When gamers first popped in their copies of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, they expected to see plenty of destruction as delivered by cranked-up versions of Force powers, and that’s exactly what they got. For all its technical shortcomings and balance issues, the game featured some frenetic, intense combat sequences, and some of the best looking destructible environmental elements we’d ever seen. What fans didn’t expect was a Star Wars story that was not only thoroughly entertaining, but also fit seamlessly into the existing continuity and added an interesting and impactful new wrinkle to the story of the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance. The fact that the game’s narrative structure and script delivered so completely was a big but welcome surprise to Star Wars fanatics. With the sequel, The Force Unleashed II, LucasArts has decided to take a slightly different approach; give us roughly the same combat experience, make it bigger, louder, and more nonsensical, and ignore everything that made the first game’s story so cool. It’s not a total failure, and there are some improvements worthy of note, but the way it so callously steps on the toes of the previous title’s story is a huge disappointment
Just like its predecessor, The Force Unleashed II puts players in the shoes of Starkiller, Darth Vader’s secret apprentice. This time around, however, it’s actually a clone of the powerful Force user, and his loyalty to Vader . After a brief expository scene and a tutorial, the new Starkiller makes his escape and sets off on his journey to help the Rebels and save Juno Eclipse, the love interest of the original Starkiller. What follows is a surprisingly short series of battles and platforming sections spanning two worlds and a starship, as well as an inexplicable 3-minute stopover on Dagobah which serves no purpose whatsoever.
Whereas TFU showed how Starkiller overcame Vader’s influence, and ended up helping to create the Rebel Alliance, TFU II is simply a story about rescuing the “Princess” and beating the bad guy. There are themes of free will vs. destiny and of the individual’s interest against the greater good, as well as some question as to whether or not Starkiller actually died at the end of the first game. None of them are particularly well developed, though, and overall, the plot just washes over you as you wait for the next fight scene. It’s a huge disappointment that the best aspect of the previous game has become the least interesting element of the sequel.
With the exception of an extra lightsaber at Starkiller’s command, combat is largely unchanged. Lightsaber strikes are complemented by Force-based ranged attacks like Force lightning, Force push, and Force grab. There aren’t a ton of different attack combos, so combat can get repetitive at times, but mixing up regular strikes with Force powers can often result in some truly satisfying and entertaining encounters. There’s no denying the thrill of lifting a Stormtrooper off the ground, impaling him with two well-thrown lightsabers, and flinging him into a crowd of enemies, wiping out the lot of them. The controls, however, can be unresponsive at times, and while the issue of targeting enemies has been addressed, it can still be difficult to grab specific items in hectic combat situations. The biggest annoyance in the heat of battle is the game’s unwillingness to fight with one lightsaber. Throwing both sabers (you can’t just throw one) can often result in one saber returning to Starkiller before the other. Unfortunately, he is unable to attack until both sabers return, leading to frustrating moments where Starkiller has to wait around for several seconds before continuing his attack.
On the plus side, the famous Jedi Mind Trick has been included, allowing Starkiller to turn his foes against each other. Combat sequences aren’t quite as unbalanced as they were in the original game, but there are still certain areas that frustrate, and others that are laughably easy. Boss fights aren't nearly as fustrating as in the previous game, especially when it comes to the quick-time events that end each fight. While they weren't exactly difficult before, in the Force Unleashed II, they're so simple that one wonders why they were even included. A few new enemy types, like the Force-resistant Sith Acolytes and invisible Terror Troopers can make Starkiller's day a bit taxing, but overall, the game seems much easier than its predecessor, and at 4-5 hours, significantly shorter as well.
In standard combat scenes, Starkiller is presented as the most powerful Force user to ever inhabit the Star Wars galaxy. In certain cut-scenes, however, his power levels are amped up beyond belief, essentially turning him into Superman. In one sequence, Starkiller falls to Cato Neimoidia from orbit, ignoring the effects of re-entry while casually pushing aside massive sections of Star Destroyers, asteroids, and an entire Rebel Blockade Runner. If a character is able to shove aside a 600-person starship with a wave of his hand, why does he have to bother fighting enemies; shouldn’t he be able to simply raze the entire building he’s in?
The Force Unleashed II is, simply put, a gorgeous game. Starkiller’s character model looks fantastic, and while there still isn’t enough variety of enemy types, they’re all well rendered and animated. The game’s environment, however, is the real star of the show. Every set piece in TFU II simply screams "Star Wars," from the rain-soaked platforms of Kamino, to the shaky engine rooms of the capital ship Salvation, to the gorgeous, alien architecture of Cato Neimoidia, and they all make players wish there were simply more of the game to see.
Since it’s a Star Wars game, The Force Unleashed II’s sound effects and score are pretty much perfect. Every laser blast, explosion and engine roar is exactly how George Lucas intended it, and John Williams’ score is extremely well represented here. Sadly, the voice acting, courtesy of Sam Witwer, leaves something to be desired. He does a decent job in most of the cinematic scenes, but at other times, his voice is overly melodramatic, bordering on whiny. It’s particularly annoying to hear his girlish cry every time he takes major damage, though I must admit that my aversion to the awful sound definitely inspired me to effectively use the dodge function whenever possible.
Challenge rooms are a welcome new addition to the game, and add some replay value to a somewhat threadbare package. There are ten Challenges in total (twelve if you pre-ordered from Amazon), and they’re surprisingly diverse, testing not only the player’s combat techniques, but also their platforming skills and mobility. Achieving silver, gold, or platinum status in these challenges will unlock new lightsaber crystals and costumes for use in the campaign, giving a nice incentive to try to perfect them all.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II is little more than a rehash of the first game’s mechanics with some lovely new visuals. It has more flash and “bad-assery” than its predecessor, along with all the buggy performance and lack of polish, but less of the charm and narrative ambition. There’s definitely some fun to be had, but with its super-short campaign and lack of variety, it has a very rushed out feeling to it, and isn’t quite worth a purchase to anyone but the most die-hard of Star Wars fans.