Originally published over on StrategyInformer, reproduced here with permission.
Flawed, but not without inspiration, style and flashes of brilliance. That was the original Star Wars: Force Unleashed; a game that gave rise to the notion that somebody out there could manage to craft a decent videogame out of George Lucas’ much-abused intellectual property. It was a game based around making you look and feel like a badass force-wielder as frequently as possible, mixing its flashy light show with a dose of silly physics and stormtroopers that liked to hold hands in mid-air. It was repetitive and occasionally broken, but shot through with enough ingenuity to carry it over the finish line, chewing scenery all the way.
Star Wars: Force Unleashed 2 is the opposite of broken. Its protagonists no longer writhe around in mid-air as if they were having an epileptic affair; its force effects no longer tear the screen and regularly collapse the engine; and it looks – at times – every bit the big-budget videogame with hollywood-quality visual sheen. It’s also incredibly dull, entirely predictable, and ultimately feels devoid of inspiration and surprise.
Chisel-jawed anti-hero Starkiller makes a return here, albeit in the form of a clone. Turns out that Darth Vader has been promoting his vision of extreme violence through advanced genetics, attempting to produce a replicated warrior complete with their original powers. Things quickly turn sour, leaving the conjoined body and memories of our old protagonist bolting through a window and into the waiting arms of the rebellion – but with few of his famed skills intact. Cue several levels of grinding against the six or seven types of enemies that populate this version of the galaxy, and a ladder of unlockable abilities to suit your style of play.
The plot, as thin as it is, is entirely forgettable. As Starkiller-lite, you’re thrust into three or four different locations to do battle in search of the returning Juno Eclipse (herself now fighting for the rebellion), and treated to a few pleasant-looking cutscenes along the way. The problem though, is that there’s little connection with either our hero or the woman he’s risking his life for. He’s a clone after all, and she’s virtually ignored for the entire game. The storyline does little to build character or investigate the troubled psyche of a man that’s essentially a walking experiment, and it all fizzles out in a predictable and ham-filled ending sequence – whether you choose the good or bad route.
What it does do well however, is trade almost entirely on a core action loop that’s improved on the previous title. The physics system has been reigned back, and controls focused to allow for a much more incise style of play. It’s now entirely possible to force-grip an object and reliably aim it in a direction of your choosing, or to pull objects out of mid-air and launch them into a target that isn’t a hundred metres in the opposite direction. Combine those simple tweaks with improved lightsabre combos, aerial attacks and a range of other devastating force powers, and you have a streamlined combat playground that can on occasionally dazzle with its vast array of environmental destruction.
For all those steps in the right direction though, Force Unleashed 2 never really provides the right play space to get the most out of the mechanics. Far too often you’ll find yourself boxed into a small area or ploughing through corridors of enemies that are immune to your ‘sabre, powers or sometimes both; and even the battles against what should be lumbering, imposing mechs quickly turn into a formulaic and repetitious grind. QTE sequences are sprinkled frequently into the mix, and even the execution animations at the end of tricky sequences fail to ignite the senses.
It’s maddening, because there are moments here when everything comes together to form a glorious whole. They mostly occur in the infrequent open hangars or combat arenas, and often take the form of a mad dash between groups of enemies, chaining your powers to destroy all and sundry in a hail of neon-tinged death. The DNA for a great experience is undoubtedly contained within the redesign, but it’s too-often stunted and forced into a mould that smothers any sense of player agency in favour of an easy procession of enemies.
With precious few of those quality gameplay moments and a plot that limps along in need of focus, unfortunately Force Unleashed 2 ultimately fails to live up to the interest of its broken but far more compelling predecessor. With a running time of around five hours on normal difficulty and a dearth of additional content, you might want to think long and hard about whether you’re due for another dalliance with the dark side.