Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

As this magazine's videogame reviewer and a longtime Star Wars fan, I was so eager to get my hands on an early copy of The Force Unleashed that I considered storming the Presidio. Luckily, however, LucasArts was kind enough to deliver an exclusive preview (for Xbox 360) right to my door. And based on the four levels I was given (about 40% of the finished game), I'm confident that, throughout, The Force will unleash superb graphics and sound for your home theater. What's more, the gameplay itself is revolutionary in its vivid verisimilitude and unprecedented A.I. - all in a compelling plot that's true to the spirit of the Star Wars films.

Set between the prequels and the classic trilogy, The Force Unleashed finds the Jedi Knights to be all but extinct - and you're on a mission to hunt down the final few who have gone into hiding. That's right: You're on the Dark Side in this game. In fact, you begin play as Darth Vader himself, sent to exterminate a lone Jedi on the Wookiee home world of Kashyyyk. Then, starting with Level 2, you become Vader's Secret Apprentice, armed with flashy lightsaber attacks and other powers unlike any you've seen in a Star Wars game - or a Star Wars movie. Here, for example, the Force grip is no longer merely for tossing foes aside. Now you'll suspend them in midair, shock them with Sith lightning, and slam them down to the ground to explode like a bomb. The dramatically diverse environments of the first four levels are a showcase for the game's graphics and physics. From the first moments on Kashyyyk, you can see how everything reacts with extraordinary realism. Crash through the Wookiees' barriers, and the wood breaks and splinters as it should, depending on the impact.

In the second level, where you infiltrate a TIE Fighter factory as the Secret Apprentice, you'll notice how your enemies act like real people by revealing their sense of self-preservation. Use the Force to attack a Stormtrooper and send him flying through the air; arms flailing, he'll desperately try to grab onto something to prevent himself from falling. Dispatch another one, and he'll even try to grab onto his already airborne squadmate. ("Wait a sec," I can hear you asking. "Infiltrate a TIE Fighter factory? Attack a Stormtrooper? You said I was playing on the Dark Side." Remember: You're the Secret Apprentice. And there can't be any witnesses.)

The next stop on your epic journey is the junkyard planet of Raxus Prime, where the wreckage of Jedi Starfighters, Republic Gunships, and Imperial Walkers can be seen in the amazingly detailed rubble. The fourth and final level I played is set on the overgrown planet of Felucia. It's a beautifully rendered environment of towering vegetation - but don't get too distracted, because you'll have to square off against hulking Rancor monsters and, from the prequel films, a certain Jedi Master that fans might recognize. Like the graphics, the immersive surround sound is impressively dynamic. At the end of each level I played, a bone-crushing battle gave my subwoofer a serious workout. All of the voice acting is first-rate, and John Williams's stirring film scores blend seamlessly with 90 minutes of original music to help create an aural tour de Force.

Judging from this preview, it's a safe bet that the complete game of The Force Unleashed will deliver an unforgettable Star Wars experience.