - A Jedi Master who provides Starkiller with additional insight into the Force. Developers realized early that Starkiller would require insight into the Force from someone other than Darth Vader; after rejecting the idea of this coming from the spirit of Qui-Gon Jinn or some version of Darth Plagueis, they decided to fill this role with one of the Starkiller's Jedi opponents. The character was conceived as a "tough-as-nails" contrast to Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Senior concept artist Amy Beth Christianson drew upon samurai influences for Kota's appearance. The character changed little after being conceived; Fredericksen's own traits made the character tougher. Fredericksen was the first actor cast for the project.
- Adrienne Wilkinson as Maris Brood - A Zabrak survivor of the Jedi Purge and Shaak Ti's apprentice. The character as originally conceived went on to become a pirate captain, and Christianson's early art included Brood's lightsaber tonfas. Wilkinson brought "strength" to her performance, leading to an expansion of the role with more dialogue.
- David Collins as PROXY - Starkiller's droid sidekick. Collins said PROXY has "the innocence of Threepio" but also is "really dangerous". The companion trade paperback describes the conflict between PROXY's primary programming to kill Starkiller and its self-imposed desire to help him; PROXY is eager to please Starkiller, but does not know how dangerous it can be or that there is a conflict between its programming and Starkiller's wishes. Trying to avoid having PROXY's dialogue become too reminiscent of either C-3PO or the villainous HK-47 of Knights of the Old Republic, developers focused on PROXY's friendly naïvete.
- Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa - Galactic Senator from Alderaan and Leia Organa's adoptive father who is voiced by the same Emmy Award-winning actor who portrayed the character in Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.
Other performances come from Susan Eisenberg as Shaak Ti and Catherine Taber as Princess Leia Organa. In addition to voicing Starkiller, Witwer also provided the voice of Emperor Palpatine.
PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
The Force Unleashed
received mixed reviews. Electronic Gaming Monthly
called the game "an ambitious--yet ultimately dissatisfying--effort"; however, GameSpot
said the game "gets more right than it does wrong". While Official Xbox Magazine
cited the game's linear gameplay and lack of multiplayer
as reasons The Force Unleashed
feels "more videogame-y and less of an all-engrossing Star Wars
experience", GameSpot found the game's story to be "more intimate and more powerful" than the Star Wars
franchise's prequel trilogy. X-Play
identified the game's story as "one of the few bright spots" in a game that "falls pretty short of good". IGN
praised the game's voice acting
, particularly Witwer's performance as Starkiller. The Washington Times
identified Mark Griskey
's soundtrack as "another star" of the game, and Tracksounds called it "the most entertaining Star Wars score since Return of the Jedi
gamesTM suggested that "by even allowing the choice between simple hack-and-slash gameplay and the more complex mix-up combos, LucasArts has ensured that many will never view the title's full potential". X-Play asserts the game's visuals successfully convey Star Wars ' "classic used universe" feel. GamePro said The Force Unleashed has "cool powers", "elaborate physics" and "beautiful graphics", but also cited "uneven" combat design and "disappointing" boss battles. IGN and X-Play joined other reviewers in criticizing some boss battles and enemies' behavior, although both GameSpot and IGN said the last two boss battles are satisfying. Rather than feeling more powerful as the game progresses, GamePro felt that increases in Starkiller's powers were dampened by increasingly difficult enemy abilities and positions; X-Play commented that despite a "nice" level-up system, Starkiller and his enemies are "pretty much on even ground most of the time". Wired.com, X-Play, and GameSpot criticized the game's third-person camera and the sequence that requires the player to make Starkiller pull a Star Destroyer out of the sky. Wired.com speculated that LucasArts could have recognized the frustration of the Star Destroyer sequence and removed it, but left it in because they hyped the sequence before the game's release. Wired.com and GameSpot further criticized the load times and abrupt gameplay-cinematic transitions. GameSpot praised the game's art and physics, but also faulted "loose" targeting and some visual and audio glitches. IGN, which also identified problems with targeting, speculated that DMM's processor intensiveness limited its use throughout the game, detracting from players' ability to feel immersed. GameTrailers and IGN were disappointed with the lack of variety within and between levels. X-Play, pointing to "Default Text" as the bonus objective description in the 360 final mission and other glitches, said it seems the developers one day "just stopped working on the game".
The demo was the fourth most-played Xbox Live game during the week of August 25, trailing Grand Theft Auto IV, Halo 3, and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The week it was released, The Force Unleashed was the sixth most-played game on Xbox live, and it rose to fifth the following week. During the first two weeks of its release in the United States, The Force Unleashed was the bestselling game on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Its first week on sale, almost 950,000 copies sold across all platforms in the United States. In Australia that same week, the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of The Force Unleashed were the top and second-best sellers, respectively.
praised the story and the number of lightsaber combos but criticized the game's easiness and hack-and-slash gameplay. It also praised the Wii version for its story and Force powers, but criticized the game's lightsaber controls and linear gameplay. GameSpot noticed visual glitches and problematic audio compression that detracted from the Wii version's "mature and exciting" story, adding that the reduced number of Force-manipulable objects helps mitigate the targeting problems experienced on other platforms. Referring to the Wii remote and nunchuck controls, GameSpot also speculated that The Force Unleashed
is "possibly the most waggle-heavy" Wii game. Zero Punctuation
criticized the Wii version's graphics and level design, and comparied lightsaber combat to "trying to follow an aerobics routine with both your arms tied to different windmills". The ability to upgrade Starkiller's abilities in the PS2 version, according to IGN, is not as "robust" as it should be, and the game's targeting system is sometimes frustrating. IGN said the PS2's real-time cutscene rendering made Starkiller seem emotionless, and that pre-rendered cutscenes would have been better. GameSpot found the DS version's plot interesting but the storytelling itself "lackluster". While the DS version is easy, with Starkiller killing enemies "like a hot knife through butter", GameSpot said the player's sense of power is not matched by a sense of freedom. GameSpot called the PSP version's camera "unwieldy", but added that smaller and less cluttered environments make the targeting system less frustrating than on other platforms.
The Force Unleashed was the bestselling Wii game in America the week of its release. That week, the Wii version was the fifth bestselling game in Australia and was second to Wii Fit among games for that platform. The PS2 version was the eighth bestseller in Australia, and both the PS2 and PSP versions were the top sellers on their respective platforms. The DS version was eighth most sold among DS games in Australia.