The original Force Unleashed managed quite a feat on its arrival. It actually outdid George Lucas and Co on telling a prequel story worth listening to, and was more entertaining than the recent movies.
The adventure of Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, and his ultimate destiny to found the Rebel Alliance was a well produced and likeable tale. Sadly, though, the game itself struggled to live up to the lofty ambitions of its script. Rife with glitches, poor design and far too many quick time events, it was distinctly mid table at best. Now we have the sequel, a title that the developers claim makes good on the original’s shortcomings.
Once again the game puts you in control of Starkiller, or at least one of Vader’s many clones of his former apprentice (or is he?). Trying to clone the goodness out of the game’s protagonist, Vader wishes to finally create an ally that he can trust to do his devious bidding, but the retained memories and experiences of the real apprentice keep seeping through into his duplicates.
As the game begins, the latest attempt, seemingly far more able to resist urges to fight for the side of light, is freed by Vader, only to succumb to more flashes of the past, turning on Vader and making his escape.
With a pretty epic freefall escape sequence kicking off the game, which sees Starkiller tumble from a towering citadel, using force push to smash through solid structures as he falls, my initial outlook was a positive one. Audibly and visually I was hit with pure Star Wars fanfare, and the familiar blaster sounds, Stormtrooper radio chatter and whooshes of lightsaber all served to pull me in to the experience. Sadly, though, it didn’t take long for this initial excitement to wane, and the realisation that this so-called improvement was nothing of the sort.
Keeping the core gameplay of the original title, Unleashed II plays it mostly safe as far as gameplay goes, and the usual mixture of lightsaber and force power use is preset. This time, though, Starkiller feels a little more sluggish and lethargic than his previous incarnation, and although he has a limited dash ability, he’s surprisingly slow, which is a problem when you’re being shot at from all directions.
Still, you do get used to the pace, and soon you’re combining lightsaber strikes with Force lightning and push hits, and throwing foes around with the power of your mind. It’s all instantly gratifying and enjoyable stuff, but it’s also not at all different from before, and improvements that were promised are minor to non-existent.
Most notably, Force grip is as flaky as it ever was. Actually using it to fling enemies and objects around is smooth and enjoyable enough, but the targeting is still a horrid mess. Often, in the heat of battle you’ll frantically try to grab a particular object, such has an explosive crate, only to constantly focus on the wrong item. This leaves you wide open to attack, and ends up being more a frustration-generating chore than that cool ability everyone wanted when they were kids.
Similarly, other features remain untouched, like the game’s use of QTE events. LucasArts obviously didn’t listen to any criticism of the previous game at all, and didn’t get the message that players are sick to death of cheap, corner cutting QTE guff.
While some games have gotten away with it due to well implemented QTE systems, such as God Of War, here it’s about as basic as it gets, and there may as well be a caption that says “press X to defeat boss”. It’s garbage, and takes away any sense of achievement you have at winning a fight. Impressive events can be managed without this half-arsed tactic. Just look at Uncharted II, if you need proof.
Luckily, the main combat with normal enemies, such as Stormtroopers, is more enjoyable, and aside from the iffy targeting of Force grip, it’s mostly fun. Throwing enemies into walls or off catwalks simply never gets old, and using Force powers creatively, combined with your trusty dual lightsabers helps to keep what is actually a very repetitive game interesting.
Some special enemies are also thrown into the mix the change things up, such as Force resistant Sith Acolytes and light-staff wielding soldiers who can block Saber strikes. There’s also a little rudimentary environmental interaction, such as using Force pull to move platforms into place to reach high levels, or destroying platform supports with a lightsaber throw.
As you progress, you’ll earn points by fighting enemies and finding Holocrons that can be used to power Starkiller up, increasing Saber and Force power strength. You’ll also locate new Saber crystals that grant various buffs, and you can unlock new costumes, including the chance to fight the Sith as none other than Guybrush Threepwood.
Sadly, it’s all over far, far too soon, and the game will probably last more players around four to five hours at best. It’s about half the length of the original title, and many of the levels are firmly seated in corridor roaming territory. There are few levels with wide open areas for you to make use of your skills in, something the original had in spades, and each mission is very linear, with little room for deviation.
It’s a crying shame that such a promising title has been all but squandered, and this was a game that, with enough vision and skill behind it, could have been a classic. If only more time, effort and creativity had been put into it, it could have made up for the first game’s shortcomings. In fact, at a push I’d even say that the original game is the better of the two, as it offered more variety in locations, better situations for Force power usage and a longer play time.
The Force Unleashed II isn’t a terrible game, by any means, and the combat and Force power usage do make it worth a punt if you’re into Star Wars, and the story is interesting enough. It’s just such a shame that the game hasn’t moved on from the original at all, and has, in some areas, even taken steps back.
I can’t help but sense lazy development, budget cuts and other elements that prevented the full vision for the game being realised, making this a very disappointing, rent-worthy game, and certainly not the title you’re looking for.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.