November 06, 2010
The Force Unleashed, when it was released back in 2008, was generally held as the ultimate fantasy simulator, as it finally let everyone be the Jedi badass they had always longed to be, wielding ridiculously powerful abilities and batting aside foes imperiously. Despite a few minor niggles, the game was pretty much a roaring success and left most fans clamouring for more. So with the inevitable sequel now amongst us, it’ll be interesting to see how they can possibly craft a title around a main character that is supposed to be dead though, maybe it could have all been a dream – Dallas style!
Lucasarts are onto a sure fire winner with the Star Wars franchise and, at times, it seems like they are rather cashing in on that mixture of reputation and nostalgia. While The Force Unleashed II does display some wonderful splashes of entertainment and ingenuity, it also feels like a distinct case of going through the numbers. Considering the interesting story, great Force power progression and memorable set-pieces of the original, it’s hard to see what could go wrong, but all of these areas in the sequel seem to suffer in comparison.
First of all, the story is, well, just about average at best. Waking up in a cloning facility after being presumed dead, our hero, Starkiller, is confronted by Darth Vader and told that he is a mere clone. Unable to accept this, or maybe just startled by a heavy breather in a plastic suit, Starkiller does a runner in spectacular fashion. His quest is to uncover the truth behind his origins as well as the fate of his lost love, Juno Eclipse. Along the way Starkiller will run into various other staple characters of the Star Wars franchise just for kicks, including Boba Fett, Yoda and Princess Leia, although their appearances are that shoehorned in there, that it feels more like a slap in the face than a neat addition. Considering there are only four main locations for the entire plot, it also feels amazingly rushed and the ending does nothing to help tie-up the thousand and one loose threads that are dangling around.
It doesn’t help matters when Starkiller is pretty much all powerful from the off; with access to the majority of his Force powers almost immediately. You can learn the new mind trick power, along with a couple of other powers later on, but they tend to be the least used powers in your arsenal anyway, with the usual array of grip, push and lightning Force powers doing the real damage. Without an obvious pattern of progression, you can pretty much destroy enemies en masse with little fear of retribution. You can also slip into Force Rage mode when you fill the requisite meter, but all this does is soup up your already impressive powers to ridiculous levels and there are very few points in the game where it is really useful. Starkiller also duel wields lightsabers to impressive effect this time around and can lop off enemy limbs and heads with aplomb; plus, you can find new crystals on your travels to give you a variety of additional combat boosts. You also gain points for chopping people up that can be spent to further enhance the damage you dish out and unlock a few new combos, most of which you will sadly never need - oh well, thanks for trying.
LucasArts have tried to counter your seeming invulnerability by mixing up the enemies you face along the way. Obviously there are your common Stormtroopers, who can pretty much be zapped, stabbed, slashed and flung about without a care in the world. You will also run into enemies resistant to Force powers, or able to block saber attacks or both, so you will have to mix up your attacks to suit. Giant war droids and AT-ST walkers also need a pummelling, usually in the form of a quick time event after you have damaged them enough – or you could just turn their potent weapons back on them with the Force. The game does get a bit choppy when a lot of enemies are on screen and your Force powers are in full flow, though the physics involved is undoubtedly impressive, but losing a combo due to lag is an exercise in frustration. Plus, you can experience a few cheap deaths if you activate certain moves too near a ledge, get frozen in carbonite while in mid air, or get Force pushed from behind and so on. Sure, the combat can be entertaining, but the wow factor that came with the first game just doesn’t seem to be present, and fighting the same few foes soon gets old.
Outside of combat there is remarkably little to do, as most of the so called puzzles simply require you to use one of your Force powers to open a door or raise a platform. At one point you even have to raise a fuse and then zap it with lightning to get it going – that one had me stumped for a while, such was the level of ingenuity. You’ll also have to endure a few sections where you do nothing but run away from something shooting at you, or drop through the air blasting aside debris, but this can both be breezed through by just pressing the dash button and never really breaks up the gameplay in any way like is obviously intended.
Even in the big cinematic stakes the game just doesn’t seem to satisfy. The cutscenes are undoubtedly a thing of beauty, but they are few and far between, and due to the ropey story, never really have the punch that they should do. Giant boss fights against walkers, gunships and the rather oversized Gorag all start well enough, but soon boil down to rinsing and repeating a few moves until victory ensues. Even the ultimate battle against Vader is hardly fun, as the battle drags on far too long and ends in a remarkably simplistic manner. Considering you can wrap up the game in less than five hours, it will feel like an extremely unfulfilling ride with only one choice right at the death having any bearing on whether you side with the light or dark side.
Once the game is done with then there is very little else to do. You can challenge the Unleashed difficultly should you wish, but it is just more of the same but with added layers of frustration. There are also ten challenges though that you can unlock by completing certain tasks within the main story, and you can then use a mix of Force powers and strategy (but mainly Force powers) to complete them all and compare your times with the rest of the world. Playing through them all will only take an hour or so though, so it really doesn’t add much in terms of longevity and none of them are fun enough to make you go back time and time again.
At least the achievement make up for a lack of imagination in the rest of the game by delivering a little ingenuity, although this is still a fairly easy one thousand points. Still, you are rewarded for using your powers in a variety of fun ways and generally having a good time. Using Vader’s ship as a missile, making troops leap to their deaths or even bowling them to an early grave are all rewarded with points. There is also the obligatory collectable achievement, but at least finding holocrons gives you access to extra health, Force powers, experience and saber crystals. Sadly you will have to finish the game at least twice, as the Unleashed difficulty is not available from the off, but the game is so short that it is not much of a hardship. A fun, if short, road to completion.
The Force Unleashed II never really gets to the same heights as its predecessor and it almost feels like a sequel was rushed out just for the sake of it, as the story and combat never really feels that fleshed out. There is still some fun to be had, but it’s almost inevitable that you’ll become bored of the game by the time you finish it, which says something considering it only lasts a few hours. This is ideal rental fodder, but if you’re going to shell out your hard earned cash for it, you may well feel short changed. The Force is not strong with this one.
The voice work is pretty good, but the script is sadly lacking. At least you can expect all the signature Star Wars sound effects which is nothing but awesome.
Barring a bit of lag when combat heats up, the game is lovely to look at, especially in the cutscenes, although a few more enemies and locations would have been nice.
Simplistic combat and puzzles make using the Force a lot more dull than it should have been. Where is the variety?
A poor representation of the Star Wars universe with a weak story, tagged on cameos and Swiss cheese ending. Plus, only a five hour game? Not good enough.
A pretty interesting and thoughtful list, although that doesn’t stop it from being fairly easy to beat despite the need for two playthroughs.
The Force Unleashed II is a big disappointment as far as sequels go, and the game doesn’t really live up to any of the promises that were made in terms of plot or content. We were told that Starkiller’s return would be justified, explained and interesting, but it’s none of those things and the feeling that you are on the run is never present at any point. Instead, The Force Unleashed II is a by-the-numbers offering that is dull when it should be fun, and over all too soon.