Released: October 2010
Also Available For: iOS, Nintendo DS, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, and PC
Despite its flaws, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (ibid, 2008) was a commercial success; as a result, LucasArts rushed into production with a sequel to what was, at the time, the official bridge between the events of Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (Lucas, 2005), and Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope (ibid, 1977). My experience with The Force Unleashed was mired by the game’s dodgy camera, wonky physics, and repetitive levels and combat. When the game shined, it shined pretty brightly but even its best moments couldn’t overshadow the flaws in the engine and execution. The story, while interesting, had a few issues as well (even more so considering the games have long since been rendered non-canon by Disney), and was pretty well wrapped up with Darth Vader’s turncoat secret apprentice, Starkiller, dying a martyr to inspire and rabble the Rebel Alliance. But the franchise made money so, armed with the lamest excuse possible, LucasArts came back with this sequel but does it improve on its predecessor’s failings or is it more of the same?
After multiple failures, Darth Vader has finally perfected a clone of his secret apprentice, Starkiller. However, haunted by the memories, feelings, and motivations of his predecessor, the clone sets out to uncover the truth of his identity and reconnect with his lost love, Juno Eclipse.
Like its predecessor, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II is a third-person action title in which the player controls a clone of Vader’s secret apprentice, Starkiller. If you thought Starkiller was a damaged, edgy character torn between his divided loyalties, this clone ramps it up to eleven as duplicating Starkiller’s prowess with the Force also meant duplicating his memories and emotions. Nowhere is this more evident in the fact that Starkiller now wields duel lightsabers, holding them both behind him like an absolute bad-ass. As a result, the already frenetic combat of the original is dialled up in this sequel; whereas you could just mash away at the X button in The Force Awakens to cut down foes, it was also encouraged that you time your strikes to unleash an impressive flurry of damaging attacks. Here, though, the combo system is literally as simple as successively hitting X to turn Starkiller into a laser-sword blur of blades and attacks; regular enemies no longer have their own health bars, meaning you’re literally encouraged to just mash away until they’re defeated.
Most of Starkiller’s basic Force abilities make a return; you can fry Stromtroopers with Force Lightning, push or toss them (and objects) with Force Push and Force Grip, or blast them away with Force Repulse. The game also places far more emphasis on pressing Y or O during a lightsaber combo to deal additional damage with Force Lightning or Force Push, which is extremely useful for clearing out waves of enemies or dealing additional lightning damage. While the life-sapping Force Shield is absent, Starkiller can now use a Mind Trick to convince his enemies to turn on their comrades or leap to their deaths which, while handy (and pretty much mandatory in the game’s final battle against Vader), can be clunky; I found it either wore off too fast or enemies just shrugged it off when I applied it. as you cut down enemies, you’ll build up a meter in the bottom left of the screen; once fully charged, pressing down the two analogue sticks will send Starkiller into a “Force Rage”, which increases his attack power and resistance to injure for as long as the meter lasts (which, to be fair, is quite a while). As you cut down enemies, you’ll earn points that can be used to upgrade each of Starkiller’s abilities, similar to the last game but much simpler and more streamlined. Gone are the multiple of combos you had to purchase and you have no need to buy new Force abilities as Starkiller either remembers them or learns them as he progresses, meaning its far easier to power-up Starkiller’s abilities.
Also like in the first game, you can acquire crystals to customise the appearance and abilities of Starkiller’s lightsabers; you can mix and match the different blades for added effects and bonuses, though, unfortunately, there’s no way to customise your favourite blade colour with your preferred buff. While Force abilities are still a vital part of the game, and the combat system, I found they were mostly relegated to opening doors (which I still find difficult due to the game’s physics and hit detection) and tossing objects. Thankfully, gripping TIE Fighters and lobbing various bits of the environment at your enemies is much easier here; in the original, it felt like I was always fighting to get a grip on passing TIE Fighters and that they would just go flying wherever they wanted but, here, the system is much improved.
