More like Shadows of the… Force Unleashed… Empire

If Darth Vader were here, he would say that the circle is now complete. Except that LucasArts isn’t the master of anything these days, unless you count mediocrity as a skill. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed almost had me believing things would be different this time, but the first reviews are coming in, and so far they’ve been, to put it kindly, mixed.

Sort of reminds me of that other multimedia project that was meant to bridge the gap between the films.

Yet another reasonably cool idea that was ultimately flawed in its execution.

Sure, LucasArts was in a very different place when Shadows of the Empire came around, but it also gave us a bit of a glimpse into the future of the company and the franchise. At that time, every LucasArts Star Wars games was seen as a can’t-miss classic, and even dreck like Rebel Assault got accolades from the industry.

But Dash Rendar was the first ding to LucasArt’s previously sterling reputation; twelve years later, we have Bounty Hunter, Empires at War, Obi-Wan, Force Commander and pretty much every one of the prequel film tie-in games vying for a spot atop the totem pole of terrible (or mediocre). Not Rebellion though! Don’t ever disrespect Rebellion. And Republic Commando was pretty good too. The rest, though….

Now, to some extent, we’re back to where we’ve been with Force Unleashed, and we’re further than ever from years like 1995 — the year that LucasArts released The Dig, Full Throttle, Dark Forces and TIE Fighter: Collector’s CD-Rom (and Rebel Assault 2, but let’s forget about that one, shall we?). These days, the Star Wars games are afforded about as much respect as Star Trek games (read: not a lot), and now LucasArts seems primed to give up internal development entirely.

But, if I may co-opt another Star Wars quote, it might not be over yet. There is another. Help us, Bioware. You are our only hope.

27 thoughts on “More like Shadows of the… Force Unleashed… Empire

  1. I think that’s about the time I became aware of, then disdainful toward, the Expanded Universe. That or when my friend introduced me to the tabletop RPG of it. Kind of killed the mysticism of the Force when they mingled it with good old D&D ‘spells’ you needed to be x level to use.

  2. Man, I liked Shadows of the Empire back in the day. I mean, sure, I knew it wasn’t a great game, but it was still my first 3D Star Wars experience, and I ate it up.

  3. Yeah, SoTE isn’t that great of a game, but I loved it back in the day. I even sent in a high score to Nintendo Power and made it into issue 101.

  4. I dunno if you’re aware, but most Lucasarts games are pretty lousy simply because they just don’t know how to make em. Their talent was always best suited for simple point and click adventure games like Monkey Island. That writing staff is painfully talented… Well, I’m not sure how it is now but as recently as Armed and Dangerous and Gladius both games featured well written stuff but the games were just complete garbage.

  5. Full Throttle is on my list of top five games ever, and it’s one of just a handful of PC games I’ve ever played to completion. Too bad I no longer have a computer that will run it. :(

  6. Moran, your post presupposes that people who were at the company a decade ago hung around working on things they have no interest in. I’m absolutely positive that is not the case.

  7. Armed & Dangerous was just published by Lucasarts; Planet Moon, the ex-Shiny guys who made Giants: Citizen Kabuko, are the reason that game was funny. And, apparently, awful — I never played it.

    I don’t understand the appeal of Stars Wars at all these days, sadly. Lucas beat that horse dead. No, that’s not it, he’s not even beating a dead horse anymore; he’s just pounding sand where once a dead horse lay.

  8. I’d like to point out that unlike the Force Unleashed multimedia project, Shadows was based around a book that happened to have a video game tie in become part of it, not a video game that had a book (among other things) tie into it. I only point that out because Shadows of the Empire may have been a mediocre game, but all in all as a story (From the book’s standpoint) it was pretty damn awesome. I don’t know if I can say the same about Force Unleashed’s narrative, seeing as I haven’t completed it yet. Though it seems all the reviews say that’s the game’s saving grace.

    Also, Raven Software is a possible alternative from Bioware in the hope factor. Just sayin’.

  9. From what I’ve heard, the Shadows of the Empire game wasn’t based on anything. It was all planned and released basically together as one big, multimedia blitz. I’m pretty sure that the game was the main product though.

  10. @jck: ScummVM is available on pretty much anything. Odds are, if you have a nice watch, there’s a flavor of ScummVM that will run Monkey Island or Full Throttle on it.

  11. falth: I was under the impression that it wasn’t supported for ScummVMds due to size issues or some other such excuse, otherwise I would have it on mine right now. Maybe I’ll look around for a Mac version, because FT is just too damn sweet.

