I played the X360 version of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed recently. In a phrase, it’s awesomeness buried deep.
One of the coolest abilities in the game is Force Grip. Force Grip allows you to pick up objects and people at a distance and move them anywhere on all three movement axes. The left stick controls the movement of the object on the horizontal plane, the right stick controls the movement of the object along a plane perpendicular to your camera. This means you can pick guys up and knock them into other guys, use big objects to crush people or sweep them aside, and push active environmental hazards around to destroy your enemies.
There is one spot in the game with big lasers on gimbals which you can push around with the force. Push the laser so it passes over your enemy and he burns up. Another level features huge flexible pipes which spout a constant stream of carbonite. Move the pipe so it sprays your enemies and they are frozen into a lump and dropped on the ground.
The whole thing is damn stylish. There’s nothing like picking up a stormtrooper, gently moving him over an open pit, and dropping him straight down. Or grabbing a trio of droids and slamming them into the ceiling, killing them and creating a rain of sparks and shattered glass from the destroyed ceiling lights. You can even pick up Jawas, place them gently in front of you, and punt them like a football.
The sad thing about all this awesomeness is that most people will never see it.
I work with pro game designers who finished the game without ever learning most of the systems. One of them even sat down and decided to spend some time to learn Force Grip. He went into the training mission and just played with Force Grip. He never got it, and eventually gave up. It’s hard. It took me hours and I have years of experience messing around with coordinate systems in 3dsmax.
I personally spent 80% of the game dying repeatedly when I would get knocked down and wait for my guy’s ragdoll to settle and for him to do his getting-up animation. Nobody ever mentioned that you can arrest your fall by pressing the jump button while you are falling through the air.
But I only realized that there was a combo system for lightsaber moves when I noticed all the combo control sequences listed in my character upgrade screen.
Train Me, My Master
Having deep, expert-level moves in a game isn’t inherently bad. The problem is when many people finish the game without ever learning to control it properly.
A lot of people probably never learned to use Force Grip at all, and never learned to do things with the lightsaber besides button-mashing. They basically only played half the game.
The only training the game really gives you are a few on-screen tooltips to tell you how to do basic new moves as you acquire them, and a series of “training missions” which you can optionally activate. The training missions aren’t really effective, though since they’re all basically just simple 20-second challenges inside the same circular room. The tooltips are great, but they only tell you the bare minimum of what you need to know.
The game should have included fun, mandatory training sequences. It should have included an on-screen combo feedback readout. It should have had a default-on optional HUD element that tells you what each of your controls does in the current context, a la Assassin’s Creed.
Difficult Targeting Makes Puppies Cry
Another big quirk of the game is that your Force powers are targeted not by the orientation of your camera, but by the orientation of your character. The advantages are:
-You can change targets instantaneously by moving your character in any direction
-The camera can be fixed during boss battles
-They only had to make animations of your character casting effects forwards.
The disadvantage is a serious lack of precision causing constant mis-targeting and you will often be targeting someone off screen.
But, It’s Actually Pretty Good
Don’t let any of my bitching prevent you from getting the game. Consider this article a guide on how to enjoy Force Unleashed. Read the damn combo descriptions and learn to use the combos as you unlock them. Learn to use Force Grip properly. And for God’s sake, when they knock you down, mash the jump button!
It’s just so sad that most people will never get most of the game. And that’s Too Bad. If you’re making a game, make sure that the majority of the awesome stuff in it is accessible. Otherwise it might as well not be there at all.