A Carnival of Delights
Robert tells me that in “Asia” (he wasn’t specific), people buy fruits and vegetables at the 7-Eleven. Fruits and vegetables. He told me that five years ago, and I’m still reeling from the concept.
7-Eleven has offered up the occasional pre-order on games before, for games that project sufficiently into the hated mainstream, but it looks like it’s something they want to take more seriously. I’m buying less and less product from the usual suspect these days, and “Sevs” is about five hundred feet from the door here. Games are just one more commodity we can append to its grisly midnight menu.
We’re going to talk about The Force Unleashed now, so if you don’t want to know things about that, you should leave. I might be able to save you some money, though.
I really liked The Force Unleashed in its largely theoretical demo form, but the finished product (at least, on the 360 and PS3) is significantly harder to love. Significantly, as in, I doubt very seriously that Gabriel will complete it. I have done so, culminating both of the game’s moral vectors, largely to verify my prior assertion: that they were prepared to deliver a significant, substantial middle chapter. This has absolutely occurred. And if you can find someone else to play the game while you watch, you might be approaching the optimal scenario.
When you are in relatively large environments, amorally doling out grievous injuries with the help of an omnipresent Force, it really seems as though everything is going to be alright. As one cuts a swath through the universe, you gain “levels,” which confer a kind of currency on three distinct tracks of development. The guy you played in the demo is some kind of Star Pimp - you have a long way to go before you reach those heights. Generally, you can do things how you want to and still succeed.
Things go less well at virtually any other time. Battles against “boss” characters often feel strangely disconnected from the rest of the game, outside of the skills and techniques you’ve developed. Strange sound bugs, long falls that don’t kill the player but trap them forever outside of the game. Rude, abrupt cutscenes that ransack narrative pace. Pulling a Star Destroyer into a Space Station should have been one of this year’s best moments - but the way they chose to model this in gameplay completely ruins it. An odd feedback mechanism combined with a frankly inscrutable user interface and zero help for the player turns the moment to ash.
Much as been made of their materials simulation and physics technologies, and depending on the material being simulated, the results can be extremely compelling. Other things, like Vader’s cape let’s say, in the first five minutes of play, just look wrong in a way that animation by hand could never achieve. The material this cape is made from - I’m hesitant to call it cloth - takes its orders from some bizarre parallel dimension, flexing and jiving in time to some secret music. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, it’s more good than bad, but there are moments where we glimpse a radical interpretation of physical law.
I look on the time I invested with affection, but only in the final accounting - and even then, you and I would almost certainly weigh things differently. The art is far, far beyond anything they’ve done to date - the environments, the costumes, everything aches with heft and purpose. They’ve presented a story here that really, honestly makes you think about Star Wars. It is very rarely Star Wars of the jubilant, all-ages, “Jub Jub!” variety. If you’ve seen the Clone Wars movie, you know it to be a greasy tendril to snare young people. This is not. This doesn’t feel like the sometimes controversial Expanded Universe. There are moments where it feels like new Star Wars, something I would never have thought possible.