Stepping into the persona of a dual lightsaber wielding Sith should feel utterly compelling. After a distinctly average original, this sequel was a good chance for LucasArts to fix many of the franchise’s problems and capitalise on an immensely popular license. Although the Force Unleashed II looks and sounds as good as the classic trilogy, an incredibly short campaign and monotonous gameplay drags it down into the realm of uninspired cash-in.
I worshipped Star Wars as a child… and by that I mean really, really worshipped it. So upon entering this game I was prepared to forgive many of its shortcomings, provided it dealt a healthy dose of nostalgia and challenge. Players follow the life of Starkiller, Darth Vader’s secret apprentice and all round hyper-powerful Jedi. After an ambiguous death in the first outing, Darth Vader claims that this new Starkiller is a clone, albeit a more powerful one with the destiny of crushing the last of the rebel alliance. Questioning Vader’s interpretation of his origins, Starkiller escapes from the planet Kamino and tries to become reunited with his lost love, Juno Eclipse.
The CG cutscenes and voicework are very impressive. Sam Witwer does a good job of portraying the confusion and anger of Starkiller, whilst cameo appearances from Bobba Fett and Yoda help reel the plot into some sense of context. The soundtrack often reworks many of the Star Wars’ most iconic scores, emphasising the sense of a modernised re-conception.
The core of the game is a typical hack and slash, with all of the films’ force powers dramatised to their full advantage. Each face button can deliver either a devastating web of lightning from your finger tips, crush tie fighters to a cube like pulp or mind trick swarms of stormtroopers into battling one another. All of these can be upgraded and strung together into elaborate combos. The visual spectacle of destruction is initially awe inspiring, but quickly becomes replaced with a sense of complacency.
Unfortunately, dismembering your opponents is just far too easy. Starkiller is overpowered to the point that you can simply hold forward, press any combination of buttons and then sit back with your eyes closed, comfortable in the knowledge that you’ll reach the next stage in about five minutes. A few enemies can only be defeated by certain types of force powers and admittedly this does help to provide a sense of strategy and challenge – but players will quickly store these variations in their muscle memory. Each wave of enemies feels like a chore and can easily be sprinted past – a viable option if you’re not interested in picking up the force points needed to upgrade your abilities.
After the opening sequence, the plot almost immediately runs out of steam. Rather than unravel the mystery of his ‘cloning’ origins, Starkiller spends most of his time taking orders from Kota, an annoying Jedi pilot who repeatedly stops you from finding the second most interesting character in the game; Juno. The Force Unleashed II is like a poor piece of fan fiction, never once adding anything relevant or interesting to the Star Wars narrative. Both endings provide a glimpse of an interesting plot development, but they’re so far removed from the Star Wars canon that they feel completely irrelevant.
The worlds that you explore are interesting enough, with some fantastic weather effects (the rain in Kamino is stunning) and an above average sense of architectural grandeur. The little touches, such as paintings of familiar Neimodians and holograms of speeders are both fitting and convincing. However, behind this visual veil is the disappointing realisation that each level is merely a corridor. There are few deviating paths available and very little exploration involved. As long as you run towards the sound of blaster fire, you can be almost certain that you’re slogging in the right direction.
The adventure also feels remarkably short. Less than six hours on the normal difficulty setting simply isn’t good value money. Perhaps it could have been justified with an increasingly remarkable and inventive experience, but The Force Unleashed II simply isn’t it either of these. Apart from the desire to unlock the alternate ending (which can be found fairly easily on YouTube) or play on a higher difficulty setting, there is little incentive for a second playthrough. Those who paid full price for this title will likely be left feeling cheated or disappointed.
It’s hard to recommend this game unless you’re obsessed with Star Wars like I once was. An unremarkable tale and dreary combat surmounts to a single player title that is average at best. Hopefully Star Wars: The Old Republic will provide fans with the game that they’ve deserved for almost half a decade.
(Note: The Xbox 360 version of this title was used for review)