Yet, for the most part, the game’s combat is focused almost exclusively on lightsaber combat. Perhaps because the clone is so emotionally unstable, combat is fast, brutal, and frenetic; Starkiller can grapple his foes to deliver either an instant kill or massive damage; he also lops off Stromtrooper’s heads and limbs this time around and can once again leave enemies open to a devastating parry with a well-timed press of the block button. Starkiller can still hurl his lightsabers at his enemies to cut them down from a distance, too, but I actually found myself using this far less in combat as it leaves Starkiller vulnerable as he waits for his weapons to return; instead, the game mostly focuses on using this ability to cut down platforms.
In addition to attacking with more power and proficiency than before, Starkiller also seems to be noticeably tougher; he can still lose health rapidly when pinned down or subjected to multiple attacks but his new combat style allows him to quickly cut down those before him to refill his health and force meter. You’ll need these skills as well as the game’s enemies seem much tougher and smarter this time around; snipers blast at you from the high ground in the distance or behind waves of regular Stromtroopers, who hunker down behind cover or buzz around on jetpacks. Even the bog-standard Stromtroopers can take a beating as well, meaning you should always go for overkill when engaging with hallways filled with enemies. Speaking of which, while the game is far more linear in its environments and level layout than its predecessor, I find it amusing, then, that the game ditches a traditional map and, instead, allows you to “sense” the way you need to do with the directional-pad as it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get lost in the game’s straight-forward environments. You’ll still be tasked with performing some mandatory platforming; Starkiller can double jump and dash on the ground and in the air to cross gaps but, more often that not, you’ll probably have to use the Force in some way to create makeshift bridges.
While platforming is light, it is mostly okay; Starkiller is nowhere near as slippery and janky as before and the game’s engine doesn’t seem to be struggling to render everything this time around, meaning you’re far less likely to slip or glitch off a ledge. The game does suddenly through a whole mess of tricky platforming at you when you storm Kamino’s cloning facilities in the final chapter, however, so it’s best you work on perfecting those jumps. Also as before, you’ll be tasked with performing a number of quick-time events (QTEs), especially against largely enemies and during boss battles. While these aren’t anything too complex beyond either pressing or mashing a button (or two buttons) at the right time, I found that the QTE indicators were harder to spot on the screen as they often appear at the edges of the display. There are also numerous moments where Starkiller dives through the air at high speed, dodging obstacles or blasting them (or enemies) with his Force abilities; while these are fun and exhilarating, the game maybe uses them a few too many times. Luckily, the poorly-conceived Star Destroyer section of the original is turned on its head here where Starkiller has to clear a path for a ship that is crashing through Kamino’s atmosphere, which is much improved.
Luckily, the game’s stability has been noticeably improved over its predecessor; enemies no longer turn into stupid ragdolls when you defeat them or toss them around and I encountered far less glitches and issues with jumping or interacting with the environment. However, I did experience a few issues with slowdown, stuttering, and instances where the game didn’t load in the required environment or boss battle. This may have been because of the condition of my game disc, however as, after I cleaned it, the game continued to run fine but it was noticeable.
What really lets the game down, though, is its length and variety; I was annoyed that you revisited the same levels in The Force Unleashed and that, while the game evoked the spirit and aesthetic of Star Wars, it didn’t really do much to show us more of this sprawling, multi-cultural galaxy. For the sequel, you’ll battle through hallways-upon-hallways in many grey-coloured environments, whether it’s on a starship or the facilities on Kamino. The game tries to mix it up with some puzzle elements involving you powering up doors and visiting Cato Neimoidia (which is little more than a reskinned Geonosis) and briefly stopping by Dagobah but the majority of your time is spent exploring very similar-looking environments. Additionally, the game seems much shorter than its predecessor; I blew through the main story on the “Medium” difficulty and only missed one lightsaber crystal and with only a few Force abilities left to upgrade (easily remedied with a quick replay of some of the game’s other levels). The game’s length is so noticeably short, and its environment so conspicuously limited, that it almost feels like an extended add-on to the first game, like they took an idea for downloadable content (DLC) for The Force Awakens and simply padded it out to fill four to six hours of repetitive combat and gameplay.
