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Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II – Xbox 360

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II – Xbox 360

Star Wars The Force Unleashed 2 Box ArtPlatform:  Xbox 360

Developer:  LucasArts

Publisher:  LucasArts

Release Date:  October 26, 2010

Genre:  Action-Adventure

ESRB Rating:  Teen

Nerd Rating:   4 out of 10

Reviewed by:  Variand

It feels like it was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, that I last played a good Star Wars game.  Amongst the filth of bad games there were some good titles that kept me hoping: Tie Fighter/X-Wing, Rogue Squadron games, Dark Forces/Jedi Knight games, Republic Commando, in some ways Battlefront, and then there was Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.  You should take note that I did not include The Force Unleashed II in this list, and there’s a reason.

The Light Side

Before I start giving into the anger and hatred, I’m going to go over some of the redeeming factors since the overarching theme of Star Wars is redemption.  The game is fairly well balanced, offers some decent challenge if a bit haphazardly, and has some stunning visuals.  The production quality of the game, meaning the graphics, audio, and technical systems, holds it own against other games released during this generation.  Boss battles and the levels have been drastically increased in size and duration, and Starkiller gets an extra lightsaber.  There are also cameos by big names and fan favorites from the series such as Princess Leia and Yoda.

The scenery, character models and lighting effects are much improved from the original.

The scenery, character models and lighting effects are much improved from the original.

It’s also worth mentioning there are some pretty immersive sequences that showed a lot of promise; most notable of these was the beginning sequence of the final showdown.  The camera angles change, the lighting is dramatic, the sounds are even more so, it’s a total trip out from Darth Vader using a Mind Trick on you, but it’s engaging in how it really sets up the kind of warfare that Vader uses on his foes.

When you add it all up, there’s nothing about that scenario that would not get people interested in and excited about the game – and many were.  The Force Unleashed II sold over 500,000 copies in the US in its first week, and while it didn’t break any noteworthy records, it got near the top on most sales lists.  I, myself, was so excited that I bought the special edition which I’ll admit was quite disappointing and the Mimo flash drive it came with was DoA.  Was this a vision of disappointments to come?  If you said yes, then the force is indeed strong in you.

The Dark Side

I’m going to say it outright, there is nothing wrong with this game visually, or even audibly, beyond the characters and animations landing somewhere on the up-slope of the Uncanny Valley graph; forgivable given some of the weirdest head/neck/torso movements ever seen in The Force Unleashed I.  But almost everyone can agree graphics aren’t everything, and there is no stronger argument for this than The Force Unleashed II.

Sizable Action is Short Lived.

Things got big in this game… VERY big, but the game itself got shorter.  The levels have become so large that one was split into 3 contiguous stages.  The Level Select actually lists Cato Neimoidia as 3 levels even though you can play through all three without a load screen.  Boss battles, though few in number, got bigger as well and not just in terms of scope.  The Cato Neimoidia boss is so large that it holds a Rancor in the palm of its hand, and it has 3 distinct parts of battle as well.  The last of these was a near duplicate of the X-Men Origins: Wolverine falling sequences that came out a year earlier which only solidifies the fact that The Force Unleashed series does nothing original, and instead just copies other popular action games and puts a Star Wars Twist on it.

Starkiller: So I really only get 4 levels to play in? Kota: Yup...

Starkiller: So I really only get 4 levels to play in?
Kota: Yup…

The bosses and levels don’t feel unique even though they technically are very different from one another.  Cato Neimoidia’s 3-in-1 levels cover 3 areas, but they all feel the same, and there’s no real visual cues to really let you feel as if you are in a different area.  And there aren’t really any different enemies to speak of.  By the time you’ve hit stage 2-2 of the level (reverting to Sonic the Hedgehog level-scheme now), you’ve already met all but 2 of the enemies you’ll see throughout the entire game (excluding bosses).  So there is not even a difference to be noticed in the enemies themselves.  You’ll be cutting through the same 3 types of clone troopers and 3 kinds of Robots/Battle-Droids/Armor for the rest of the game, with only 2 more types of enemies making very short appearances.

