I should make it clear that I actually enjoyed the original Force Unleashed, unlike the majority of those who played it. Sure, it was a little bit unstable (alright, very unstable), and the combat felt a little detached, but it was saved by a brilliant story and fantastic writing. In this way, Force Unleashed II is almost the exact opposite of its predecessor. You play as a clone of Starkiller (henceforth referred to as simply “Starkiller” for the sake of simplicity), created by Darth Vader after the original violently exploded. Starkiller 1.0, Vader’s original apprentice, was “weakened”, as such, by his bond with Imperial pilot Juno, and went deranged and began to fight the Empire. The Dark Lord had hoped that this new clone would be free of the pathetic bonds of love, but (surprise, surprise), he still loves Juno, escapes, and sets out to find her with the help of General Rahm Kota, whom Starkiller 1.0 blinded in the original game whilst still loyal to Vader. Aiding you in your quest are your two lightsabers (that’s right, two lightsabers) and a wide array of force powers: all of those from the original game, along with quite a few others. Among the new appearances are: Mind Trick, which confuses enemies into fighting alongside you, and Saber Throw, which is fairly self-explanatory.
The combat has improved vastly this time around. Instead of three force powers, you have six, and instead of one lightsaber, you have two. It is easy to chain together saber combos and force powers for devastating effects. There are quite a few varieties of enemy. First, of course, is the standard Stormtrooper, who is easy to kill and really just a nice way of charging up and using your more powerful force abilities. The Scout is a Stormtrooper with an unblockable sniper attack; you have to zoom across the room at full speed to escape its laser, while the Jetpack trooper is a trooper with a jetpack, most easily killed with Force Lightning (shocking, I know). On top of these, you have enemies who are resistant to either force powers, or lightsaber attacks. The former are much harder to defeat, and require a fair bit of grappling and ground-stabbing to dispatch. The latter can just be force pushed off the platform on which you are standing (you spend a good half of the game standing on platforms) for an easy but eerily satisfying kill. Finally come the spiders, and the less said about those little monsters, the better. If not for Force Repulse, a large blast similar to Force Push, but emanating from you in a spherical pattern, they would be near impossible to kill: they surround you by the dozen, and latch onto your face attempting to eat your soul or some such thing. When you are fighting these enemies, the game is at its absolute best. You have to vary your combat style, since each enemy has a different weakness. And most of all, you feel like a Sith (yes, despite the fact that you’re a Jedi).
Unfortunately, the larger enemies are significantly less enjoyable to fight. Most of your powers will end up doing nothing to them, and so you are forced to run around in circles, electrifying crates and throwing them blindly, or alternatively rushing up to the enemy’s feet and slashing at them. The worst of these is undoubtedly the rocket-firing AT-ST. Its rockets can be deflected, but you have roughly a half-second window in which to parry them away. The eventual quick-time events feel detached from the rest of the combat and ruin the feel of the gameplay. There are perhaps two bosses in the entire game, neither of which is particularly difficult to fight. The first is an enormous beast, which is reasonably enjoyable to fight, but is damaged by its own derivation. The identity of the second boss is probably quite obvious.
Occasionally, TFU II gets this ridiculous idea that it’s a platformer. Especially towards the end of the game, you will spend inordinate amounts of time jumping between platforms. This isn’t terrible, but at the same time, it’s not particularly enjoyable since there’s never really any more to the platforming than jump-jump or, if you’re very lucky, jump-jump-dash. The inclusion of the platforming wasn’t really necessary, and it just feels like filler. Which it probably is, given the game’s length, but more on that later in the review.
The presentation borrows heavily from quite a few of this generation’s popular games – notably, God of War III and Uncharted 2. This isn’t a bad thing at all, as it takes ideas from these games and adapts them to the Star Wars universe. The quick-time events are reminiscent of everyone’s (well, quite a few people’s) favourite hack and slash, right down to the positioning of the buttons you need to press as they are arranged on the controller. The aforementioned enormous boss is also extremely similar to a certain boss from God of War III, but the fight is unfortunately not handled quite as well, which damaged my experience a little. From Uncharted 2, it takes the occasional zooms to Starkiller’s back, especially in the final level, and quite a few *run away from this deadly flying killing machine* sequences.
Visual design is fantastic and classic Star Wars, though the futuristic-indoor setting gets a little old after a while, and makes up around half of the game; some variety here would have been nice. The CGI is among the best I have seen this generation, and in-game graphics aren’t too shabby themselves, even if Kota and Starkiller look a little… inhuman (though I suppose Starkiller can be excused since, strictly speaking, he isn’t a human). The Force Unleashed II is a beautiful game, in every sense of the word. The music is quiet, and you won’t really notice it a lot, but it fits the mood.
If only the acting and writing didn’t so thoroughly destroy all of the game’s endeavours, this could have been a ten for presentation. I exaggerate slightly, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that the writing is somewhere between the quality of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. General Kota is transformed from a proud commander into a giggling, uncharismatic wreck. Starkiller’s metamorphosis is as bad: he goes from dark Sith Apprentice and driven Jedi Knight in the original, to emotionally unstable whiner here. The use of Darth Vader is thankfully sparse, because I don’t want this game’s writing to damage my opinion of one of the greatest villains in history (and even in the twenty minutes or so in which he appears, he manages to come across as pathetic. A certain other character’s appearance is similarly cringeworthy). The good ending makes me want to punch something, preferably the writer’s face, but I will say no more. Despite the fact that the evil ending is considerably more believable and interesting than the good, it probably isn’t canon. The ending hinges on one action in the final level, involving a single button press, but you have to play through the entire final level again to see the ending that you didn’t choose.
The game is quite short; the campaign clocks in at 6-7 hours. There are a few incentives to replay: harder difficulties; saber crystals (these do nothing except change the colour of your lightsabers); and costumes of various despicable characters. More replay value lies in the challenges, however. There are ten or so of these, including both platforming challenges (I told you so) and combat challenges. You are usually graded based on time, either the least time taken to achieve a certain goal, or the longest time survived. There are four medals: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. I managed to get silver on most of them, and gold on a few, but I could see myself continuing to play them for a while. They could add twenty minutes or a few hours to play time, depending on how devoted you are.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II improves upon all of the original’s weaknesses, but none of its strengths. Combat is, for the most part, fantastic, and the occasional platforming is tolerable, especially when mixed with the combat. Where the original was well below the average for a HD game in terms of technical graphics, TFU II raises the bar considerably. Visual design and presentation have shown enormous improvements with inspiration from (frankly) superior games. Only the story, writing and (to a lesser extent) length, the original’s three strong points, bring this down. However, I would definitely place this above the original in terms of quality and enjoyability, and any fans of the original, or of Star Wars games in general, should give this a try. Be prepared to have your opinion on some of the characters damaged, but to experience some great gameplay while you’re at it.