Graphics and Sound:
Graphically, The Force Unleashed II isn’t much of an improvement over its predecessor, either; the cutscenes are of about the same quality and the in-game graphics only seem like they have been slightly tweaked and improved. I’ll give it this, though: the game really knows how to render the interior of a starship and the storm-swept landscape of Kamino; while this may mean that the game’s overall stability and quality is noticeably improved as the game isn’t trying to render or process loads of different elements all at once, it does make for a far blander and less interesting aesthetic experience as the game never reaches the heights of the original’s run through the Death Star laser cannon.
Once again, one of the best elements of the game is the incorporation of John Williams’ iconic Star Wars tracks. While you don’t get the same exhilaration as cutting down Wookies as Darth Vader while the Imperial March plays, the use of familiar Star Wars tracks once again works extremely well with the game’s visual fidelity to the movies to make it feel as though the game and its characters are deeply entrenched in Star Wars lore.
Enemies and Bosses:
For the majority of The Force Unleashed II, you’ll be cutting your way through swathes of Stromtroopers; we’ve got the generic minions, sniper and jetpack-wearing variants, and staff-wielding Riot Troopers. Despite the ease at which you can cut through these guys (the jetpackers, especially, go down much easier than in the first game), it does feel as though their intelligence, durability, and aggressiveness has been tweaked slightly to make them a bit more of a threat. Thankfully, the annoying Purge Troopers are no longer present; in there place, are a series of robotic enemies. The large variants wield shields that you must wrench off them with the Force and can attack with explosives, flamethrowers, or even carbonite sprays. You’ll also battle AT-MPs and AT-STs, both of which require to you reflect missiles back at them and, like these larger robots, can be destroying using QTEs.
The game also brings back Force-sensitive and lightsaber-wielding foes, who are resistant to your lightsaber attacks and Force abilities, respectively, though the new grapple move is very useful for breaking through their guard. You’ll also battle spider-like terror droids (who can swarm you in an instant and must be destroyed en masse with Force Repulse) and enemies who are invisible and intangible until you stun them with Force Lightning, but, beyond Stormtrooper and droid variants, that’s about it for the game’s enemies. The Force Unleashed II is also a little thin on the ground when it comes to its bosses; at one point, it seems like the game is building up to a battle against Boba Fett but this never actually occurs, which is a shame. While the first game had far more boss encounters, though they were generally all variations on the same thing but, here, there are as few bosses as there are levels. The game tries to make up for it by making the few boss battles you do have to contend with last a long time; when battling the gigantic Rancor-eating Gorog, for example, you’ll have to dodge its massive claws, charge up its shackles with Force Lightning before attacking them with your lightsaber, and then mash the B button to Force Push the creature back into its restraints. Once you sap its health, you’ll then have to blast it with Force Lightning and attack it (and a few waves of Stromtroopers) from a higher gantry in order to sever the structure holding it in place and then you’ll dive after it at high speed, zapping and slashing at it before it can crush your ally, all of which can be an extremely exhaustive experience.
