|Star Wars – The Force Unleashed II
|LucasArts/ Aspyr Studios
|Original Release Date
|Oct 26, 2010
|PC, PS3, PS2, PSP, Xbox360, Nintendo Wii
Sequels are always tough, regardless of the media form. The fanbase will typically place more demand on the producers or devs to outperform their past efforts. It’s the reason why we as a fanbase applaud those sequels that have done justice to the originals and, for scarcity’s sake, it’s why they stand out so much. And then there’s the task of producing a sequel that will ultimately feature the Star Wars branding. I can’t imagine the stress this most likely caused the devs of The Force Unleashed II. In my review for the first Force Unleashed, I was especially pleased with the story because it tackled a very decisive moment in Star Wars history and the execution was one worthy of esteem. Not only did it address the creation of the Rebellion, but it did so within the confines of the Star Wars canon, meaning that the unfolding of the events both fit into the overall narrative and expanded the story in a plausible way. The survivors of Order 66 met their end, setting up Luke as the last hope, and the major senatorial players were brought together to forge the Rebel Alliance.
In terms of this game’s story, on the light side, we are introduced to an infant Rebellion, struggling and unable to decide on any action that would result in a decisive blow to the Empire. Meanwhile, Darth Vader is in need of a new apprentice and instead of starting from scratch, he’s attempting to clone Starkiller and use memory imprinting to download the memories of the original into a clone. Not only has producing a force-sensitive clone not worked up until this point, the few clones that have survived are eventually driven mad as they cannot differentiate between the original’s memories and their own. One particular clone shows promise, but Vader deems him a failure as well, as he inherits Starkiller’s emotions, including his feelings for Juno Eclipse. Driven by a desire to see Juno again, this clone escapes Vader and the cloning facility on Kamino. This is where the Starkiller clone begins his story.
Unfortunately, The Force Unleashed II suffers from what most sequels fail to do; enhance the story from where the first left off. While the intro scenes and initial buildup in story is intriguing, it’s all over far too quickly. Plain and simple, this game is short and the narrative suffers from these confines. We briefly get to see some buildup as this version of Starkiller tracks down Rahm Kota and eventually locates Juno. But, in terms of story development, there just isn’t much there. The new Starkiller retraces and reconnects with familiar characters from the first game and…that’s about it. You spend the game tracking a person down and then when you find them, you start for the next one. From a daring and violent escape from Vader, every second dripping with adrenaline and potential, the game flat lines and ends up being one short-lived, cyclic march back to Vader on Kamino. Also, the whole plot point of this Starkiller being a clone is completely forgotten, as everyone just acts like this is the same Starkiller as before. It’s a completely wasted opportunity to delve deeper into this character and the consequences of him being a clone in regards to the supporting cast and the expanded story (if you remember, there was this thing called the Clone Wars and it was kind of important). What’s worse, the true ending, while blatantly setting up for another sequel, is unceremoniously abrupt, dull, insultingly predictable, and completely sucks what little life (if any) was left at that point.
The only saving grace, story-wise, is the strength of the characters. The cast was strongly built and given impressive development in The Force Unleashed and that is, fortunately, drawn upon here. The voice actors from the first make a return, providing much-needed life and energy that this game sorely lacks compared to its predecessor. The familiarity of the voice actors along with the conversations and banter you would expect between them definitely helps players immerse further. Again, though, because of the limits of the game itself, those sparks of life never have any real ability to evolve into genuine captivation.
The first Force Unleashed had a few missteps when it came to gameplay, but one aspect they nailed was combat, especially with the Wii version. Those controls allowed for an exceptionally fun experience as players literally cut down enemies with the swing of the Wii Remote and could launch force attacks with the Nunchuk. The Wii control scheme was the strongest aspect of the first game across all its versions. So, I was in utter bewilderment when I initially learned that The Force Unleashed II decided to ditch those superior controls for button presses and combos (and personally, I’d love to know which idiot dev or director decided to remove the most enjoyable aspect of the series). With expectations of at least a direct copy of the combat style from the first game, The Force Unleashed II delivers a combat experience that is irritatingly dry and repetitive. I’m assuming the devs wanted to match the control style across all versions of the game, but the result was an underdeveloped combo style of gameplay.
