Monday morning, as part of my meet George Lucas trip to San Francisco, I was taken on a tour of the Letterman Digital Arts Center. No, that’s not where they shoot the Late Show, it’s another one of George Lucas’s massive compounds. Connected directly to places like Skywalker Ranch and Big Rock Ranch with a fat digital pipeline, it’s there that Lucas Arts is currently putting the finishing touches on their hotly anticipated new Star Wars game, Force Unleashed.
George Lucas’s gamers let us get up and personal with the game, showing us extended demos of just what it’s capable of and bragging about all the crazy force powers players will be gifted with. The story, follows another one of those “secret apprentice” storylines that George Lucas seems to have become so obsessed with recently. In the Star Wars: The Clone Wars movie it’s all about Anakin Skywalker’s secret apprentice. In the Force Unleashed game, you’re playing Darth Vader’s secret apprentice. Basically, it’s just an excuse to shoe horn in a new character without having to explain why no one has bothered to mention him in any of the other Star Wars stuff you seen.
Darth Vader’s secret apprentice is of course, a Dark Jedi, and over the course of the game it looks like he slowly turns to the light. That lets you have the best of both worlds, creating crazy, wanton destruction early in the game when you’re evil and then I suppose behaving yourself more later on. You’re not just limited to playing this secret apprentice dud though, the game lets you control other force powered characters throughout as well. In fact, the whole thing starts with you playing Darth Vader, and I watched as they played through the opening level where Vader strides through an Imperials versus Wookie battle to find his secret apprentice.
Playing Vader is a lot of fun, and the game lets you use your force powers on literally anything. Vader can rip apart trees, choke out Wookies, or violently crush the life out of his own Imperial Stormtroopers. He’s Vader after all, killing is a reflex.
The Force Powers are the games real selling point though, and they’re bigger than ever. Force pushes throw people across the map, characters held suspended in the air by force grip realistically struggle and flail around trying to find their balance. The effects are bigger, the impact of everything you do is bigger. For perspective on just how powerful your force powers are in the game, at one point during the demo we watched the player use force grip to rip an Imperial Tie Fighter off its moorings in a docking bay, and throw it at a group of soldiers.
Standing there taking the game in though, I couldn’t help but think that for all the flash and story mumbo-jumbo about a secret apprentice, Force Unleashed still looks a lot like it’s just a jazzed up version of the Jedi Knight series. The force powers are huge, but it’s really the same force powers you’re already familiar with. Sure force push throws people further and some of the powers have more lightning and create these cool distortion effects, but at the end of the day it’s still the same powers and you’ll still use them the way you always have. If the game we toyed around with is the one they’re delivering, it’s going to be a lot of fun, just don’t expect it to be a big leap forward in gaming.