The game itself is also short lived as there are only 5 total real levels (not counting stages), and one is literally only 1 minute long with no enemies before watching 10 minutes of cutscenes.  It’s yet again worse than that when one of them is a revisit to the first level, leaving only 3 locations visited for any sort of gameplay – Kamino, Cato NeiMoidia, and a Rebel Cruiser.  The Force Unleashed I did this location revisit too, but the levels were completely different to show the Imperial corruption infesting these locations, and each were stark differences from the previous visits.  Even if you’re not counting these revisits – only 3 in total – TFU1 still had 7 unique locations from Kashyyyk to Cloud City (Bespin) to even the Death Star.  Just by total play time alone, TFU2 is significantly shorter as a whole, even though the levels are longer.

All about the Story.

One of the most enthralling parts of TFU1 was its story.  We find that Vader has a secret apprentice and that the force swirls around him like a torrent.  We learn about background characters from the movies, like Shaak-Ti, Bail Organa, Mon Mothma, and Garm Bel Iblis (Expanded Universe), and have their stories expanded.  We see beloved characters like Princess Leia, Darth Vader, and the Emperor, and learn how they interacted during the period between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope.  We meet numerous new characters along the way, such as Juno Eclipse, Rahm Kota, Proxy, and Maris Brood.  Such a wealth of information and a new/expanded story that anyone can enjoy, especially the fans of the series.

But in The Force Unleashed II, this is all missing.  Outside of a few bad guys, there are NO new characters.  In fact, there’s almost barely any recurring characters either.  The only real addition to characters is a really cheap and utterly pointless cameo by Yoda, in a one-off “level” that takes 1 minute to get through.  The only reason why this is included is because people like Yoda; so if you can put him in a teaser, and list him as a selling point, it will sell more games.  Well, LucasArts proved that wrong.  The Force Unleashed II has sold around half as much as TFU1 after nearly 5 years from launch.

This is the best Force vision they could come up with, an Attack of the Failed Clones.

This is the best Force vision they could come up with, an Attack of the Failed Clones.

Beyond just a roll call of the cast, there are several more issues with the story, namely that there really isn’t one.  Sure there’s a kind of plot in there, and in the loosest sense, it’s technically a story, but it never capitalizes on anything.  You have an entire plot-line about whether TFU2′s Starkiller is actually Galen Marek (TFU1’s Starkiller’s real name) or a clone of the Sith-turned-hero/martyr from the first game.  You start the game in a cloning facility, Vader tells you you’re a clone, you fight clones of yourself, and yet, Kota still tells you over the radio, “No one can clone a Jedi.”

Most fans of the expanded universe (EU) know this to be an untrue statement, and evidence throughout the game leads anyone new to Star Wars to call that into question, and that’s actually okay.  I don’t have a problem with that because they bring into question quite often of whether you’re the REAL Starkiller or a clone.  This very fact is literally STILL QUESTIONED during the final cutscene before the ending.  AND IS NEVER ANSWERED!  DAFUQ?!?!  They completely miss the reveal of whether or not you’re the original or not, in order to prove that you can actually clone Force-Users.  WE ALREADY KNEW THAT!!!  Jorus C’Baoth was cloned, Luke Skywalker was cloned, Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious was cloned like 50 times.  The only hints given are in some pretty questionable comicbook-esque “cinematics” in which Vader shows “Starkiller’s body” to the “perfect clone.” But Vader lies.  He always has and always from the beginning, and he could be lying about that too.  How do we not know, or even inherently question if the body shown was not just another clone?  My point is that there is never any concrete evidence to show us whether we are or not, and I think if the Dagobah vision had actually shown us something more concrete, we could have empathized so much more with the character.  *NERD RAGE FLAIL*

Literally still questioning if you're the original at the end of the game with no payoff.

Literally still questioning if you’re the original at the end of the game with no payoff.

One Saber Too Many?