This exhaustion continues with the final bout against Darth Vader; unlike in the first game, where you could choose to battle Vader to the death or take on the Emperor at the end, The Force Unleashed II ends on an annoying multi-stage duel with the Dark Lord himself. Being so thoroughly bested by his apprentice in the first game must have really pissed Vader off, too, as he’s much more of a threat in this sequel; your Force abilities are all but useless against Vader here, requiring you to unleash your best combos against him on the rare occasions when his guard his down. Like the final duel of Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace (ibid, 1999) and the battle between Yoda (Frank Oz) and Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) in Revenge of the Sith, this finale takes place on a vertical plane, with Starkiller and Vader having to leap to platforms across a bottomless chasm deep in Kamino’s cloning facilities. As the fight progresses, you’ll have to send debris and objects back at Vader to damage him and then use your Mind Trick to convince flawed Starkiller clones to distract and damage Vader enough for you to really open up on him. Finally, the fight ends out on a rain-soaking landing platform, similar to the fight between Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), where your Force Range will be fully powered and you’ll have to win a few QTEs to finally best Vader in combat and be able to, once again, choose between a Light Side ending and a Dark Side ending.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
as in the first game, you can pick up Jedi and Sith Holocrons hidden throughout every level; these will either give you a bunch of additional points to upgrade Starkiller’s abilities or provide you with a crystal to customise your lightsaber. These Holocrons are far easier to spot than in the first game and there’s even two additional variants, green and blue, which expand Starkiller’s health and Force meter respectively. While you can no longer acquire in-game buffs that make you invincible or the like, the different lightsaber crystals allow you to drain health from enemies, increase the replenishment of your health or Force meter, or earn more points from combat. You can also customise the lightsaber to deal additional lightning damage, possibly set enemies on fire, or even have a chance to disintegrate them entirely with the mythical Darksaber. As you play through the game, you’ll unlock additional costumes for Starkiller; you can also unlock further costumes by succeeding in the game’s “Challenge” mode and, if you have a save file from The Force Unleashed on your hard drive, you’ll gain access to three additional costumes (including the awesome Sith Stalker costume).
As in the first game, you can unlock concept art and data files by playing the game; you can also input various cheat codes that allow you to save you having to unlock costumes and skins such as Boba Fett, though most of the game’s best costumes are restricted to DLC. Also present is the aforementioned “Challenge” mode; as you play the game, you’ll unlock new maps and challenges to take on in this mode, which generally require you to survive against waves of enemies while staying on a platform or collecting Holocrons, all against a clock. Depending on how well you do, you’ll receive either a bronze, silver, or gold medal and unlock additional costumes. DLC is far less extensive in this game; unlike the first, there is only one additional mission available in DLC. This non-canon extension of the game’s Dark Side ending sees players assume the role of the dark clone of Starkiller, who is sent to kill Princess Leia (who has become a Jedi in this timeline) during the Battle of Endor and winds up drop-kicking Ewoks and killing both Han Solo and Chewbacca for good measure.
For everything Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II improves from its predecessor, it has a near-equal number of failings as well. The game is far simpler; the interfaces are cleaner and easier to navigate, the plot is much more simplifier, and the combat has boiled down to a simply button masher. While this makes the game fast-paced, frenetic fun at times, it comes at the cost of the game’s length, difficulty, and replayability; the environments are even more limited than its predecessor, the plot is paper thin is the bare minimum excuse to produce a sequel, and it largely adds little to the first game or the overall Star Wars lore. Unfortunately, there’s probably less appeal in The Force Unleashed II than in the original; at least in that game, we got to see some familiar characters return and the formation of the Rebel Alliance be fleshed out but, here, we’re not really learning anything new. All this sequel shows us is that it was foolish for players to be emotionally invested in Starkiller and his new allies as even PROXY, who was clearly destroyed in the original, returns here (adding nothing to the narrative) and Juno, for all the importance the game places on her in Starkiller’s life, is little more than a damsel in distress and is never interacted with until the last moments of the game. Overall, The Force Unleashed II is far less frustrating than its predecessor but still an average gameplay experience. The developers definitely tidied up the combat and the physics but it doesn’t change the fact that this sequel is little more than an shameless cash-in n the success of The Force Unleashed. Were this game’s story condensed into a piece of DLC and its improvements and tweaks placed into The Force Unleashed, we could probably have had a really good Star Wars game but, instead, we got two lacklustre titles that, for all their potential, fail to really provide a coherent gameplay experience between them.
Could Be Better
What did you think abouy Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II? Did you consider it to be superior to its predecessor or were you just as unimpressed with the game’s length and variety as I was? What is your favourite Star Wars videogame (or movie, or show, or book, or whatever), if any? Either way, drop a comment below and let me know.
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