LucasArts brings us back to a galaxy far far away and into the shoes of Darth Vader’s insubordinate apprentice Starkiller, as he grapples with Vader’s mind games, searches for his lost love and aids the fledgling rebellion.
Star Wars fans have been looking forward to the release of this game all year. Was the wait worth it or will The Force Unleashed II be the video game equivalent of the Phantom Menace?
After months of waiting and viewing incredible teaser trailers, die-hard Wars fans (myself included) could finally breathe a sigh of relief as The Force Unleashed II hit the shelves yesterday. Sadly though, those fans were met with what can only be seen as a weak attempt at a sequel and a blatant cash grab. LucasArts assured gamers that this time around they would experience a game that was focused on taking control of a super-powered Jedi and less about interactive environments and finicky controls. However, whatever improvements were made from the first game are overshadowed by a story that lacks any depth and is a smack in the face to the award winning narrative of the original. The game lacks the copious amounts of ‘epicness’ that gamers were promised and serves only to mash and paste together bits from Star Wars canon in an vain attempt to provide fan service. The game’s ending comes quickly and abruptly, leaving the impression that LucasArts is only concerned with setting up a sequel. Rather than polishing the game and pouring their resources into the task at hand, which would have made for a better game.
The story starts off with a revived Starkiller locked up at a cloning facility on the planet Kamino. Or is it Starkiller? If you remember the ending of the original Force Unleashed, Starkiller was killed by the Emperor after initiating the organization of the rebels.
Enter Darth Vader, who reveals to our confused protagonist that he is nothing more than the latest iteration in a series of failed test tube experiments in his diabolical scheme to successfully clone a Jedi army. Starkiller refuses to believe Vader’s ploy, but unfortunately for players, we never do find out the truth. That’s not a spoiler but a crystal clear example of the type of writing and direction makes up the remainder of the game. Vader attempts to get the Starkiller clone to hate everything the real Starkiller cared for, mainly his love for Rebel captain Juno Eclipse. The apprentice quickly gives Vader a lightning shock and a force push to the gut, blows a hole in the side of the building and heads off to reconnect with Juno and rebel leader General Kota.
The Force Unleashed 2’s Starkiller is a beast of a Jedi. If Darth Vader is the most powerful Jedi in the galaxy and has the highest midichlorians count, than Starkiller is made of midichlorians. Where most sequels find a way to temporarily nerf the main character’s abilities and powers they built up in the previous game – only to have him gradually regain them; Starkiller’s force powers run rampant and continue right where they left off. He crumples TIE fighters like sheets of paper, shifts chunks of fallen Star Destroyers with ease and is able to withstand an impossible fall from planetary reentry. As fun as that is to experience and watch, choosing to continue with Starkiller’s ridiculous power levels acts as a blessing and a curse. Gamers will no doubt enjoy being able to run through this game as one of the most powerful Jedi in the galaxy but it creates a feeling of limited growth for the character.
LucasArts has streamlined the Force Power upgrades for this game, which are much less clunky and cleaner than the previous installment. However, this again creates the feeling that your character goes through very little growth and power advancement. The new options make it feel like there is far less to choose from within the Force Power sets. You essentially start off with everything you had at the end of the previous game, and will spend the remainder of the game mashing away to collect enough experience to upgrade the three levels it requires to master every skill.
Also new to this game are duel light sabers. With this, gamers now have the choice to assign different saber crystals to specific hands, e.g. you can have your left hand saber increase your force power experience with every kill, while the right hand saber gives you the chance to shock or incinerate an enemy. If you are able to collect two of the same saber crystals you can put them in each light saber and collect or impose double effects. It also creates some beautiful colour combinations when mixed and matched.
Many people who played the first game had a lot of issues with the combat, and while LucasArts did correct these issues in the sequel, there is little else different about the two games. Those expecting The Force Unleashed II to really push the limits of creativity and innovation, will be greatly disappointed; this installment feels more like a mish-mash of God of War and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow style gameplay without any of the epic scope associated with those games. Gamers who were left frustrated by the original Force Unleashed will surely be praising it now, in comparison to its lackluster sequel.
The tweaks they have made to the combat targeting make the game much more streamlined. Fewer interactive environments give the game more focus, with fewer “sandbox” distractions for the player. The addition of the Mind Control force power is also amusingly awesome.
The level designs and character models in Force Unleashed II are stunning and incredibly visceral. The eye candy really pulls you into the surrounding environments. The cut scenes look beautiful and rival the best that other games have offered. Having just finished playing Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – a game that has unbelievable visuals and extremely well done animated scenes – The Force Unleashed II is right there with it. After watching them, the fan boy in me was left longing for a full-length Force Unleashed animated film similar to Final Fantasy: Advent Children.
