Review: Star Wars – The Force Unleashed II

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The Force Unleashed from Lucasarts is the kind of fantasy wish-fulfillment that franchise fans hope to see from their favorite worlds.

It’s also not the first time that Lucasarts had dabbled in giving players a chance to step into the robes of a Force wielder. But unlike the subtle nuances of Jedi Knight on PCs or Bioware and Obsidian’s take with Knights of the Old Republic, the Force Unleashed tramples the screen like a rabid rancor.

It’s unfettered by bothersome things like guns or a library of Force skills. Instead, it whittles the experience down to the bare essentials allowing jump-in Jedi to brazenly wield the Force as a god-like adept capable of delivering a beat down to Darth Vader and the Emperor.

I thought it was tremendous fun, though with a few rough edges – especially involving one Star Destroyer. But I liked it. It had a certain flamboyantly overpowering style that made it a Force flavored guilty pleasure in blasting countless Stormtroopers into the air again and again.

The Force Unleashed II, though, wasn’t quite the sequel that I was looking for.

Whether you decided to choose the Light or Dark side ending in the first game, this one spoils it for those that haven’t had a chance to play it yet. So if that means you, be warned: there are a few spoilers ahead.

The sequel picks up almost right after the events of the first game, putting the player into the shoes of Starkiller – who should be dead. He had died in the ‘good’ ending of the last game, but Darth Vader hasn’t given up on his reluctant padawan yet and has cloned him in order to destroy the Rebel Alliance that he had inadvertently created.

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Of course, living with the memories of a dead man has also made Starkiller realize that Vader doesn’t have his best interests in mind, so he escapes to find the only person that had meant anything to him in his last life: Juno Eclipse. The question is, though, is he really a clone or something else?

You never really find out because the paper-thin story is barely there. After what felt like the halfway mark, it’s treated like an afterthought whose purpose is simply to provide a Cliff Notes on why things are happening. Much of it is undercut by Witwer’s Starkiller who ends up yelling most of his lines at every opportunity. I get it, he’s angry, but the game never wants you to forget it.

There are a few memorable moments such as the assault on the cloning world of Kamino, but it doesn’t quite deliver the same punch of the first game which gave us an intriguing look into the early years of the Rebel Alliance and its principals, especially the role Darth Vader had played. But here, it seems cut off at the knees as a dumbed down exercise of linear action with little other than the question of whether Starkiller is a clone or not.

This story isn’t the only thing lacking, either. The variety of scenes and venues also feel repetitive after so long, something that wasn’t so much of a problem with Starkiller’s last adventure. It often felt as if the designers had decided to simply start recycling areas to stretch things out.

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It also doesn’t hide the fact that the game can be finished in less than four or five hours. While it can be argued that replaying it for any missed secrets such as hidden holocrons or lightsaber crystals can extend its shelf life, enough are found by simply running across them out in the open to make exposing yourself to more of its repetitive nature even less of an attractive option.

It does keep you feeling like a Jedi ubermensch from the start, however. Since you’re supposedly a clone of Starkiller, you start out with an impressive array of powers that can be leveled up during the course of the game after earning so much experience from smashing things, sending Stormtroopers to their deaths, or tossing TIE fighters like softballs.

Starkiller also has the ability to go into a sort of ‘overdrive’, boosting his Force abilities to the point where he can crumble three story walkers like paper which comes in handy later in the game. Though after completing my run, even that wasn’t enough to convince me to go back in and play through it again.

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There are a number of unlockables such as costumes and videos that you can discover as you complete the bits and pieces of Starkiller’s journey. If you have a save from the first one, you also get a few bonuses such as a nifty costume or two to start with – though I had to keep switching them back in every so often Starkiller would begin a new mission. Controls were easy to get used to and the polished graphics brought even more of the Star Wars universe to life with the hanging cities of Cato Neimoidia or the innards of a Rebel frigate, but the copy-paste feel of the playground lying beneath the surface ruin the illusion.

Though I can’t complain about the number of disposable Stormtroopers that came at me, I can complain about the repetitive use of QTEs used in dispatching certain other foes. After being attacked by so many giant robots and then QTE’ing them, I started ignoring the sequence and wrecked them with my lightsaber instead to avoid having to see the same, mind numbing kill animation.

Speaking of kill animations, I don’t expect someone to get up from being impaled by a lightsaber and then thrown to the side like a ragdoll, but it happens. Some enemies can be dispatched with the same, unblockable, combo attack over and over again as long as you can get close to them turning fights into the kind of boring activity that teachers gave out during grade school to practice your handwriting with. After so many letters, er, kills, a lot of the combat simply felt as if it just got in the way of the more exciting stuff – which never arrived.

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Even the climactic fight with Darth Vader was an utter letdown from what it was in the last game. Facing off against such an iconic figure shouldn’t feel like such a wasted opportunity to peer even further beneath the mask, especially when he started repeating his own lines like an automaton. And don’t get me started on Yoda because he doesn’t even need to be in this. But he is, for reasons that are probably best left to marketing. Or a theme park.

Frustrating moments were few and far between and were nowhere near the level of the Star Destroyer mess that was in the first game which is something of a plus. Other than that, there isn’t much else to see in this sequel other than the exceptional sound work from all the actors, the cinematics, the button mashing, and the general idea that this is a Star Wars game. The sequel also ends on a cliffhanger setting up a potential sequel – or DLC – though the ending coming up on the player so ‘soon’ after the the start felt as if it were where the script had run out of pages.

Force Unleashed II is fun for an afternoon of Jedi powered escapades, but not for much else. Hardcore Star Wars fans will probably get more mileage out of the few hours that it graces their time with, but in the end, even they might feel as disappointed in the experience as fans were in having to put up with Jar Jar Binks in the prequels. Having the opportunity to go wild and woolly with the Force across the galaxy shouldn’t be such a bland, and short lived, experience.

The Force Unleashed II
Lucasarts / Aspyr Media (PC) / Red Fly Studio (Wii)
Xbox 360 / PS3 / Wii / Nintendo DS / iOS (reviewed on Xbox 360)
Rated: T for Teen