Review: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II

George Lucas has had a profound effect on my life and, in many ways, I have to sincerely thank him for where I am today. Y’see, the vast majority of my childhood was spent involved with a lovely cult conservative church that had great influence over my childhood viewing. My brothers and I were very limited in what we were allowed to view, which meant that we watched the same films over and over again. Of these oft watched childhood films, two particular series stand out: Star Wars and Indiana Jones (albeit minus the ‘evil’ Temple of Doom film). Incidentally, for those wanting to skip straight to the review, scroll down to ‘Episode III’.

Episode I: The Death of Faith
I watched the original Star Wars trilogy over and over again, fast becoming obsessed with it as it helped my young imagination run free. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that people didn’t like Ewoks, Chewie making Tarzan noises was kinda lame and the original trilogy was not without its warts. For me, I loved it regardless and it was a big part of fostering the creativity that helps to earn me a crust nowadays.

I read extended universe books, comics and even tried my hand a couple of times at writing fan fiction. And then the best news in the world occurred: George Lucas was making Episodes I, II and III. Even after The Midichlorian Menace, I still had faith that the ship would be righted… even after Attack of the Meh I continued to have faith right up until I saw Revenge of the Shit. Granted, the films got increasingly better, but Episode I was hardly a hard act to follow…

Episode II: A New Hope
And then along came Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Kinda like the inevitability of me buying successive iPhone generations, I knew I would play TFU, regardless of how shit it may be. The mixed reviews came in so I set my expectations low when firing up the game. And despite the presence of a fair few nasty bugs, some samey gameplay and a crash or two I absolutely adored the game. ‘Twas the story that renewed my flickering faith in a franchise that I felt was far from redemption.

Not only did The Force Unleashed have an interesting and compelling story, it also added some hella cool twists and turns to the existing Star Wars canon, filling in gaps to a backstory that didn’t really need to be filled in (but I’m sure glad they were). Haden Blackman, executive producer and writer of The Force Unleashed, won a Writers Guild of America award (shared with Shawn Pitman, John Stafford and Cameron Suey) for his work on The Force Unleashed, and I’m sure that most of us agree it was well deserved.

But in May 2010, seemingly out of the blue, Blackman announced his resignation from LucasArts. His resignation was accompanied by the usual professional statement thanking LucasArts for his time there; but for those out there who believe in omens, it was the first sign that all was not well for The Force Unleashed II. If only I had heeded this Force-powered warning, perhaps I wouldn’t have found myself so disappointed with The Force Unleashed II.

Episode III: The Start of the Review
It should come as no surprise to you, particularly after my lengthy introduction, that I had lofty hopes for The Force Unleashed II. And why not? On paper the game sounds fantastic, right? From what I’d seen, heard and read the game looked amazing. But while I went in hoping to experience the gaming equivalent of The Empire Strikes Back, what I got was more akin to Attack of the Clones.

To make matters more painful, the game starts off fantastically. Starkiller is shackled in a tucked-away room on Kamino—that Waterworld of a planet made popular by its tall inhabitants, epic surf and a little thing called cloning—and is brought up to speed by the Dark Lord of the Sith himself, Darth Vader. As it turns out, Vader tells Starkiller that he is, in fact, a clone; for those unaware, the cloning of Force-capable people is supposed to be a big no-no in the Star Wars canon.

After refusing to strike down a robotic hologram of Juno Eclipse, Starkiller’s love interest from the first game, he has a timely premonition of how Vader deals with such failures and breaks out. The first bit of gameplay involves Starkiller freefalling down an epic building, avoiding pylons and TIE Fighters, busting through barriers and generally being a badass before making one hell of an explosive entrance on the bottom floor.

Episode IV: The Potential Unleashed
The first two levels of the game are fucking intense. In these levels you’ll learn the new mechanics of the game, which can pretty much be listed on one hand. Jedi Mind Trick never gets old, particularly when it encourages stormtroopers to find the nearest ledge and leap off. Force Fury is perhaps a wee bit overpowered but, as one would expect, lives up to its name, converting Starkiller into an angry lightning-casting, lightsaber-throwing vessel of Force-infused death and destruction. And then there’s the addition of two different grapples that make for some initial entertaining combat diversity.

For those who were frustrated by the finicky nature of the first game, you’ll be glad to hear that the Holy Trinity of technologies—Havok, Euphoria and DMM—work a lot better this time around. LucasArts has refined the gameplay and combat to near-perfect levels of awesomeness.

The second stage features breathtaking level design, the introduction of some neat non-stormtrooper enemies and a fucking epic boss battle against a Garog: a behemoth that makes a Rancor look like a Jawa nugget. After smashing my way through these first two levels, I was sure the rest of the game was going to rock my world. Particularly after I was reunited with General Kota—one of my favourite characters from the first game—who informed me that Vader was a liar and there was no way that Starkiller could be a clone. The plot thickened, my Star Wars undergarments followed suit and I was ready to geek out on a second outing of delicious universe expansion.

Episode V: The Disappointment Unleashed
For those who paid attention to the lead-up news surrounding The Force Unleashed II, you’d be aware that a couple of familiar characters were set to star in the game: namely, Yoda and Boba Fett. We had been informed by LucasArts that these characters wouldn’t be mere cameo appearances in The Force Unleashed II: bullshit.

