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December 3, 2010 • Gaming, Reviews

PC Game Review: Star Wars The Force Unleashed II

Just like the natural universe, the Star Wars universe seems to keep expanding ever since the Big Bang of 1977. Some of the expansions – such as Splinter of the Mind’s Eye – have been trashed by the ‘canon’ of the films, while others like the Thrawn trilogy have spawned ideas and characters that have carried through into the movies, games, and even further into book releases through the years.

Most recently the end of the prequels has thrown open the era of conflict between Episodes II and III (Clone Wars) and III and IV (Jedi Purge, Imperial Control), and there has been a stream of products ready to fill the gap. The latest of these is the sequel to 2008’s Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, so let’s take a look and see how they did!

The Hype:
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II is a single player action game for PC and sequel to 2008’s Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Following a unique storyline revolving around Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, that parallels the events of Star Wars: Episode III and Episode IV, The Force Unleashed II revels in addictive and over-the-top Force-based gameplay powers which include those seen in the first game as well as new powerful additions like Force Fury and the Jedi Mind Trick. Additional features include dual-wielded light sabers, increased puzzle-solving gameplay, expanded customization and all-new combo attacks.

The Reality:
One of the classic catch-phrases running through every Star Wars film is ‘I have a bad feeling about this’. I wasn’t even half-way done with the tutorial area and I had uttered the phrase a dozen times … and things never improved. But to tell the tale of the sequel I need to return to the original.

The original Force Unleashed game told the story of a boy named Starkiller who is discovered as Darth Vader is killing off Jedi in the wake of Episode III, and whom he raises as his own ‘secret apprentice’. Putting aside that everything we learned in all six movies tells us that Palpatine could read Vader well enough that keeping this apprentice secret is unlikely, and also that we saw Vader, Palpatine and Luke Skywalker all sensing Force presence over great distances in the original trilogy … well, putting all of that aside the original story was pretty good. Not great and definitely not as good as many reviews stated, as there were too many holes like the ones above, but still serviceable as a video game plot.

The gameplay was also ‘pretty good’, and was ultimately centered on one thing: everyone things it is cool to abuse enemies with over-the-top Force powers accompanied by awesome physics effects. It seemed that the design mantra was ‘given them unbalanced powers, destructible areas, arena style levels, and a light saber and they’ll be happy’. And to an extent it was true: we got past the sub-par light saber combat, the silly combo moves and quicktime events, because the story worked well enough and it was basically a fairly short game that was a bunch of fun to play through once. You see, there was basically no replayability in the single player game, no choices, and no multiplayer. It was an average game but not one I regret paying for or playing on multiple platforms (I played on PSP and PC, my kids also have the Wii version).

So what would fans want in a sequel? More depth to the story, a reasonable light saber combat engine, some choices to add replayability, and perhaps even some multiplayer would have been nice. But since this is LucasArts, whose in-house development team hasn’t had an original idea since Grim Fandango (1998 if you were wondering), what do you think we got?

OK, let me return to the tutorial of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II. Starting out, you discover that Darth Vader has created a series of clones of his original apprentice Starkiller, and trains each one to be his NEW secret apprentice, but ends up killing them one after another as they show the same single-minded need to rebel and seek out Juno Eclipse, Starkiller’s pilot and doomed love interest from the first game.

Wait – WHAT?!? OK, now I am willing to suspend disbelief enough to accept that Vader wants to get a decent return on his Force training investment and therefore tries to reuse his old apprentice, which is also quite efficient usage of all of those Kaminoan cloning chambers. But considering I did my very best to wipe out Vader and Palpatine at the end of the first game, and considering the first several clones all did the same, the fact that Vader keeps plugging away on clones tells me he has to be an idiot of galactic proportions … or that the writers assume that I am an idiot.

But I take a deep breath and proceed … and of course I rebel and quickly escape and have to fight my way off planet. That is when I get my second WTF moment: within five minutes of gaining control of the action you are already experiencing repeat encounter in copy & paste areas!

You face a variety of Stormtroopers and mini-bosses, and soon realize that pretty much the same tactics repeated again and again will win – and are sometimes the only way to win. The problem? This is boring before you leave Kamino, and it never gets better. There are only five locations in the game, plus a brief stop-over in a secret location that is never properly justified and is done so nonsensically that again we can only assume the writers think we are idiots.

And then, just as you start to get a rhythm, you can tell the game is ending. It took me all of four hours to finish, with no real reason to ever return.

For me, The Force Unleashed II illustrates a great contrast with great games like Jedi Knight II. In that game, which is shooter-centric, you have a top-notch saber combat system as well as cool Force powers, a plot that makes sense, and some freedom of action. The Force Unleashed II gives you overwhelming but unsatisfying Force powers, a crappy saber combat system, nonsensical story, and the typical third person action game ‘led-by-the-nose’ style. Pass on this game until it drops below $10, at which point it might be fun for a few hours.

Review: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II

Where to Buy: Amazon.com

Price: $39.99 (Currently on sale for $29.99)

What I Like: Get to play an uber-powered Jedi; Great physics and Force Power effects

What Needs Improvement: Story is truly awful and just plain dumb; Didn’t fix anything from the first game; Way, way too short with no replayability; How can you excuse having crappy lightsaber combat in a Jedi game?

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