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Game Review

When the very first Star Wars film hit theaters, I took my girlfriend to see it. I know that makes me sound ancient, but I was only, uh ... 3 at the time. Anyway, we were late getting there and ended up reluctantly sitting in the front row. By the time we left I had realized two important things: One, watching a movie from the front row is akin to balancing a bowl of goldfish on your forehead—it's only entertaining 'til your neck gives out. Two, Star Wars had made me a fan. And the rest of the cheering audience told me I wasn't alone.

Over the next 30 years, the Star Wars franchise pleased its adoring fan base by pumping out everything from movie sequels and companion novels to costume lines and lunch boxes. Along the way creator George Lucas and his hordes of marketers have distributed over 100 different video games. So anyone who feels a special kinship to the populace of his fictional universe—even those who love the irritating Ewoks and the incredibly slappable Jar Jar Binks—can at any time pick up a game controller and visit a galaxy far, far away.

Vader's Bad Boy
LucasArts' Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is the latest in that long list of swashbuckling space opera games. And it has some interesting and creative elements that both longtime enthusiasts and casual pick-up-and-play newbies will enjoy. But some other parts are like spending a winter's night wrapped in a tauntaun carcass—doable, but you don't necessarily want to pay for the privilege.

In Star Wars lore, melodrama rules. And with the exception of a few less-than-fully dressed female aliens, this game's take on the tale is surprisingly good melodrama with lots of twists, recognizable characters, explosive cutscene action and even some emotional scenes.

The Force Unleashed does a great job of dramatically filling in some of the gaps between the films Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. For those of you who don't have a blueprint of the Millennium Falcon on your bedroom wall or a full Wookiee suit hanging in your closet for special occasions, I'll simply say that the tale starts with a bad dude named Darth Vader. This powerful villain eliminates an enemy, grabs the guy's young son and raises the boy as an evildoing apprentice.

The now twentysomething, coldhearted Sith—code-named Starkiller—is charged by Vader to hunt down and destroy the last of the remaining Jedi goody-goods.

Upgrade and Unleash
If you've ever wondered what it might be like to explore the full power of the "Force," Unleashed is ready and willing to show you. When you smash your way through your opponent's defenses with glowing lightsaber in hand, you gain points and level your way up to obtaining a variety of leaping and slashing attacks, lightsaber combos and improved Force powers. For example, you can grab and lift heavy objects with a Force grip. And when combined with other abilities such as Force throw, Force repulse and Force lightning you can send crates, boulders, gangs of Stormtroopers and small aircraft crashing and bashing across a cavernous lab or rock-strewn cliff face. A lightsaber boomerang Force throw that sends your weapon sparking, humming and whirring out to meet oncoming enemies is one of the more unique applications.

As you start mastering all these grab-smash-boomerang abilities—level after level of you sizzling enemies, bashing doors and obstacles, and tossing things around—it becomes apparent that you're the villain. And you're going to end up being part of the slash-'em/smash-'em, kill-or-be-killed problem throughout most of the game.

There's a brave heroic side of the Force and a villainous, almost demonic side. And your unsavory status in that equation is important considering that—while there's not really any in-depth explanation or examination of the Eastern-influenced mysticism of the Force—there are some obvious spiritual parallels to the invisible power that surrounds everyone.

The story, graphics and whiz-bang special effects are all super-sci-fi cool. But this whole unleashed dark side of the Force thing puts a crick in my neck that's far more uncomfortable than the one I got while sitting in that long-ago theater's front row. So I guess that means I won't be getting out my Wookiee suit to celebrate this title anytime soon.

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