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Starkiller makes his highly anticipated return in LucasArts’ sequel to its 7 million selling, 2008 original...
It’s quite astounding to think that LucasArts managed to shift 7 million units of its original Star Wars: The Force Unleashed game. Granted, it was a multi-platform release across, well, every available platform, but 7 million is still a very impressive figure. The game even managed to spawn a New York Times best-selling novel, which is a credit that’s surely limited to an elite group of games (the original Halo trilogy of novels is one example, but we’re racking our brains to think of any other game series that have enjoyed the same literary success). So the sequel was inevitable then, despite the fact that the first game ended with tangential plot arcs, which left the gamer with a choice of ‘good or evil’ endings.
We asked the Executive Producer on Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II and writer of both games, Haden Blackman, how he and LucasArts are dealing with these alternate endings in the sequel: “The way that we do it is we work with Lucas Film licensing to establish one as the canonical ending; the official ending, and that’s the ending that’s in the novel, the comic book adaptation, or the holochrome (which is that big database of everything Star Wars). We say to them, ‘We think this should be the canonical ending,’ so the canonical ending for the first game was Starkiller sacrificing himself to protect the Rebel Alliance.
“What we were also able to do with two endings is, when we started kicking around ideas for DLC, we did two of the three DLC levels from the non-canon ending, which was awesome! Talk about liberating, because we went to the Battle of Hoth but as the Emperor’s secret apprentice and not Darth Vader; Darth Vader was dead and we got to confront Luke Skywalker. So, we actually kicked around that idea for The Force Unleashed II – ‘Do we start TFU II from the evil ending?’ But we thought that we’d already done it and it didn’t seem to have as wide mainstream appeal, although I can definitely see us continuing to do that kind of stuff in future though; that ‘Infinities’ [the DLC pack]‘what if’ kind of stuff was rad!”
We know what most of you are thinking: how can that be the canonical ending if Starkiller dies in it but he’s also in the sequel? For the rest of you who have no idea what we’re on about, sorry we just ruined the first game’s ending. Anyway, getting back to the hardcore fans, Starkiller’s return all gets explained in the opening act of TFU II, which LucasArts has shown us the storyboard for. The opening sequence sees Darth Vader confronting Starkiller, who’s being detained in chains. Vader informs him that he’s a failed clone (that’s right, as if there weren’t enough clones in the Star Wars universe already) because he still has memories and feelings for Juno (his love interest in the first game).
Starkiller soon escapes though and steals Vader’s cruiser before setting off for a planet called Cato Neimoidia. At least, I think it was called that but don’t quote me on it. I’m a huge Star Wars fan who, even now at the age of 26, still gestures at automatic sliding doors as if I’m using the force to open them, but when I go to these Star Wars press events where LucasArts employees refer to all manner of bizarrely named planets within the Star Wars universe, it’s often hard to then trace that planet on Wookieepedia when I get back to the office. So if I’m wrong about Cato Neimoidia then don’t feed me to the Sarlacc – that’s all I’m saying. It was definitely Cato something-or-other...
Anyway, Starkiller goes there to track down Jedi Kota (also from the first game). He finds him in a gladiatorial ring where he’s been fighting for seven days straight (as you do) against a beast called the Gora (the same huge beast from the TFU II teaser trailer and, again, I’m not 100% sure on the spelling). This battle concludes with Kota and Starkiller falling into a bottomless pit with the Gora as the three of them continue to battle mid-fall (a la Gandolf and the Balrog). After Kota and Starkiller manage to escape the Gora, Kota mentions the Dagobah system and suggests that Starkiller should travel there. He also tells Starkiller that he thinks Vader is lying about him being a clone and suggests that he is the original Starkiller.
Although LucasArts didn’t explicitly state this during the presentation, we’re going to assume that Starkiller meets up with Yoda on Dagobah. The reason for this is that there was a Yoda voiceover used at the very start of one of the trailers that LucasArts showed us, and where else would you find Yoda at this time than Dagobah? Whatever the case, Starkiller has visions on Dagobah in the same cave that Luke Skywalker does in The Empire Strikes Back where he cuts off Vader’s head and then sees his own face in the helmet. Starkiller’s visions tell him that Juno is in danger and, like Luke, he follows his visions into a trap by going to track down Juno only to find her captured by Bounty Hunters.
This is as far as LucasArts would take us on the storyboard, but we did see some gameplay footage too. There were some new features on show such as Force Fury, which is essentially a meter that you build up with regular attacks that can then be used for even bigger force attacks. We saw Starkiller throw his sabres at a huge platform off in the distance and bring it down in one fell swoop. Then there are the ‘Run for your Life’ moments, which essentially pan the game’s camera into an aerial view of sorts and challenge the gamer to make Starkiller run away from massive threats to his existence (e.g. a spaceship firing at him) and dash out the way of incoming debris with split-second reactions.
New enemies include the Carbonite Trooper, which fires gaseous Carbonite at you to freeze you Han Solo style (fairly obviously). The secret to this little blighter is to keep your distance and chose your attacks wisely, as it has a shield to defend it from close range flurry attacks. The Missile Trooper is another nasty piece of work as Starkiller has to catch its missiles and then throw them back at in order to destroy it. New force attacks include a 'lightning push', which is fairly self explanatory, while we’ve left the best new addition until last: Starkiller has two lightsabres. We asked Haden Blackman whether this is simply because this is the second game now (i.e. will Starkiller fight like General Grievous by The Force Unleashed IV)?
“It’s a whole new scheme,” Blackman responded. “It is the lightsabre style in the game and it’s driven by the fact that we wanted to be familiar but new; we wanted to do something a little bit different. The animators on the team came to the table and said, ‘We want to redo all the combat animations. If we’re going to do all the combat animations anyway, we might as well give him a second lightsabre anyway.’
“It was to do with customisation. I loved the idea of running around with one green sabre and one blue sabre, or one red sabre and one purple sabre, or whatever. There are a lot of moves for it and then it also is a striking difference between the two games, so that if you look at a screenshot of TFU II, you’re never going to confuse it with the first game. But really, at its heart, it was a gameplay decision where we wanted to completely redo the whole combat system and have the character be much flashier, have bigger and more sweeping moves, and do a lot of area effect attacks.
“One thing we didn’t show today is that, when you’re in the Force Fury mode, all your lightsabre attacks become ranged attacks, so you’ll do the same basic combo but now you’re throwing out you’re lightsabres and they’re coming back like boomerangs, so you can take out a whole group of Stormtroopers with the lightsabres in Force Fury mode. It was decisions like that that drove it.”
The big question with Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II is whether it can rise above its use of Digital Molecule Matter and Euphoria technology to become more than a glamorised tech demo, albeit with an engaging story attached. If LucasArts can bind the gameplay together more tightly than it managed with the original game, then there’s no reason why TFU II’s sales can’t exceed the original's.