The first game introduced many to the reverse grip on a lightsaber, and this game decided to double down and give us a second reverse gripped lightsaber.  “Okay,” I tell myself when I start seeing the gameplay shots.  “I can dig it.  Double the lethality,” I think to myself.  How wrong I was.  I found myself rarely using the lightsabers through the enter game.  It was basically just zap, zap, grab-toss, zap, zap, jump, zap, push, deflect, quick-time event, zap.  You could argue this was just play style, but the game itself almost required me to play this way.  Most baddies were too far away to hit with a saber, so lightning worked best.  The enemies that did get close enough for sabers went one of three paths: A) They were too weak to take more than 2 shots serving to make a 6 hit combo just a giant target on my back since you can’t change direction after starting the combo string.  These guys usually swarm around you as well, and when your Lightning can hit 5 enemies at once, guess what happened.  Yup, ZAP!  B)  They were too large and did not recoil from attacks.  This usually resulted in these baddies just swatting me back out of saber distance.  Soooo, they get a ZAP!  Or C)  They simply block all incoming saber attacks.  You guessed it.  ZAAAAAP!  The most use my sabers got was in doing the melee grabs moves and destroying scenery for which I used force push just as often.

You even zap the bosses... really?

You even zap the bosses… really?

You might think that if the game pretty much requires you to specialize in your force powers usage, and since it’s a sequel about using your force powers like a Superman on crack, that the game would make you at least FEEL powerful.  Well, guess again, my young padawan.  There is only one real time that you feel truly, and epicly powerful: Using your “Force Rage.”  You’re nearly invincible for the short duration of this overpower skill, and you can pretty much lift and rip AT-ST’s apart with it.  But this is just a limited usage skill that is designed to make you feel Godlike for a few seconds.  What I’m talking about is feeling like a demigod ALL the time and not just for a scant couple of Force-Flailing moments.  If Starkiller could bring down an entire Star Destroyer using just the Force, why is it suddenly so hard and slow to lift a small item to put into a door (TFU’s version of a keycard)?

With Great Power comes no ability to use it.

The header is not completely true.  The game, like its predecessor, offers different options for play style if you’re willing to work for it. However, there are many things that have been essentially nerfed.  Firstly, you cannot grab dead bodies unless you are previously force gripping them before they expired.  I’m not sure if this was a conscious choice, but it broke the immersion for me.  In the previous game, I often played the role of Starkiller with play styles that reflected his place in the story.  In the first Tie Fighter level, I would often grab rebels that had gotten a lucky shot on me, or that had tried to act like a hero and I would smash their lifeless body to the floor, or fry it with electricity.  You know, normal Sithy action.  When I wasn’t able to do it, I felt as the game had said, “no, we don’t want you to do that.  You need to play the game how WE want you to play it.”  That will just never sit well with me.

It’s also worth mentioning that the game never really gives you reason to utilize your force powers outside of combat.  The game holds your hand through every time you need to blast open a door, or use force grip on an object.  In The Force Unleashed I, players were rewarded for using their powers to solve problems like arranging Tie-Fighter wings or bending metal beams as platforms and the like.  While this was never the focus of the game, it gave players opportunities to interact and control the world in which they played.  This is exactly what’s missing from The Force Unleashed II.

The Game that could have been.

I rarely do this in a review, but I’ve done a lot of comparison between The Forced Unleashed 1 and 2 while preparing to write this review, and this is one of those nerdisms that sits very close to my heart.  That said, I’m going to give a bit of a rundown on some things I think could have made the game better, and what I think SHOULD have been the game called, The Force Unleashed II:

The Force Unleashed I did amazing things for Star Wars canon.  It was a complete story with a full arch in both character and plot, and best of all, was closed up nicely with Galen’s ultimate sacrifice in the good side ending (which always become the canon story).  Why taint that in a way that’s almost akin to making Greedo shoot first?  Greedo shooting first ruined Han Solo’s story arch by making him go from a bad guy to a good guy when faced with a true moral dilemma to a guy who would have made that choice anyways since he really wasn’t all that bad, thus removing Han’s subplot of personal redemption.  In an interview, producer and head writer Haden Blackman said, “We kicked around a few ideas initially: looking at creating a new Force wielder; we talked about some named characters that we could use in this Force Unleashed context. But ultimately we decided that Starkiller was a character we were all very fond of and attached to and we all thought there was more story we could tell with him.”

