Preview: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II

The year is 1999 and a bright-eyed bushy-tailed pre-Nachos stands in line at 10.30pm with one of his older brothers. We’re at the local cinema which isn’t overly popular but they’re showing a midnight screening—an essentially unheard of event in our neck of the woods—for a movie that has been hyped up to the point where everyone knew they were going to see it. I speak of course of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

Around four hours later my brother and I are walking home on a cold and dark autumn morning. We say nothing to each other. We both feel the same way as the autumn morning. We’re both in denial as to what we’ve just seen. The next day at school everyone asks me what I thought of the movie: I was the resident Star Wars freak y’see, and I’d made sure that everyone knew I was seeing the midnight screening. “It was awesome, go see it.” It took me two weeks for the cold, harsh truth to hit home: I fucking hated that movie.

Three years later I was lining up before midnight again and the story was no different and the same is true of three years after that. I dared to hope that the prequels could right themselves and somehow by Episode III I’d be able to sing their praises. Alas, this simply was not the case. In fact, so tainted was I by my experience with these movies that I find it difficult to watch the original (read: only) Star Wars films. Not only had the three new Star Wars films been a bitter disappointment, my nostalgic love of the older films had been forever changed.

And then along came The Force Unleashed.

The Force Unleashed somewhat renewed my all-but-gone faith in the Star Wars universe, reigniting a spark that I thought was long since extinguished. Technologically speaking, the game was ambitious to say the least and, as with any pioneering intellectual property, this pioneering came with inherent baggage. Let’s get this out of the way early: The Force Unleashed was a flawed experience. It had some game-destroying bugs, my personal favourites being a particular level that consistently crashed if I ran a certain way (thank God it was a circular platform which meant there were two approaches) and then there was the boss battle where the boss promptly froze, became invincible and required me to restart from the last save point.

But for every gripe raised by myself or from other critics, I have one simple response: the story. It deserved the attention and awards it garnered because it was, for all intents and purposes, better than all of the best parts of the original prequel trilogy combined. Because that doesn’t resonate as the highest of praise, allow me to stretch further. It was an impacting and layered experience that answered questions that I hadn’t even thought to ask, while simultaneously creating canonised awesomeness that still gets the writer in me rather aroused. Outside of the story, the gameplay kicked all kinds of arse and wailing on hapless Imperial stormtroopers never got old.

I adored the original game, despite its flaws, and was very excited at the seeming inevitability (the original game sold seven million units worldwide) of a sequel, despite the fact that the game’s protagonist, Starkiller, was seemingly visiting dead place at the end of the game. For those in the know, cloning Jedi (or Force-powered folk) is a big no-no in current Star Wars canon… presumably to cover up a giant potential plot hole that screams that the Clone Wars could have been rather easily won by cloning hundreds of thousands of Jedi, instead of Kiwi-accented bounty hunters. Regardless, as those of us who’ve seen the trailers would know, the cloning of Starkiller is very much one of the key components of the game.

LucasArts were very keen to both acknowledge this discrepancy and hint at possible revelations in the story arc of The Force Unleashed II, as Starkiller is told he is a clone from The Dark Lord of the Sith himself: Darth Vader. For those unaware, Darth Vader has a bit of a history of telling rather large porky pies to the impressionable Starkiller, so the plot thickens early on. The LucasArts devs pointed out that the theme of the first game was redemption, while the theme of the second game is identity.

Regardless of what Starkiller is or isn’t, his memories are all over the place and, at least early on in the game, he seems to be getting rather inopportune flashbacks that make his journey of self-discovery all the more confusing. Vader wants Starkiller to destroy the Rebel Alliance that he had a hand in creating but Starkiller has other ideas when he recalls the various Vader-related betrayals of the first game. He exits stage left and so begins the game… in a big, badass way.

The first level has you freefalling on Kameo, dodging/Force Pushing various items that get in your way and fighting off overzealous TIE Fighters in your terminal-velocity escape. Rain whips past you and as much as you’d like to stop and notice the pretty new graphics—and believe me when I say they are pretty—there isn’t time. Your descent ends with a dramatic Force Push through a glass dome that has Starkiller landing Neo-style with a resultant burst of Force energy that jettisons the previous occupants of the room out the window. With an entrance like that you know that Starkiller is back in a big and very badass way.

Those familiar with the original game will be right at home with how The Force Unleashed II plays. The controls and how the game plays are all the same, but it’s the little refinements that make it even more of a joy.

As with any good sequel, it’s about taking it to the next level. So when you have a preceding game that has you dragging down Star Destroyers with your bare Force-powered hands, how exactly do you take it to the next level? With style, LucasArts responds.

We (being myself, Dave and Josh) got to see/try a few of the neat tricks that will help take The Force Unleashed II experience to the next level. There are new Force powers on offer, with the biggest and most fun being Mind Trick. Mind Trick allows you to persuade more weak-minded foes into joining your cause. And by joining your cause I mean turning on their buddies or, in more entertaining ways, deciding to off themselves by throwing their screaming bodies off the nearest ledge. It’s all entertaining.

Remember fighting Rancors in the first game? They were big and tough and that Bull Rancor in particular was a rather intimidating boss. The Force Unleashed II is set to unleash the Gorog. This bad boy is massive and makes the Rancor look like a pussy cat by comparison. Your first big boss fight will be against this angry mofo in a gladiatorial arena where you’ll have to use his strength to bring the arena down on his head. Needless to say, the way that the LucasArts devs described how that fight ends is particularly and appropriately epic for taking down such a foe. We won’t ruin that for you though.

But as a gamer who absolutely adored the exciting and interesting expansion of the Star Wars mythology that the first game can rightfully lay claim to, the second is set to follow suit accordingly. And by accordingly, I mean in bigger more badass ways. The first game had some cute little cameo appearances from some familiar faces, and although they played well into the story, they pale in comparison to what LucasArts has in store for the second Unleashed outing.

By now, anyone with their finger on the pulse will know that Boba Fett is in the game. But beyond this, we’ve been assured that he plays an integral part in the plot. This won’t be one of those ‘geeks only need apply’ instances whereby you have to turn your head and squint hard during a cutscene to see Boba Fett waving somewhere in the background. He’s had some Empire credits put down to employ his services and he’s out hunting Juno Eclipse—Starkiller’s love interest from the original game—to lure the identity-searching Force apocalypse out into the open.

As if that wasn’t a big enough appearance by a Star Wars character, there’s an even bigger one in store: Yoda. That’s right, the little green guy who kicks all kinds of Sith arse is set to make a crucial contribution to the storyline of The Force Unleashed II. Without giving too much away, Starkiller is set to visit Yoda’s planet of self-exile under similar circumstances to Mr Luke Skywalker himself. Better than this, Starkiller will also be venturing inside a familiar dark tree to see what manifestation of inner fears wait within.

While the character reveals/extended information were certainly a big deal during our time with The Force Unleashed II, the level of fun has really been pushed even further than the original game. Our hands-on time was filled with oodles of cackle-inducing moments because of the amount of bat-shit fun and wanton destruction we were unleashing on the Empire boys. We’re finally coming to the end of a rather lengthy gaming lull and the not-too-distant release of The Force Unleashed II is definitely towards the top of my ‘can’t wait to play’ list, and it should be on yours too.

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