REVIEWS -- Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II -- PC
Polar opposite of the original
by Lazare Gvimradze
Fun factor: Average
Worth to: Rent
A better game technically, a tad bit flashier gameplay-wise, but disastrously shallow in its prime aspect as a Star Wars tale.
As a gap-filling bonus chapter for a die-hard fan craving for more insight into the original 6-episode Star Wars lore, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was great; everything starting from the intricate story to the complex characters drawing a genuine Sith perspective, plot twists gleaming with betrayals and second-guessing of oneís true allegiance, the game had it all. The only problem was, the actual ďgameĒ parts were so horribly executed that no epic force-showoffs or physics engine implementations would shield them from a relentless, and honestly well-deserved barrage of criticism.
The second chapter, which was somewhat unforeseen as the original ended at a key moment which would then kick off A New Hope, advertised improvements in aspects which the original had an uncanny lack of, namely promising improved combat, more intuitive controls and improvements in the engine codes. What the players were never taught to learn, however, was exactly how literal Lucasarts can be in their promises, because thatís exactly what they did, nothing more, nothing else.
Clone or drone?
The story kicks off at Kamino, where the cloning facilities have been taken over by the Empire and Darth Vader is planning new mischief to improve his grasp over the Galaxy. Starkiller is then revealed, allegedly a genetic copy of the hero who selflessly died in the original, and plagued by visions of his non-existent past. After a brief exchange with Vader and an emotional outburst as he failed to strike down a holo-imitation of his former co-pilot and love, Juno Eclipse, Starkiller predicts his expendable role in the Sithís plans and escapes the planet, hijacking his masterís TIE Fighter to Cato Neimoidia, where he intends to find and rescue a captured General Kota, the blind Jedi he allied with in the original.
As the story progresses, it is noticeable just how much potential is wasted as instead of exploring his inner dilemmas like in the first game, Starkiller mindlessly hunts and kills everything in sight to find Juno, while at the same time Kota is organizing a strike against Kamino and requires Starkiller to lead the assault. This parallel is lamely accentuated as the story is primarily focused on the main hero and his restless race through a world that has lost everything Star Wars is known and loved for, resulting in an incredibly brief adventure which comes full circle and fails to capture or hold your attention the way the original did.
There are no links to the movies whatsoever, with even the famed Yoda cameo being as contributive to the plot vault as the rock he sits on his whole 5 minutes of screen time. Characters lack development and hold no excuse for suddenly disappearing halfway through the game and Starkiller himself does little to explore his true identity and wastes his original charisma of a powerful but lost Jedi in his selfish quest.
There is some intrigue to listen to oblivious clone troopers complaining about life on Kamino and giving the occasional insight into other test subjects like you, and you may even discover a peculiar in-game encyclopedia ŗ la Batman: Arkham Asylum, where random notes regarding differing NPC types you encounter provide for puzzle pieces of the experiments preceding the game. But itís never out on the surface or shoved in your face, as if out of shame.
What I meant in my concluding words in the second paragraph was that the story here, well, sucks, and apparently Lucasarts did work on what they promised, providing the sequel with an interesting flip over as the script is literally swapped for gameplay in terms of quality. Where the original was a compelling tale with broken mechanics, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II is an insult to the franchise but does a great job at improving prior gameplay flaws.
Cut Ďem like butter
The core mechanics remain unchanged, with a cosmetic second lightsaber doing little to stall the incredibly simplified slashing which looks five times more impressive and does a good job of tightening up the loose screws from the original. Force powers are more conserved but focused, and there are no Devil May Cry moments where you simply want to show off cool moves but find it hard to execute them.
The leveling system evolved into something less intimidating and allows for step-by-step improvement of a number of skills, and random lightsaber crystals, which were a pain to find in the original but are scattered all over the place in here, are actually useful with some representatives upgrading your saber to disintegrate or incinerate enemies. And yes, they DO incinerate, and they even get decapitated and dismembered. No blood of course, itís still a T for Teen, but at least itís some recognition of what the hero is actually wielding (note: the first gameís gameplay interpretation of a lightsaber paid homage to baseball bats).
