Ever since Star Wars met video games way back on the Atari 2600, gamers have yearned to pick up a lightsaber and manipulate the Force in ways previously only seen in the medium of film. As the decades passed, games came and went that placed players squarely in the boots of Jedi and Sith alike and gave us control over the Force, but the thirst to fully unleash the mysterious energy’s full potential was still present. In 2008, we were finally given free rein with the Force in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and while it was fun to use the Force in so many new ways, the game was plagued by several nagging issues. Well it’s been two years and The Force Unleashed II is finally here, is the sequel worthy of the halls of Jedi Temple or should this padawan be tossed into the Sarlacc pit?
The story opens in the depths of a cloning facility on Kamino. Darth Vader has been busy trying to successfully clone his former apprentice Starkiller into a more loyal servant of the dark side. The problem is that the clone is haunted by the memories of the original, including his love for Imperial pilot turned Rebel captain Juno Eclipse. After a desperate escape from Vader and the Imperial forces on Kamino, Starkiller leaves in search of Juno, as well as his former Jedi master Rahm Kota. Along the way, he travels to a post-Clone Wars Cato Neimodia, Dagobha and join the Rebel fleet as it launches its first major offensive against the Empire.
The story serves up all of the traditional Star Wars set pieces; action, intrigue and romance all wrapped around the grandness that usually accompanies the series. Unfortunately, it seems that Lucas Arts wasn’t thinking too far ahead when crafting the original game’s story as The Force Unleashed II’s tale makes so many compromises to justify its existence that some parts of the story are either totally impossible (the ending includes one of the most ridiculous moments in both gaming and Star Wars) or simply pointless fan service (Yoda and Boba Fett both make appearances but you will soon wish they hadn’t). It’s also painfully clear that The Force Unleashed has become a ‘series’ in its own right and that The Force Unleashed II only serves to introduce the events that will take place in number three.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II is at its core a standard action game. You go through the levels defeating all the enemies in a given room, move onto the next room, and repeat, always repeat. Sometimes the game will attempt to break things up with boss battles, but these suffer from being repetitive themselves. There is simply not enough variety in the gameplay to keep players interested, and the waggle intensive quick-time events don’t help much, either. The game’s levels, while nicely detailed, all feel like a bunch of corridors connecting rooms and don’t offer up much of the traditional Star Wars wonder.
The game attempts to shake things up with the implementation of Force powers that can string together for devastating results. A quick shake of the Nunchuck will release a powerful Force wave, while holding ‘Z’ and shaking the Nunchuck unleashes Force lightning. On top of these the game offers up several other abilities such as Force dash, Force grip, Saber throw and Mind manipulation which, while cool in their own rights, can only be used effectively in certain situations. More often than not the combo of push, lightning and lightsaber attacks can get you out of any situation.
All of these Force powers are upgradeable via an experience points system (similar to a classic RPG) wherein you earn XP for defeating enemies, which you can then spend on upgrades. Now while this is an interesting idea it is possible to only upgrade your most useful Force powers and then cruise through the rest of the game. Killing off platoons of Stormtroopers with a simple shake of the controller may feel satisfying at first, but soon becomes tedious and turns an already boring experience into something comparable to a sleeping aid.
This is one of the rare instances of a Wii game that I believe would be better served by using the Classic Controller as the standard controller (sadly this isn’t an option). The Wii Remote and Nunchuck simply do not feature enough buttons to handle The Force Unleashed II’s complex control scheme. Case in point: by the end of the game you will have so many Force powers that rapidly switching between them and the gestures/button presses required becomes an exercise in confusion and frustration, not exactly reminiscent of an all powerful Jedi.
In the graphics department, The Force Unleashed II actually performs very well. The environments are well detailed and reflect their in-universe locations perfectly. In addition, the locations are all destructible, meaning that when you unleash (I love this pun) a Force push the walls will crumble around you and pieces of the scenery will be thrown around, making you feel really powerful in the process. The screen also at times fills with enemies, explosions and all sorts of effects (the Battle of Kamino serves as a perfect example), and the framerate never stutters. Also, the characters are all well designed and animated, although some small glitches (Stormtrooper folding into himself…) are present. It should be noted that the game’s cutscenes were all done in the Wii versions engine. This makes for a smoother transition between the clips and gameplay than if the HD scenes were used, a nice touch.
The music for the game is, as you would expect, genuinely Star Wars, with most the tunes being ripped directly from the classic score. It says a lot about the quality of the original tracks that they can be successfully used in new media over 30 years after they debuted. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the voice acting in the game, as it seems like the less the characters say the better they come off. Even the dark lord of the Sith himself Darth Vader’s lines sound out of place. It also becomes way too easy not to care for the central cast as due to how often they spout complete nonsense (I’m looking at you Mr. Kota).
Now here is the real kicker. Clocking in a just over five hours, The Force Unleashed II is less than half the length of the original Force Unleashed. While unlockable concept art and hidden power-ups do add a bit to the replay value, this is not a game you would want to replay (which you must do to unlock every item). The game does offer multiple difficulty settings, but all this does is ratchet up the ‘cheap’ factor by increasing enemy health and rate of fire. The Wii version does, however, come with an exclusive multiplayer battle-mode which, while insultingly shallow, does at least try to mix things up and offers a nice diversion from the boring single player.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II seems to take two steps forward and three huge steps backwards from its predecessor. The graphics and controls are a definite improvement (though they're still not perfect) but the short, repetitive and ridiculous single player will leave even the most die-hard (I’m talking Jar-Jar loving die-hard) of Star Wars fans shaking their heads in disbelief that an idea this cool could end up being so lame. Well at least we now have the Force Unleashed III to anticipate.