The third level is set on Dagobah, but instead of letting you explore the planet, fight different types of monsters or even spend a decent period of time kicking it with Master Yoda, the level is ridiculously underwhelming and essentially unnecessary in terms of gameplay. You quite literally collect a few conveniently placed Holocrons before activating a cutscene that cues the entry of Yoda, Starkiller enters a familiar tree, sees a vision of Juno and exits stage left. Worst of all, that brief stint on Dagobah counts as one of the game’s locales, which are limited to a total of four: three of which are covered in the first three levels. True story.

But who cares about level diversity, or the lack of enemy diversity for that matter, when it’s the plot that made the original game so compelling. Right? Alas, no. The Force Unleashed II’s plot can be literally boiled down thusly: Starkiller escapes Kamino, Vader sends Boba Fett to find Juno to lure back Starkiller, Starkiller has a premonition that Juno is in danger, Starkiller chases Juno. Unlike the first game, there are no clever twists, layered intricacies, nor exploration of the Force-fuelled dichotomy inside of Starkiller.

The only choice involved is right at the end of the game—after one of the lamest boss fights in history—where you can choose a good or bad ending. Be warned though, if you are tempted, like I was, to choose the good ending with its apparent promises of some sort of answers on the ‘is Starkiller a clone’ front, you will be sorely disappointed.

Episode VI: The Final Word
Sure, the graphics are sexy, the sound/score are immersive and the annoying bugs of the first game have been ironed out, but all of this is not conducive to a successful or personally rewarding second outing in a franchise that I had high hopes for. With the original game, LucasArts seemingly held nothing back, cutting their teeth on a trilogy of complicated technologies, creating a secret apprentice for an iconic Star Wars villain and, ultimately, killing off the hero at the end of the story (for the canonised ending). If ever a Star Wars story didn’t scream sequel, it was the ending to The Force Unleashed.

The Force Unleashed II feels incomplete. Not in terms of the gameplay mechanics or the bones of the game, but in the crucial heart (characters) and soul (storytelling) components. Unless you’re playing on one of the higher difficulty settings, you will knock this game over in around five hours, with an option for some extra gameplay (albeit frustrating) if you’re into the challenge modes. The challenges really feel like a way for LucasArts to anticipate and attempt appeasement of the disappointingly short campaign of a single-player-only game.

I could rattle on about the pointless and repetitive quick-time events, the same animation for the two takedowns (every time), the mini-cutscenes that activate at the most inconvenient of times, or the noticeable slowdowns when loading a new section or unleashing too much Force on one screen, but there really isn’t much point. The reality is that I’m nowhere near as angry as I was when I first finished this game; I’m just sad. Sad at what could have been and wasn’t.

LucasArts made me fall in love with Star Wars all over again with The Force Unleashed and then subtracted the ‘Arts’ from their second outing, leaving me feeling Lucas’d all over again. I wanted to love this game, so very much, but disappointment doesn’t begin to sum up the epic hollowness I felt when the credits started rolling.

6/10

SECOND OPINION – ko-zee-ii

I said it on this week’s podcast (found here), and I’ll say it again, I hate this game. I felt Nachos was considerably generous with his 6/10 and found The Force Unleashed II flawed beyond belief. Here’s an exert from my GameArena review.

“Starkiller, the protagonist (in a nod to the original surname for Luke Skywalker), was a torn creature battling the two sides of The Force that reside within us all while his master Vader whispered maddeningly sweet lullabies in his ear. After his apparent demise in the original, it was a surprise to see him in the announced sequel, but I had faith that the same development crew would succinctly explain his reappearance and the wild and woolly adventure would continue. Man oh man was I wrong.”

Want to read more? Sure you do! Check out the rest of the review here…

4/10

For more on Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, check out our interview with developer Brett Rector here…

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  • QuesterX

    awesome article but damn shame about the game.

  • Moo

    This game was good, but needed to be atleast 4 or 5 times longer and MUCH harder, beat it easily on hard, unleashed is decent

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  • Anonymous

    The game was slightly better than average, hence the 6, but was ultimately a disappointment.

  • YamahaR99

    I didnt read much of what you wrote before your review on TFU2 ;P But what you said about the game is true..The story in the first was amazing.. When I heard about the second I was excited for the game. I just wished they could have gotten deeper into the story.. Off topic they still need to make a KOTOR3..;) old republic will be fun…but no where near the first..you cant beat a single player RPG.

  • GalenHalcyon

    Amen. I feel jipped out of $60. I feel sorry for those that paid for the collector’s edition of the game.

    To me TFU2 feels like a stepping stone to TFU3, not a fleshed out complete game. Something that LucasArts could have given us as DLC for a quarter or even half the price. I’m very disappointed.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, I separated my review into sections because I know not everyone wants to read about my personal thoughts surrounding the game! I’ve heard that some troubling rumours on The Old Republic front… let us hope that it is awesome.

  • Anonymous

    I’m with you YamahaR99, KOTOR 3 on next gen consoles NEEDS to happen

  • Anonymous

    Mate, I hear you. I’m glad I didn’t have to fork out for it (which I would have).

    They’ve definitely left it open for a sequel, but instead of it being an awesome stepping-stone addition to the series, it feels more like a rushed money making ploy… kinda like the ‘Lucas’ part of the name.

  • Logan2000

    what happened to all the great fight battles from the 1st game a good lightsaber battle makes a starwars game. all we got was a dissapointing repetative final level and the costumes there was a few good one but come on how can you get into the swing of thing without no hooded robe huge potential for this game to be great seemed they ignored some of the things that made the 1st good

  • boomen

    This game is like 30 mins playtime, then you defeat darthvader, that they even call this a game lol