Yet Another Star Wars Game Unleashed

Friday, September 26, 2008

By and large, I can live without Star Wars video games. With a few exceptions (Knights of the Old Republic, Lego Star Wars), games based in George Lucas's faraway galaxy have been disappointing. There are far better science-fiction games out there, such as Mass Effect and BioShock, but they're easily outnumbered by uninspired Star Wars titles. LucasArts has been building up the hype for its latest game for months, promising that this one would get it right.

Along with Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, a few other sci-fi games have recently hit the market that deserve a look.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (Teen; Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99; Wii, $49.99; PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, $39.99; DS, $34.99; LucasArts) The main selling point of this title is that it lets you play the bad guy. The villain is Darth Vader's secret apprentice, and his job is to hunt down the last of the Jedi. The missions take you to exotic planets where you'll fight rebels and Imperial forces alike.

You can cut a swath of destruction with your light saber, but it's more fun to use the Force. You can send enemies flying with a Force push or grab them and throw them at each other. You can zap them with lightning bolts or shock waves. And when you come face-to-face with a larger foe, you have to figure out how to effectively mix your Force abilities.

The story is set between the third and fourth episodes of the "Star Wars" movies, and it doesn't have much for the non-fan to chew on. The Force Unleashed is also marred by technical problems, such as bland level design, awkward camera angles and inconsistent targeting, which makes it hard to pick up and heave objects. And some of the fighting, whether against hordes of Wookiees or a single big boss, gets tedious. Still, the game is entertaining for most of its eight-hour length; it's just not the revolutionary title that will win over skeptics.

Too Human (Teen; Xbox 360, $59.99; Microsoft) This epic from Eternal Darkness developer Silicon Knights has some serious issues. After nearly a decade in development, it's kind of a mess, but it gets points for originality. The concept: The Norse gods are trying to protect humanity from destruction at the hands of the trickster Loki. Except that the gods, who may be just humans with superpowers, are cybernetically enhanced, and Loki's minions are robots. At least, that's what I learned from the company's Web site. The story is presented so haphazardly that it's nearly impossible to guess what you're fighting for.

You are Baldur, one of the gods, and all you really need to know is that you're supposed to kill robots. You can get up close and use swords and hammers, or you can try to pick off enemies with gunfire, which is also nearly impossible, thanks to an awful targeting system.

Too Human bounces among waves of mayhem, mildly challenging puzzles and tiresome cut scenes with your fellow gods. It never really picks up momentum during its first eight hours or so, and it ends shortly after with a cliffhanger leading into Too Human II. This initial installment has some promising if poorly executed ideas; I'm hoping Silicon Knights does better with the sequel.

The Last Guy (Everyone 10+; PlayStation 3, $10 from PlayStation Network; Sony) Sometimes a simple concept is better. In this downloadable game, a mysterious beam from outer space has turned most of humanity into zombies. Your job is to drop into various cities and rescue the few surviving humans.

Each level takes place on a satellite map of a real U.S. city, and you have to rescue a certain number of people before a time limit elapses. Any humans you find will follow you back to an escape point, although they'll scatter if they see a zombie approaching.

It's like a combination of Pac-Man and "I Am Legend," a silly yet oddly addictive brainteaser.

-- Lou Kesten, Associated Press

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