While there is a vast abundance of actual combos, most of them do the same thing, in that they are a long string of lightsaber swings, a string of swings with a force attack at the end, or short button combos that focus on a force ability (push, throw, lightning). The more advanced combos are actually just the same as those previously earned with additional button presses. What ends up happening is that players will learn the short versions of a few combos and stick with those throughout the game as they grow longer because there is little point in memorizing any more than that. In regards to the HD versions of the first game, I understand the attempt to enhance the combat by adding this combo system, but it falls short. It’s not broken by any means, it’s just too unmemorable for it to add to the overall experience. Fans of the first’s Wii version have much more to complain about, and rightly so.
Gameplay outside of combat still has the same flaws as the first, in that it’s hardly existent. Platforming elements are present but only serve as a break between fighting the next enemy wave. Along with the lack of levels, stage designs are also terse. Although they house many hidden collectibles, they are incredibly linear and brief, perhaps even more so than the levels from the first game. With a severe lack of level space comes a whole lot of nothing outside of combat. Even if this is a recurring problem from the first game, The Force Unleashed II does a far poorer job of hiding it.
The strongest aspect of The Force Unleashed II are its aesthetics, however they suffer the same inconsistency as the first game. For the most part, the visuals are strong and make the most out of the Star Wars branding. For the environments, the turbulent weather of Kamino is on full display and its backdrop is reminiscent of the scenes from Episode II. The bridge cities of Cato Neimoidia look amazing from the outside and nicely demonstrate these architectural feats. The character models are also strong, showing detail and design that add to the ferocity of the combatants. From the bulked up enemy droids and armed walkers to the variety of troopers, the characters all look great and add much needed spirit to the game. Combat itself also looks amazing. I’m impressed with how good Starkiller looks as he executes his lightsaber combos, acrobatics, and QTEs. You can feel his anger and desperation through his movements and his aggression is on full display as he obliterates all in his path. If only the combat was as good as it looked…
Regrettably, this degree of detail is utterly buried by rife mediocrity. Once you are inside the facilities of Kamino or onboard the Salvation, you are met with bland, barren halls or large, empty rooms devoid of any character. It’s all the more dejecting as this staleness is the overwhelming majority of what players will actually see as they play through the game. The inconsistency and drop off in aesthetic effort is just as dispiriting as the first game because, again, we are given flashes of the best the devs can deliver, but they fail miserably to maintain it.
I believe the audio is the greatest source of life and immersion the game provides. The return of the original voice cast, the use of John Williams’s works, and the raw emotions Sam Witwer pours into Starkiller’s lines are all major sources of life this game desperately needs. From blaster fire to the hum of TIE engines, the sound effects are also strong and reminiscent of the action sequences of the films. Again, inconsistency haunts the final product. Even with how adeptly the characters’ personalities are expressed and feed off one another, these moments are too few and leave me wanting so much more. I also felt the soundtrack of the game was weaker overall because of the lack of film score usage. It seems to me that the composers attempted something new with their variations to the original film scores, but it comes off as unmemorable. There are only a few moments that stick with me, but those are when the film scores are generally untouched. And again, perhaps we would have heard more if the game was longer.
Overall, The Force Unleashed II is a short trek of dreadful averageness. It has its flickers of greatness, but it never goes beyond that. Stunning graphics, superb dialogue, and impressive cutscenes don’t always make for a great game. Fans of the first game will find some moments of fun and intrigue here, but even general Star Wars fans may end up skipping it. The game isn’t broken by any means, but giving it any score above average would be undeserved. With the way it played out and how incompetently it sets up for another sequel, The Force Unleashed II is pure meh and is a disheartening entry in The Force Unleashed project.