The Force is weak in this–
No, you know what? I had a ton of Star Wars puns that I planned to drop into this review, but it is just too depressing. There is simply no easy way to put it, and it pains me to say this, but Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II is just not a good game.
I love Star Wars, and I always will despite George Lucas’ best efforts to punish my wallet for being a fan, and yet I cannot get behind Lucasarts on The Force Unleashed II. In fact, I lost a lot of respect for the company as developers because of this title. I am usually willing to cut a lot of slack to a video game developer when it comes to glitches. Most glitches are the result of the developer being rushed to produce the game, so a glitch or two earns the benefit of the doubt. It is usually a business thing more than an error, so I can live with it. With Force II, the glitches are just one minor concern when compared to the rest of the game, which is a mess, and this game needed more than just more time, it needed a total reworking.
At E3 this year, Lucasarts showed off Force II in a closed room. The developers played through part of the first level to show us what to expect. Having developers play through the demos for people is pretty common, so it wasn’t a big deal, but during this level, the character’s light saber became a giant green block. It was basic development stuff that they use for coding, but with the game coming out four months later, for the developers to show off a level that contained a few blatant glitches to the press, it was odd. I was told it happens all the time, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that Lucasarts was rushing this game out. After playing it, I am sure of it.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
The biggest problem with Force II is that it is a small game. Not just in terms of length, (although it is short, and you can beat it on normal in four to five hours) but in terms of of scope. The previous game had its flaws, but scope was not one of them. The original Force had a story that was compelling and it made you overlook little things, like the crappy targeting system and occasionally awkward level designs. Force II takes that story and tries to build on it, but the entire plot — from beginning to end — could have fit inside two or three levels of the original game. In fact, there are only four levels in the game including one that you play twice, five if you count a ridiculously obvious attempt to pander to fans by throwing Yoda in (more on that in a bit), but the Dagobah level is just one long cut scene. There have been bigger DLCs released.
Force II requires you to have played the first game, as the story is not just a direct continuation to the original, but feels like an add-on to it. So if you haven’t played the first, do so before you attempt the second. With that in mind, below are spoilers from the last game. If you plan on playing the original Force Unleashed first, then skip down to the next section.
Maybe it is the nostalgia, maybe it is the exact right combination of music and spectacle, but when the Star Wars logo flashes on a screen accompanied by that familiar John Williams theme, then the name of the episode or game scrolls up the screen before the story floats past, it is hard not to be at least a little excited. It is iconic, and it is always, always cool.
As Force II begins, you once again take control of Starkiller, the secret apprentice of Darth Vader — which is unusual, since Starkiller kind of died at the end of the first game to help create the Rebel Alliance. Vader soon arrives and tells you that you are a clone, the first clone to stave off insanity, but as memories of Starkiller’s life flood back, a seed of doubt is planted. Starkiller decides that Vader may be lying, and even if he is not he will not serve him, so he escapes to find out the truth about himself and to reunite with Juno Eclipse, the woman Starkiller fell in love with, who is now playing a major role with the Rebellion.
You quickly search out your former ally, Jedi Master General Rahm Kota, and after a fairly pointless stop on Dagobagh to say hi to Yoda, you are off to find Juno. Unbeknownst you, Boba Fett is also looking for Juno, and has been hired to bring her back to Vader.
You begin the game on Kamino, in the cloning facility seen in Attack of the Clones, then travel to the hanging city of Cato Neimoidia. Kamino is graphically incredible, with amazing rain effects, but the level itself is bland, while Cato Neimoidia looks great from afar and has a few interesting interiors that repeat themselves over and over again. Next you head to Dagobah to meet Yoda and check out the nightmare cave that Luke went into during the Empire Strikes Back Despite the hype you may have seen of Yoda in the game, he appears in maybe one minute of the game. All of this happens during a cut scene without you touching the controls once, then you are off to the starship Salvation, where you briefly see Boba Fett make a cameo before he too disappears. Once the Salvation level is complete, you return to Kamino and the game ends. All in all, you can complete the game in under five hours if you take the time to explore, less on easy. Oh, and there is no online or co-op play to add to the value. There are a series of challenges, but they are mostly time trials and things like that, and won’t make up for the short campaign.
The story is by far the biggest issue with the game. While the first game’s story was good enough to make you overlook problems, Force II’s story tends to highlight them. The first issue is that there are only four locations, and only three of them are playable. You return to one of the levels twice, but it is a fairly dull level to begin with. This was a disappointment of massive proportions. The original game sent you across the Star Wars universe and each level had its own look and feel. Granted, sometimes the level seemed to be sentient and actively tried to kill you by hiding areas and twisting the camera, but each new section was fun to see. It is a bewildering concept to make a sequel that has one-third the locations. It wouldn’t be as big a deal if the areas were more exciting to look at, but once you see two or three landing pads, you have seen them all. Also, the inclusion of Yoda and Boba Fett feels like a late decision designed to further the appeal of the game.
