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The Problem With Star Wars Games


I’m a fan of Star Wars. There, I’ve said it. I’m 33 and still a fan of what essentially are a bunch of kids movies, complete with their bad dialogue, questionable plot twists and ridiculously patronising characters. Yes, Jar Jar Binks, I’m talking about you.

For all its foibles, there’s much to admire in George Lucas’ space opera: for every Jar Jar, there’s a Han Solo; for every ‘Padme dies because she lose the will to live’ there’s a ‘No Luke, I am your father’ plot twist and in spite of its generally awful script, you can find a Star Wars quote for almost every social situation.

So I like Star Wars a lot. However, I don’t like Star Wars games very much. Or rather, there haven’t been that many Star Wars games that have been that good. The elements for great games are all there – the locations, the characters, a perfectly imagined universe that just begs to be explored and played in and, of course, there’s The Force that, with the powers it gives a user, fits perfectly in with the videogame medium.

So why are Star Wars games so mediocre?

Back in the old days it seemed easy. LucasArts’ policy with Star Wars games seemed foolproof: take an existing and successful game genre, give it a lick of Star Wars-coloured paint and voilà! Hit game! Some of the best Star Wars games come from this era and from LucasArts taking this attitude: Dark Forces (a Doom clone), the X-Wing series (space-based flight sims) and Pod Racer (a WipEout clone). None of these games were ground breaking but used established genres, added a pinch of Star Wars and were all the better for it.


But for every success, there were failures: Masters Of The Teras Kasi (Tekken), Yoda Stories (Zelda?), Star Wars Galaxies (EverQuest). And then there were the direct movie tie-ins – each one appalling.

Modern Star Wars game success stories have come from games developed outside LucasArts; based on existing genres but developed by experts in their field. The excellent KOTOR RPGs from BioWare and Obsidian and the Battlefront games from Pandemic are two of the best examples and demonstrated that with the right talent behind Star Wars, Star Wars games could be great once again.


So what am I to make of The Force Unleashed? On the surface, at least, it looks promising. The game takes an established and recently successful genre (the third-person action-adventure sword-’em-up, à la Devil May Cry and God Of War) and throws a Jedi into the mix and all the potential that lightsabers and Force powers bring. The problem is this: it’s developed by LucasArts.

It’s the company’s first console Star Wars game since… well, since that dreadful Episode III tie-in and I’m not sure that the company ‘gets’ third-person action-adventures. If Sony Santa Monica was developing or the Devil May Cry team then I’d be as excited as a nine-year-old the day before Christmas. But I’m not. I’m worried.


We’ll be reviewing The Force Unleashed in a couple of issues’ time so we’ll know then if this is a new dawn for Star Wars games or if it’s just going to be another waste of a Star Wars fan’s time. I sincerely hope it’s the former because such a great and epic fantasy universe deserves the very best that videogames can offer.

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