  12. Aside from the fact that the book came out a whole 6 months after the game, the book is the main plot line while the game only focuses on a somewhat minor characters’ plotline… To the point where there’s some continuity issues between it and the novel just so the game could make sense. I don’t know which came first conceptually, but since the events of the game revolve around a small part of the book, it’s safe to assume the game was planned after the book. The Force Unleash started as a video game first, with the collaborator’s of the idea conferring with Lucas before it turned into a giant media project on the lines of Shadows.

  13. … Or the writer decided to put the focus of the book somewhere other than the game, which is what I would do.

    And anyway, all of the promotion was for the game. The book was… around. Like you said, it came out six months after the game.

  14. Every few months I pull out my Rebellion CD and power through it on hard mode, alternating between Empire and Rebellion each time. My fondest wish is to get some of my friends to play it, but they all seem to be allergic to the micromanagement. I show them, caringly, the auto-manager aspects, but the damage seems to be done already. Somebody should do a feature on Rebellion here.

  15. Shadows of the Empire was my first N64 game. It was definitely mediocre, but I loved playing the first level so I could let the wampas loose to kill each other and nearby troopers.

  16. … You’re right, I did say after. God dammit, I meant before. The book came out in April 1996, the game in December. Sorry, I didn’t even notice that.

    It doesn’t change the fact that it was a damn good book… And that the Dark Forces series remains as the one true diamond in the rough. Next to KOTOR, of course.

  17. I loved this game. Don’t know why it gets such a bad rep, personally.

    There was a part near the beginning where you were in a Hangar and ships were leaving out the hangar doors. Try as you might, you could never get to the doors before they closed.


    One time I pressed the control stick forward, then reset the controller (what was it, Z + L + R + Start?) so it made my character move as if he was running, even when I wasn’t pressing the controller down. Then, when you pushed the stick forward, there was a subtle rise in the speed of Dash’s run.

    I made it to those bay doors before they closed, but the game had an invisible wall and I couldn’t go outside. Still, I did it.

  18. my preposition has no bearing on the trend I see in almost every Lucasarts game made in the past 10 years where there’s a tendancy to have a well written story counter balanced with a subpar game thanks to obvious bugs and the like that could have easily been removed through QA testing instead of rushing the stupid things to market. I discovered today this quality somehow transfers over into games Lucasarts didn’t make like Armed and Dangerous which has an entertaining story tacked on a terrible unpolished game.

    I guess the point I was originally trying to make was “Another mediocre Lucasarts game? Color me unsurprised” Granted by the miracle market analysis and an industry reeking with cash and a company like Lucasarts NEVER EVER SELLING ITSELF OUT FOR THE SAKE OF INCREASING MARGIN OF PROFIT, a :( Star Wars game surprises me even less. For serious, maybe the only genre Lucasarts hasn’t taken Star Wars is Madden (I would buy a Starwars football game just to make a team of all wookiees knowing full well the game will be lousy)

  19. I think the reason for Shadows of the Empire’s “mediocre” quality was because this was one of LucasArt’s early 3D adventure games. Let’s not forget this game got released along side Super Mario 64, a game which had set the standard for camera controls. Shadows was trying all sorts of new things as well, including the useless cinematic cam…but hey, they were trying.

    Still, the best momenst have to be the giant dianoga and the combat droid. The game doesn’t hold out quite well nowdays, but for its time, it was one of the best N64 titles.

  20. SotE was a decent game for a 3D action platformer that was in development before Super Maio 64 was released. It was bathed in Star Wars (the music, the pewpew of lasers, the garbage compacter monsters from Episode 4), and allowed a generation starved for Star Wars to enjoy it. Compare that to ten years later when we are overloaded with movies, games, and just about everything else that can be sold under the Star Wars brand. Shadows wasn’t memorable, but it did what it was meant to do: release before Christmas ’96.

  21. That argument would hold more water if the game weren’t predated by the superlative Dark Forces and X-Wing games by a matter of years.

  22. Well, Dark Forces and X-Wing were played primarily in first-person. SotE had the habit of defaulting to 3rd. And Shadows did have memorable moments: Fighting IG-88 in the junkyard still gives me the creeps. There was something surreal about how the gameplay was stitched together that made SotE stand out from other Star Wars games, maybe along the lines of the Super Star Wars series, but not as great.

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