Despite its numerous flaws, the first game was a must play for fans of Star Wars because the story fit neatly into the overall canon, and played out within the confines of the existing movies — especially the ending, which fit into the continuity perfectly and added a few elements to the entire Star Wars lore. As with the first game, there are two endings in Force II where you decide if you want to follow the Jedi way or yield to the dark side of the Force. For the Jedi ending to be canon, it must be continued, as it goes against the continuity of the overall story and leaves several questions unanswered. On the other hand, the dark ending answers a few of those questions in a totally unsatisfying way. Neither are very compelling, and both leave you wondering when the inevitable sequel is due out.
An elegant weapon, for a more civilized time
Despite the weak level design and poor story, it can still be fun to wade through wave after wave of enemy, crushing them with your powers. The controls aren’t perfect; they occasionally become sluggish, and the targeting system is only slightly better than the last one, but the game still manages to let you pull off some wicked maneuvers. The new Jedi mind trick power is fairly interesting, and when you use it on certain enemies, they will either attack their allies or commit suicide. It is the only power added from the previous game, but it is a fun one.
Although it is cool to force grab someone, turn them into an electrical bomb, then throw them back at their buddies, there are around 10 regular enemies (not counting bosses) that you will face. Just 10. I may be forgetting one or two, but the level of variety is low, and most enemies have a fairly standard pattern. Some can’t be hurt by lightsabers, while with others you need to use the force on them. Rinse and repeat.
There is a new addition called Force Rage, which begins with filling up a meter by defeating enemies, then unleashing massive amounts of damage until the bar is depleted. This is fun, but it is a minor addition. It also leads to some frame rate issues when you are on the screen with several enemies attacking at once, and again when you are near electricity that is coming off a structure like lightning — a fairly common occurrence in the Star Wars universe, apparently.
While it is fun to whip out the lightsabers and mow through imperial stormtroopers, take away the Star Wars theme and you are left with an average button masher wrapped around a flawed and mediocre game.
Who’s scruffy looking?
While the majority of the game is a mess, on the technical side– a few glitches aside– Force II shines. The character animations are top notch, and while the levels may be repetitive, they are detailed and graphically stellar. On Kamino, the rain effects are as good as in any game, while the lighting effects on Cale Neimoidia are beautiful.
The sound is also a high point, but that shouldn’t be surprising since it uses one of the best movie scores of all time as the soundtrack. There are a few moments where the music seems to be oddly placed– sad music during a battle sequence and things like that– but it is John Williams’ Star Wars score, and even after 30 years, it is still awesome.
The multiple outfit selection returns from the first game, and Starkiller’s animations are unaffected by whatever outfit you choose. Unfortunately there are only four new outfits in the game, but it is a decent technical trick to allow the user to pick the costume. More skins are unlocked when you complete the game, plus if you played the first game, Force II will unlock the two costumes you received at the end of the game (assuming you beat it under both endings).
It was as if a million voices cried out and were suddenly silenced
Force II actually made me mad. I rarely take it personally when a game disappoints, but this game felt rushed, and a company like Lucasarts should know better. Sure, Lucasarts is not above going for the cash (see the dozen or so different Star Wars movies alone as evidence), but even if you hate what they release, you can seldom criticize them for putting out crap. You might not like it, but it is generally high quality in terms of the skill involved, even if it is Jar Jar Binks. But Force II feels like a cash grab, and the game was probably hurt by the numerous layoffs Lucasarts has recently faced. The game comes across as half complete, and almost as if it were one big game cut in half, with a sequel coming soon. If The Force Unleashed III is announced for late 2011, I would not be surprised, although there are rumors that a third game was under development but had been cancelled. If true, it seems likely that Force II was meant to be longer, but was shortened to maximize profits by cutting a massive amount of the game and shunting it towards a sequel. If so, Lucasarts deserves every ounce of criticism leveled at this game, and much more.
It is fairly common for sequels to fail to live up to the original, but when you take what worked in the first, then give less of it, there is a serious problem. To put it as succinctly as possible: The story is thin, the resolution is ridiculous, the levels are bland, plus there are only a few of them, and the gameplay is repetitive and muddled. So all in all, not one of the better Star Wars products out there. But at least it is short.
Hardcore fans that played the first game should rent this title and return it the next day after easily beating it, with the hopes that the sequel will make up for it. Believe me, I wanted this game to be good. At worst, I expected it to be a fun but forgettable diversion. Instead I was left with a game that detracted from the Star Wars mythos worse than Greedo shooting first. In short, this is not the Star Wars game you are looking for. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
Score: 6 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by LucasArts)