The original game featured a breadth of levels and foes to face off against. You truly got the sense that it was a quest across the galaxy, filled with vibrant and diverse levels and enemy types. The opposition in Force Unleashed II quickly become repetitive and is very limited in scope, most of which you will come across within the first chapter or two.
In addition, the game will only take you to a meager four locations: Kamino, the floating city of Cato Neimoidia, the spaceship Salvation, back to Kamino (boooo!) and Dagobah.
Dagobah!? Sweet, that means Yoda’s in the game? Yes he is! For one whole minute. The Dagobah level is a complete joke. It lasts all of six minutes and provides no enemies, zero puzzles and exists only to have Yoda act as the bouncer to a cave entrance and for Starkiller to pick up a bunch of saber cubes, force experience and one great, but short cut-scene. The level serves no purpose in progressing the plot and is only there to provide a brief and pointless cameo for Yoda.
Although LucasArts did improve on the finicky mechanics from the previous game, the combat quickly becomes bland as the game only applies cookie cutter strategies for defeating different enemy types. For example, enemy X can only be defeated by saber attacks and enemy Y can only be defeated with Force powers etc.
The Force Unleashed II also implemented their version of a CQC attack (close quarters combat) which when used initiates one of two animated kill scenes. At first this was a welcomed addition but like so many other aspects of the game, became repetitive and boring very quickly – as these two maneuvers are rarely blocked by enemies it eliminates the need to change any combat tactics. Instead of choosing to create a diverse tactical approach to combating enemies, the developers have created a combat system that encourages the player to do nothing more than spam the same attacks and throws against certain enemy types. There is no strategy, no tactics involved, and limited thought required. Which is great if you’re looking to sit back and just Force Power your way through, but numerous times I found myself wishing there were moments that required some aspect of stealth or tactically eliminating my enemies.
With the vast Star Wars canon to draw from it’s incredibly disappointing to see how little there is in this game. Repetitive enemy models, limited generic levels and super-charged force powers that eliminate the need for tactical and immersive gameplay, the whole experience was all very disheartening. Not to mention the game is short. Damn short. On normal difficulty it took me little more than five hours to finish. The end comes abruptly and leaves you wondering if this is really the end? How could I have waited eight months, paid over $60 and only got 5 hours and four levels?
The final battle with Darth Vader is split up into two sections that take place in the cloning facility on Kamino: Vader evading Starkiller’s attacks while he summons hordes of clones and a one-on-one up close and personal battle with the baddest dude in the galaxy. The former is bland and drawn out, while the latter is quickly finished and you’ll face very little resistance. It’s basically a button mash dispersed between dialogue exchanges and animated attack sequences. I don’t think I pressed block once. Vader just lurches around the map at a geriatric pace while you’re given free reign to unload on him.
The option to choose a dark side ending and a light side ending is once again given to the player at the end of the game, depending on your choice you will be given one of two endings, neither of which explains anything or gives you any closure.
Maybe I’m too much a Star Wars fan and just expected too much. If you’re just looking for something that’s relatively passive in terms of gaming, this might be for you. Despite my bias, I will admit, it is damn good fun – and every Star Wars fans dream – to be able to control a Jedi with such devastating abilities. You get to perform ridiculously overpowered Force techniques and do everything you wish they could have done in the movies. Tossing stormtroopers like toothpicks over ledges, crushing AT-STs with relative ease and lopping off heads (yes, there is decapitation in this one) is all good fun, but if you’re looking for the same great narrative and story that drove the first game, sadly this is not that sequel.
As I played through this game I couldn’t help but become overwhelmed with the thought of “Oh, what could have been”; if there were only more tactics involved, or harder puzzles and a better continuation of this segment of Star Wars lore. I kept thinking how incredible the Force Unleashed series would be with a Knights of the Old Republic or Mass Effect like dialogue tree options.
You’ll like this game if…
You enjoy lots of action, fast-paced combat and wave after wave of enemy combatant – no matter how generic and repetitive they may be. If you were a fan of the Star Wars prequel movies, you’ll probably have a good time with this game. If you’re looking for a game that has all the makings of a God of War or Arkham Asylum, but without the compelling and intense plot or the minutia of dozens of combo attacks, like in Bayonetta or Castlevania, you’ll enjoy this game.
Unless you are a die-hard Star Wars fan – and I caution you even at that – I wouldn’t recommend picking this one up. There is even less incentive for replay than the first game and for the price tag, there are plenty of other games out right now (or coming out) that your money would be better spent on. It’s not a terrible game, but it’s not the great sequel we were anticipating. This is a game to rent. Not to own.