The Force Unleashed Looks Better On PS2

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is one of those transitional games that was released on two different consoles. One version was released on the PS3 and XBox 360, while the other was released on the PS2 and the Wii. I played the PS2 version growing up, because it took me a long time to get a PS3. The version sold on Steam as part of the May the Fourth sale is the PS3 version, though. The PS2 version exists only on console. I figured that was fine, this would be an upgrade, probably the same basic concept even if the levels were different, and the PS3 version would look much nicer.

Turns out the PS2 version looks better.

Now, the PS3 version plainly has massively more graphical horsepower behind it. Looking at a randomly selected screenshot, the PS3 version looks way better. But the PS2 has better art direction. For starters, the PS2 has Starkiller wield his lightsaber like a regular person, while the PS3 version has him reverse-wielding like a dork. The facial animations on the PS3 version are certainly more detailed, but the animators either weren’t used to the tech, didn’t have enough time, or just weren’t good, because the facial animations are all really bad and uncanny any time there’s a closeup on a human (some aliens’ animations do alright, probably because their faces are sufficiently non-human that my human brain doesn’t notice anything weird). The PS2 facial animations are all blocky and imprecise, as PS2 facial animations are, but they’re at least good at being the level of graphics they’re at, rather than bad at being something better.

The thing that really disappointed me, however, was the stormtrooper designs. In the PS2 version, the opening level playing as Darth Vader on Kashyyyk has troopers that still have blue stripe-y designs like they had at the end of the Clone Wars. In the levels in the Jedi Temple (which don’t exist in the PS3 version, but which take place in the early part of the plot where you’re still Darth Vader’s apprentice), the stormtroopers have the black-and-white color scheme, but their design is different, with the eyes connected together into a single visor and less armor on the legs (they’re not scout troopers, the visor isn’t as big and their upper body is more heavily armored, but they look like a distinct stormtrooper variant the way scout troopers and snowtroopers do). It’s only at the end, during the ambush on Corellia when Darth Vader betrays you, and then on the Death Star as you save the fledgling Rebel Alliance, that the iconic stormtrooper armor is used, thematically linking up the end of Force Unleashed with the beginning of the original trilogy.

In the PS3 version, they’re already using regular stormtroopers even on Kashyyyk, ten (ish) years before A New Hope. It was a real disappointment. The evolution of the stormtroopers was one of my favorite details of the Force Unleashed, and turns out it’s not even in the PC version.

It’s not directly related to art design or graphics, but the PS2 version also has you find Jedi Master Rahm Kota on the surface of Nar Shaddaa, rather than in Cloud City on Bespin where you find him in the PS3 version. It is kinda weird that Rahm Kota has apparently gone into hiding on the surface of the planet orbited by the TIE fighter factory he just blew up, but it would’ve given us a higher graphics look at a planet that had previously only been seen in previous gen games like KotOR II (or previous-previous gen games like Dark Forces). Besides, while it’s hardly impossible for the Empire to have sent one elite platoon to Cloud City to kill a Jedi several years before Empire Strikes Back and yet Han and Lando still treat it like neutral territory, it still grates a bit narratively for the Empire to show up on Bespin prior to ESB. The story beat that actually happens on Nar Shaddaa/Bespin is basically identical regardless of which one you use, you just find a drunk old Jedi in a cantina and then escape an Imperial strike team sent to kill him, or maybe you, it’s not clear. Either way, Nar Shaddaa has always been a place where crime lords do the Empire’s dirty work (it’s still kinda weird that there’s a regular old TIE factory in orbit, but Nar Shaddaa is where the Jabba the Hutt was helping the Empire run its Dark Trooper project clear back in Dark Forces when it was first introduced, so clearly this is a place where Imperial presence is not unusual).

On the bright side, the PS3 version’s costumes get unlocked at the start of the planet they make sense, rather than at the end. In the PS2 version, the heavy training outfit is unlocked at the end of Raxus Prime, the toxic and jagged trash world where being all bundled up makes sense, which means if you use it immediately, you’ll be wearing it on the next planet Felucia, the alien jungle where it makes no sense at all. Then at the end of Felucia, you unlock the light training outfit, which means that Starkiller has inexplicably decided to take his shirt off for a visit to the city planet of Nar Shaddaa. It’s at least not the opposite of what makes sense, like with the heavy training outfit on Felucia, so if Starkiller were generally a “shirts are for losers” kind of guy that wouldn’t look out of place on Nar Shaddaa. In the PS3 version, though, you get the heavy training outfit at the start of Raxus Prime and even have it automatically equipped at the start, and the light training outfit for Felucia, where it’s hot and humid and it makes sense that Starkiller would want to be wearing less than normal.

That reverse-wielded lightsaber, though. Can I get a costume that removes that?

EDIT: Also, as an important addendum, the second-to-last level is totally unplayable for me because of how often it crashes, so, uh, be advised that this game can’t necessarily be played on anything more recent than Windows 7.

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