There is nothing quite like that wave of nostalgia that sweeps over you and makes sweet love to your face than hearing that orchestra intro to Star Wars. The floaty yellow text and the blast of horns should be enough to make any geek have to change his pants. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II kicks off in exactly the same way, recapping the events of the original title and bringing players up to speed with the story.
The game takes place around seven months after the events of the first and a year before the film Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. After the loss of his secret apprentice, Darth Vader visits the planet of Kamino where he is greeted by a new batch of Stormtroopers. Inside the clone laboratories above the planet’s watery surface, Vader looms over a dimly lit caged pit before revealing – Starkiller? Is he a clone of the original protagonist or did the Force save him when he sacrificed himself for the Rebel alliance at the end of the last game? Regardless, Starkiller is haunted by fragments of his previous life and much to Vader’s distaste, memories of his former love interest Juno Eclipse. Confused and tormented, he breaks free of his prison leaving poor old Vader standing all alone again wondering why nobody loves him. Or that he should probably keep his apprentices on a much shorter leash.
It all sounds a bit pants in words, but with the stunning cinematics and talented voice acting behind the prologue, it sets up the game beautifully. There’s no doubting that we’ve seen plenty of Star Wars games over the years. In fact since the 80’s we’ve had close to forty different spin-offs and videogames from Lucas’ franchise. But The Force Unleashed titles managed to showcase what every fan of Star Wars has always wanted to see in action; the full devastation and might of the Force. The sequel immediately gives players access to all of the abilities a Jedi or Sith has at their disposal, including Force lightning, healing, push, grip and even mind control. The Force Unleashed II is packed to the brim with truly breathtaking action sequences that any Star Wars fan will admire.
As Starkiller (or is he?) players will be able to pluck TIE fighters out of the air and crush them into little cubes, fling Stormtroopers around like ragdolls and deflect missiles with the flick of a wrist. Even up close Starkiller’s dual light sabres will slice and dice their way through man and droid like a hot knife through butter. Being in control of an unstoppable Force-powered killing machine is an exhilarating experience. Not to mention that the array of super moves allows you to be creative as well as lethal. For example you could grab a piece of nearby debris, charge it with lightning and hurl it at an AT-ST as an explosive grenade. Or grab an enemy in mid-air, impale him with your lightsaber and throw him into a propeller fan before watching his dismembered torso flop to the ground in front of you. Players can even perform the old Jedi mind-trick and make enemies jump off balconies or make them attack fellow team-mates while you watch with a satisfied grin on your face. Obi Wan would be proud.
All of this sadistic carnage is brought to life thanks to the impressive Euphoria engine powering the cogs behind The Force Unleashed II. Just about every object in the game responds to your actions, whether it’s a stack of crates that are sent flying from your Force push or panes of glass being broken by laser fire. Being presented with an immersive and detailed environment is only compounded by the thoroughly satisfying ability to totally destroy said environments with reckless style.
The graphics are definitely the selling point of the game. Every cinematic is a work of art and you’ll often wonder why haven’t we seen this level of awesome in any of the later Star Wars films. I can only hope that George Lucas has been paying close attention to what the lads at LucasArts have been able to deliver in terms of action and drama. All of the presentation in the Force Unleashed II is faultless, including the polished menus, tutorial overlays and loading screens. The only negative comment towards the graphics is the frame-rate can suffer (even on the PS3 version) when a large amount of action takes place on screen at once. The soundtrack and audio effects are everything you would come to expect from a LucasArts game and are full of atmosphere and depth throughout.
Aesthetically and audibly the game is near to perfection but unfortunately the gameplay isn’t quite up to the same high standards. While the controls are fluid and offer a wealth of engaging moves to the gamer, the variety of the game leans towards the realm of repetitiveness. The original Force Unleashed game had players traveling between jungle moons to sun-scorched junk-yard planets with massively different environments to explore. The sequel, however, is a lot more sterile with most levels taking place in drab grey or brown locales. The attention to detail is still impressive but they lack any sense of distinction from one to the next, making it feel like you spent the whole game in two maps. The variety in the bad guy roster is also minimal and despite how entertaining it is to fling Stormtroopers around like peanuts, it can get a tad boring after three hours of doing so.
In order to mix up the massacre of weak-bodied foes, The Force Unleashed II throws in sudden encounters with gargantuan big bad bosses without warning. These can range from mech-like droids that shoot flames through to monolithic beasties that eat Rancors for breakfast. Although each is impressive to witness they are often unbalanced in terms of difficulty and all require routine “rinse and repeat” methods to dispatch them. Just like with the first game, players can expect a constant barrage of quick time events and button sequences for finishing moves. Granted all of the finishing moves are spectacular but watching Starkiller cut an AT-ST in twain for the eighth time is a bit much.
The developers have done their best to inject some life and replayability into the game. Players will be able to find and unlock a huge assortment of extras like costumes and coloured lightsabers that offer new advantages when used. For example, an orange crystal might give your saber a flame attack; green will help with healing, and there is even a black crystal that causes disintegration. Cameos are abundant too, both from the Star Wars universe and even from the LucasArts archives with appearances from Yoda, Boba Fett and Guybrush Threepwood from Monkey Island.
But ultimately The Force Unleashed II is let down most by the short campaign mode which most people will be able to plough through in around 5 hours with time added for a couple of unlockable Challenges thrown in. The biggest disappointment seems to come right at the end where the last mission is a mindless platformer before a relatively lacklustre dual with Darth Vader. Despite the mindblowing cutscenes, even the story (one of the main draw cards for Star Wars fans) feels watered-down when compared to the first game. Towards the end players still won’t have any greater emotional attachment to Starkiller, making the ultimate choice over the Light or the Dark side a bit meaningless. It’s a shame that a game that is so beautiful to look at is this short on substance. The Force Unleashed II is definitely recommended for true Star Wars fans who loved the first game as the controls and combat have been finely tuned. But for everyone else wanting a quick Jedi-fix, a rental should suffice here.