January 25, 2008 - Thanks to LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga, Wii owners could get their lightsaber on pretty close to the first full year of the console's life. But what's next for the series on Nintendo's remote-waggling system? What does the future hold for the console that seems to offer the most promise in translating the Jedi powers to the gamers' hands?
The answer comes in the form of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Lucasarts' continuation of the Star Wars franchise in videogame form. Nestling comfortably in the mysterious era between Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, The Force Unleashed puts players in control of Darth Vader's secret apprentice during the fall of the Jedi Knights and the rise of the Empire, a character that seems to be controlling the Force as if his mitichlorians soaked themselves in concentrated Red Bull. In other words, he's wielding some serious Force powers so strong he can bring down star ships with a wave of his hand. How this seems to be and how it will end up playing out, Lucasarts wasn't ready to reveal. The company did, however, give us a taste of the Wii version's gameplay at a company event in San Francisco today.
The Force Unleashed is a third-person action game where players run through the 3D environments taking down enemies with all sorts of Jedi/Sith powers: either through acrobatic slashes from the lightsaber or mystical hand-waving, you'll be attacking both sides of the universe: in some missions, your enemies are both Rebel soldiers and Imperial Storm Troopers. Why? Don't question the motives of Darth Vader, fool…he has his reasons.
As the title suggests, much of the gameplay revolves around utilizing the Force to affect the game's world and its inhabitants. As the character increases in strength, he can wave his hand and manipulate objects and enemies, throwing them around like toys for some serious damage. The stronger the player gets, the bigger the object he can move with his hand. It's not all about the Force, though – the player can (and will) use his lightsaber to pound away at the onslaught of enemies in each world. And there will be some pretty spectacular maneuvers, including a few where you can string Force attacks with lightsaber slashes…even whipping your weapon out at thrown enemies to stab them for a final attack.
While not on the same level as the X360 and PS3 versions, the Wii physics are still impressive.
Though we couldn't actually play the Wii version, we did have the ability to watch it being played by the producer. The Force Unleashed is controlled via the Wii Remote and Nunchuk combination; the Wii Remote motion sensing is attached to the lead character's lightsaber, with the Nunchuk motion handling all of his Force powers. According to the producer, the game recognizes five different motion directions from each of the controls, each applied to different moves in the game. In certain instances, especially in one-on-one battles, players will find themselves locked with their opponent. In these cases, the player will have to follow an on-screen controller or nunchuk and twist it in the same position as quickly as possible in order to win these combat draws.
Lucasarts is putting a lot of focus on the current generation Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles of this game, pouring a ton of resources into technologies that affect object physics and character behavior. These technologies are clearly processor hungry, and the Wii hardware doesn't quite have the right stuff to utilize the same elements. But Krome Studios, the Wii version's developer, has programmed its own physics engine to handle all of the game's Force powers. Objects bounce around the environment realistically, and downed enemies flail around with natural ragdoll motions…and though these elements aren't quite as elaborate as the higher end consoles, they're still pretty impressive to see on the Wii system.
At the very least, the Wii version – at least in this still early stage of development – runs at a far smoother framerate than the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 editions. Even though the game still has several more months in development, in many places the action was running smoothly between 30 and 60 frames per second.
On top of the single player campaign, the Wii version of The Force Unleashed will have a two-player Duel Mode where players can take their pick from an assortment of about 30 unlockable characters and duke it out with another player on the same system. In the demo it was a "Best of Five" affair where the combatant who earns three wins in the fight walks away the winner. Power-ups will come into play that will enhance the characters' abilities during battle.
Insert "Zap" sound effect here.
Much of what's been done on the Wii, at least in visuals and in gameplay, will be applied to the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable since Krome Studios is also handling the other "last generation" versions.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is currently being targeted for a Summer 2007 release. We'll have more as we get closer to that date (and as the game continues in its development cycle), but for now hit the screenshot link below for the first Wii screenshots of this promising action title.