Hello and good Friday to you, LusipurrCom readers! Despite my indentured servitude to the beast that is my Summer job, I have come bearing gifts of insight and judgement for your amusement. Also, I am to be flogged if I do not write this.
As some of our audience might have read in last week’s review of LucasArts’ game Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, the mix of combo-based combat and physics manipulation set in an dark time in the Star Wars universe appealed to fans of both the series and the Action-Adventure genre, and TFU worked well as a whole. So it goes without saying that when the teaser trailer for its sequel popped up in 2009, excitement for the series jumped at the prospect of furthering the journey of Starkiller, especially when the trailer featured dual-wielding lightsabers and a fight with a monster that kills and tosses Rancors of all things. But the one thing we all forgot about when hype began to build up for the second game was that the previews were only just that: previews of a product that may be radically different in content and quality than advertised. And it was this that made acknowledging the lackluster quality of The Force Unleashed II so much harder.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II follows the continuing saga of Starkiller, which begins on the watery planet of Kamino in an Imperial cloning factory. It is here we learn that Darth Vader has created a clone of the original Starkiller (Starclone?), in order to retry his previous plans. Unfortunately for Vader, the clone still has memories of the original Starkiller that haunt him, and as a result the clone goes rogue and escapes. Thus begins the clone’s journey to find answers about the memories, and find his place in the galaxy. Sadly, the most disappointing thing about the sequel is its narrative: unlike its predecessor, TFU II uses its narrative as a tool to simply get Starclone from one fight to another rather than introduce new and interesting characters and develop them. The story is rushed, short, and overly simplistic. The plot point of whether or not the clone may be the real Starkiller–arguably the most important in the game–is mentioned but only brushed over and largely ignored. Characters have a tendancy to yell at each other rather than convey emotions or empathy, and it becomes harder and harder to take Starclone or the supporting cast seriously as the game goes on.
In terms of gameplay, TFU II remains largely unchanged from the previous game. The player must once again combine punishing Force Powers with lightsaber combos to plow through the legions of enemies that stand between Starclone and the end of the stage. However, the system used to upgrade abilities has been simplified: the player can improve his abilities by spending experience points obtained from defeating enemies, and by doing so increase their effectiveness, range, and number of targets. Starclone’s health and Force pool are now simply upgraded by finding holocrons. While these changes do not affect gameplay, they do greatly limit the player’s customization options, and limit strategy while playing. Force Powers are still spectacularly over-the-top, with the addition of the Mind Trick power (which allows the player to make enemies fight each other or kill themselves) being no exception. Starclone’s newfound ability to dual-wield, while flashy and brutal, is superficial in terms of upgrading combat and is no more effective than the single-blade style he used in the first game. The quick-time event finishing moves make a return as well, but they are just as repetitive, if not more so, than they were in the first game: each enemy only has a single finisher animation but can have a different series of buttons to press when activating it, similar to God of War. Because of this, defeating a room full of powerful enemies often feels more like busywork than anything else. Bosses are similarly disappointing; they are boring or tedious to fight, despite attempts by the developers to make the encounters feel epic and overwhelming.
The only real improvement TFU II has over its predecessor is in its environments. The graphics and designs of the settings are still as fantastic to look at, if not more so, than they were in the previous game. These are supplemented by the new free-fall modes in the game, in which Starclone must destroy and and zoom past obstacles while plummeting toward the ground. The level design itself is repetitive and often has the player backtracking through previous portions of the map, but at its best the setting conveys more emotion than the actual story does. One good example is a level where Starclone must investigate and fend off an attack from robotic drones on a particularly creepy part of a ship. Apart from this, the game has approximately as many level types as the first game, though the levels are shorter and there are no repeated instances, with the exception of Kamino.
All in all, can The Force Unleashed II be recommended to play through? Sadly, no. The game’s narrative fails to live up to its predecessor’s story line, and while there are many fun features both new and old, it simply doesn’t improve enough over the original game to warrant a playthrough by anyone who isn’t a hardcore Star Wars fan. One gets the impression that The Force Unleashed II was made to make a profit rather than actually improve gameplay or be fun.