The situations are less varied than in the gameís predecessor though; there will be no radical changes in atmosphere like Raxus Prime or Felucia. The environments you visit will be roughly copy/pasted with the color gray being in the major dominance, but there is an overall greater diversity in enemy types and even a few boss battles which would make the God of War nod in appreciation. The famous showdown with the rancor-eating thing, which is actually called the Gorog, is one of the more impressive boss fights in games this year, with several steps involving beating the giantís head against the ground, bolting its hands to chains, cutting his fingers, collapsing the arena, and finishing off the abomination mid-air as you tumble towards the distant grounds of Kato Neimoidia. Iíd say that beats downing an Imperial Star Destroyer.
Add to that an impressive amount of repetitive quick-time events for finishing similarly repetitive mini-boss-type foes, and a new ďForce FuryĒ system which allows the already-overpowered Starkiller to temporarily become a walking Sith nightmare, and there you have it, The Force Unleashed refined and perfected. Alas, as it is with Lucasarts, thereís a dramatic downside to all of this. I donít know how true this exactly is, but I measured that the game spans just over five hours, which can be shamelessly said to be half the time it took to complete the original. There is some satisfaction in completing random challenge maps for additional value, but it still boils down to whether or not you can cope with that PLUS an inconsistent storyline. If you can, then an improved sequel it truly is, promise fulfilled.
May the engines be with you
Seriously though, the polish went over the presentation as well, all of it in fact, with graphics pulling out beautifully rendered architecture, epic skyboxes and dramatic lightning, along with nice post-processing effects. And the game finally admitting user-friendliness as an existing term also helps matters; itís now generating greater overall optimization of the multiple engines it is packed with (for the ones interested: the core engine, Ronin, developed by Lucasarts in parallel with the first part of The Force Unleashed, features Digital Molecular Matterís algorithms for realistically shattering glass, which is a tad bit downgraded in the second part; Euphoriaís AI coded-animations for some next-gen ragdoll effects; and, finally, the widely known Havok responsible for all the tumbling crates and other physics goodies), and a better port to PCs features graphics options and gamepad support, which still staggers left and right but goes in no comparison with the terrible, terrible options of the first game -- miracles, in short.
Things go fine in the audio department, as well: the score is mostly the same, with John Williamsí undying pieces occasionally mixed with the gameís proprietary tunes, and the voicework goes beyond heavens as Samuel Witwer does a second incredible job at portraying a purely human character with genuine emotions and Matt Sloanís Darth Vader being simply Darth Vader, 100%.
Okay so whether or not youíll want to classify Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II better than the original is a true case of a matter of perspective. On one hand, it features polished gameplay leaping light-years ahead from the overly complex-something that was, by unknown reasons, called combat mechanics in the first part; on the other, itís a woefully short, story-wise disappointing tale of either Starkiller or his clone doing nothing worthy of a true Jedi, wasting all that badass Force potential on personal gains. The simplest answer to a newcomer to the series would be as follows: if you want to experience being an all-powerful dual-wielding Sith with a knack for playing bowling with storm troopers, skip the first chapter and ride The Force Unleashed II. But if youíre looking for an admirable addition to George Lucasí world of the Rebel Alliance and the Empire and all that juicy Star Wars stuff, then be a reasonable person, suffer through the first part for what itís worth, and ignore this crap.
Release Date: October 26, 2010
Review Date: 29-12-2010
Numbers of Players: 1
Players Online: No
Decent character models and environments cushioned in all sorts of outstanding visual effects draw a believable picture, but not without sacrificing precious frames per second.
Swift swordplay and a more streamlined combat mechanic ensure instant familiarization with a wide array of Sith skills, with every bunch of unlucky Stormtroopers calling for yet another physics-funtime.
Losing everything that defines Star Wars and portraying the main hero in illogical ways, youíll find little to settle your fan thirst on except for broken character appearances and a frustratingly short story.
Great music and impeccable voicework provide for an atmospheric edge for the otherwise flawed storyline, with Starkiller in particular being a down-to-the-ground, realistic anti-hero with his own inner demons.
As a continuation of a successful story arc, The Force Unleashed does nothing but stomp the ground and forget what universe itís set in, trying to buy off its guilt with more polished and fast-paced action and some respect for code optimization.