Check out our video review:
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is a fun and sometimes frustrating action game that never reaches its full potential. It’s marred by some poor design choices and as a Star Wars title, there are certain things about it that don’t make sense. At least in my opinion. Aware of the game’s problems, the developers aimed to correct them in the sequel, The Force Unleashed II. Developed and published by LucasArts, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II was released for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii, and DS in October, 2010. For this review, I played the PC version which, unfortunately, did not receive any DLC. There are some differences between the versions and I was originally going to play the Wii version because it comes with extra content including a multiplayer mode. I decided against it because it forces you to use the Wii Remote and Nunchuk and I prefer a traditional controller.
Players are put in the shoes of a Starkiller clone who possesses the memories of the original Starkiller. Believing Darth Vader will betray him, he escapes the cloning facility on the planet Kamino and sets out on a quest to find his true identity. There are multiple endings and the one you see will depend on a choice you make at the end of the story. I can’t say the plot is any better than that of the first game. I would even say its forgettable. The writing is really what fails here. It fails to capitalize on making the Starkiller clone interesting. Part of the problem is, if you played the first game, you know the events that transpired and who Starkiller is so watching him try to find himself is not very compelling. And it’s the core of the narrative. As soon as he escapes from Vader, it’s not hard to see how things are going to end. And this development in the very beginning of the plot basically closes the door on opportunities to make him and the story more interesting.
Like its predecessor, The Force Unleashed II is a hack and slash title set in the Star Wars universe. Starkiller is now equipped with two lightsabers and can utilize most of the Force powers from the first game. You can use the Force to push, grab, and throw objects and enemies, unleash lightning, and throw your lightsabers. Starkiller can now utilize the Mind Trick power to turn foes against each other which can be very helpful when you’re outnumbered. Defeating enemies fills up your Force Fury meter and once full, you can unleash Force Fury to inflict more damage for a brief time or until you deactivate it. Defeated enemies release green orbs that replenish your health.
I did play through the campaign on the Medium difficulty and I do think the gameplay is less frustrating than that of the first game. The camera and targeting were improved, using Force Grip is a lot easier and not every other attack will knock you down. Combat feels more fluid, you can deflect projectiles, and as a result of being more forgiving, I felt more like a Sith than I did in the first game. I actually felt super powerful most of the time. However, the game does feel a little too easy and the action does get repetitive.
Defeating enemies and destroying objects grants you experience and when you earn enough, you can spend it on Force upgrades. You can upgrade your powers and lightsaber attacks. By spending points on your lightsaber, you’ll inflict more damage and unlock more moves. I can’t say I ever felt the need to pull off the more complicated combos nor did I know how to until I played through the Challenges mode. As you progress through the campaign, you’ll unlock challenges that will test your skills. And the first challenge in the list will require you to pull off all of the attacks and combos in the game. Each challenge has a different requirement and you can try for high scores and unlock things like cinematics, crystals, and costumes.
Holocrons are scattered around the levels and provide benefits when collected. Some grant you additional experience, some will increase your maximum health and energy required to use Force powers, and others will grant you lightsaber crystals. The crystals allow you to change the color of your lightsabers and they come with different effects or bonuses. You can apply a different crystal to each lightsaber allowing you to benefit from multiple bonuses so that’s pretty cool.
Compared to the first game, other than the changes already mentioned, there’s not many other differences when it comes to the gameplay. It’s basically more of the same. I felt that the game starts out pretty strong mainly because the refined gameplay is immediately noticeable but by the time I got to the half-way point, the Star Wars novelty had worn off, exposing the generic and repetitive action. It appears the developers tried to implement more exciting moments in the form of scripted events like a couple of sequences where you’re falling and can use Force powers to destroy or move objects and debris out of your way.
One thing I did find disappointing compared to the first game is the lack of enemy variety and fewer boss battles. It seems the developers focused more on enemies with unique abilities or that require certain strategies to take down. Most of the foes you engage are troopers and droids and the troopers are the easiest foes to defeat. Some of the more dangerous types include Sith Acolytes and Saber Guards but they can be easily overcome with the right combination of attacks and powers and/or grapple moves. There are some new interesting types thrown in like Carbonite Droids that can freeze you and Terror Troopers that cloak themselves but I can’t say any encounters ever proved to be a problem or super challenging. The game gives you plenty of ways to defeat enemies and thanks to the more fluid combat and new abilities, crowd control is easier, it’s easier to avoid attack interruption, and I felt like I had more room to experiment in general.
Long range powers like Lightning and Saber Throw are great against enemies like AT-STs and AT-MTs, but you can also use force Grip to hurl objects at them, and you can deflect AT-MT missiles by blocking. As indicated earlier, not every other attack will knock you down so bigger enemies like the AT-STs are less frustrating to deal with and also a little more fun because I felt like I could utilize more of the tools at my disposal. There are some things that make the combat a little more satisfying this time around. For one thing, you can cut the limbs off certain foes and/or decapitate them and your Lightning power can cause Jump Troopers to fly around out of control before their jet pack explodes which is always fun to watch. What’s not fun is all the quick time events which are essentially finishing moves. They also pop up during boss battles and do nothing more than lessen the excitement.
Not only is the action repetitive but so are the levels. The Force Unleashed II does take you to a decent variety of locations but many areas and/or rooms within the locations look and feel the same. The environments also feel more linear than those of the first game. The only reason to explore is to find the Holocrons and as long as you take the time to look around, you should be able to locate them rather easily. Most environments don’t feature a lot of branching paths or areas off to the sides and most levels play out the same. Move to an area, defeat all the baddies, rinse and repeat.
Visually, The Force Unleashed II does look better than the first game. It’s a little more vibrant and the game engine allows for cool physics and destruction effects. The character models look good and the art style is a good reflection of the franchise. As expected, the game sounds very Star Wars. Enemies, blasters and lightsabers sound appropriate and the soundtrack features a lot of classic Star Wars tunes and the music is one of the better aspects of the game. The presentation does seem a little buggy. I noticed enemy body parts looked glitchy at one point, texture loading and pop-in seems to be frequent, as is random visual oddities like what appears to be flickering. On the technical side, the game did crash on me once and the frame rate is capped at thirty.
The Force Unleashed II is an average game. I do appreciate that it resolves some of my issues with the first game but it doesn’t really go beyond that. It’s less frustrating, less challenging, and I feel like there’s less depth to it. Not that the first game was that deep to begin with but here I felt overpowered most of the time. That said, I think I would recommend newcomers start on the Hard difficulty. I do prefer The Force Unleashed II over its predecessor because of the refined mechanics and more fluid combat. Plus, I actually felt like a powerful Sith this time around. But unlike the first game, this has the opposite problem. It often feels too easy. I also wonder if it was rushed. It could have used some more polish and in general, it’s just a very underwhelming sequel.
I would recommend The Force Unleashed II if you can find a cheap copy. If you liked the first game, I think you’ll like this. It’s more of the same. The improvements don’t mask the game’s problems but it can prove to be fun for at least a little while. It’s not a terrible game. Just average which is a shame because being a Jedi or Sith should be more than an average experience in an action game like this.