Seems to me that LucasArts just wanted to continue Galen Marek’s story because they thought that Force Unleashed without Starkiller wouldn’t sell.  How much more story could you actually tell with him?  You told his story from basically a toddler to his death.  What more is there to tell?  Obviously not much since this game lacked so much of it.  And at what point did a clone of Starkiller become a better idea than Maris Brood.

How in the hell is this not cooler than a rehashed clone? Full Dark Side Maris Brood is BAD ASS! (Maris Brood Cosplay)

How in the hell is this not cooler than a rehashed clone? Full Dark Side Maris Brood is BAD ASS! (Maris Brood Cosplay)

I’ll be the first to say, Maris Brood kind of annoyed me TFU1, but she was essentially a poster child for this game.  She uses Twin Tanfa “sabers,” a unique weapon that is already a set of two.  She was already trained as a Jedi and fell to the dark side.  She was strong in the force, especially in her dominance over minds of creatures.  And she had a deep rooted rage against both Sith AND Imperials, as well as not seeming to harbor too much good feelings towards the rebels.  So, what was so unappealing about using a strong female character and showing her struggle with Light and Dark?  It would have been easier to reconcile her story of instinctual need to hide since that’s all she knew rather than try to figure out what to do with a second (or third?) “Dark Apprentice” and now a captured Darth Vader.  Still need Starkiller?  What if his spirit becomes the avatar of her moral strife?  I mean, holy crap, why was this not a good idea?

Maris Brood story aside, even if you had to go with the clone story because Good-ol’ George made you, why not tell us for certain that we are a clone?  In fact, make that so abundantly obvious that there is no question.  Now really play into the need that Starkiller feels every bit as driven as Galen Marek, so much so that he is compelled to become him and be with Juno.  Add on top of that a need to hide this from a perceptive and distrustful General Kota, and ever more need to hide it from Juno, who is torn by his very presence.  Her wants and beliefs stand completely apart from one another as she wants nothing more than to embrace Starkiller, but mistrusts him after having been away for so long and not “feeling right” to her.  Imagine the situations in which this could have played out and how it could have affected it.  Need a Light Vs Dark side ending?  For the light side, have Starkiller reveal who he is and break free of the shackles that were Galen Marek’s wants, needs, and motivations, becoming a stronger and more focused Jedi hero for the rebellion.  Dark side leaves him turn fully to the dark side and turning against General Kota and even hurting/killing Juno out of rage that she would not love him as she did Galen Marek, after all, wasn’t he the same man?  Leave him in such a weakened and lost state that when Vader’s tell-tale wheeze behind him is more of a comfort than a danger, ending with, “What is thy bidding, my master?”  Fade to black, roll credits.  Not great, but then again, Cloning Starkiller wasn’t really all that great an idea in the first place.  Give me a break.

Summary

We all wanted this game to be good.  The first game was so fulfilling even with its bugs, goofy character animations, and gum-flappy lip syncing.  So why would we not want a more polished version with a whole new story to play through?  Sadly, this is nearly the exact same argument for the prequel movies.  “I loved the original trilogy, even with its rather unexciting sword fights, goofy cinematic errors, near incest, and Ewoks.  Why would I not want ANOTHER trilogy of movies!?!?!?!”  I’ll tell you exactly why: Midi-chlorians, Yoda flip-fest lightsaber duels, Anakin/Padme “Romance” (AKA “I’ll stalk you till you love me” syndrome), and Mother-Effing JAR-JAR.  So why wouldn’t you like Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II?  4 Levels of play, No story, Gorogs, and MOTHER-EFFING CLONES!

The good news is that if you’re a Star Wars fan, you already have all that you need to deal with this game.  The ability to utterly dismiss and disregard everything from a canonical medium from the brand.  We still don’t believe in the Prequels, Holiday Special, or now, The Force Unleashed II.

Facepalm

Written by Variand

Variand

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