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The Force Unleashed II ascertains that the second chapter isn’t always the best in a Star Wars trilogy...
Perhaps the only redeeming quality behind Star Wars The Force Unleashed II is the fact that it’s a mercifully short game to finish. Something that comes as quite a blessing if you’re a Star Wars fan looking forward to where Starkiller’s adventure would take him next and ultimately discover the answer is... not very far.
Whereas the original Force Unleashed was a mildly entertaining adventure with an intriguing premise that neatly introduced the idea of Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, the sequel quite clearly highlights the series’ inadequacies and can no longer rely on the gimmick of novelty technology. Instead it’s the archaic and mind numbingly bland design that sticks in the memory, a reliance on tired ideas that proliferate throughout the entire experience and leaves little more than a tired action/adventure from a long time ago on a generation far, far away.
Picking up shortly after the events of the original, The Force Unleashed II finds Starkiller attempting to escape the clutches of Darth Vader and track down Juno Eclipse. What this transpires into is a mind-numbing trawl through some of the most uninspired levels we’ve had the misfortune to play in quite some time. While the original was a testament to the technology powering the game engine and less a shining example of a great game, the subsequent time has diminished the impact that both Euphoria and MolecularMatter impose quite considerably. At times the original felt more like a game designed around a tech demo, but at least it had its share of memorable moments. Whether or not it’s the fact that the technology just doesn’t stand out as much or because it’s been downplayed is hard to ascertain, but either way The Force Unleashed II just feels lacking in virtually every department.
Beyond jumping around the environment and dealing destruction with dual light sabres, The Force Unleashed II is woefully short of any variation. Occasionally you’ll have a section where Starkiller has to run away from the action towards the screen. It’s passable the first time, but it’s reused far too many times and quickly grows tiring, which can also be said about the repetitive QTE’s that frequent all of the larger opponents Starkiller faces. Sections that mask where you can explore with explosive obstacles and pose challenges such as breaking machinery with the Force are tired and ultimately seem as though LucasArts have been studying a book of game design circa 1996. To give just one example, Skykiller has to frequently put his masterful use of the Force to essentially put fuses back into their slots to open up doors - not exactly taxing the skills of a Jedi master!
The combat and platforming mechanics, which feel staid and dated, are made even worse by the sheer efficiency of the two grapple moves that can defeat virtually every enemy you’ll come across. This is a crucial flaw as the same technique can be reused to blast through the game in no time at all. Trying to look past that is difficult particularly when the remaining combat system is button-bashing mediocrity and never really encourages you to explore its shallow limits. Once again it’s the Force Grip that allows you to hoist Stormtroopers into the air and throw them around that provides the most entertainment, but like the original it’s a cheap trick that gets old pretty quickly, particularly when the team hasn’t really addressed the control issues that still cause problems. New Force powers such as the Mind Trick join the established list, but they’re ultimately pointless and never do much to encourage using them. There’s never particularly any sense of development through the minimal upgrade system, and you never really get the feeling of becoming this empowered Jedi even when you’ve upgraded all of Starkiller’s abilities. If this character has a pivotal role to play in the Star Wars universe then it seems as though Chapter 2 is when he went on vacation.
Following the ending from the original that saw Starkiller’s apparent death, it’s probably not too much of a spoiler that the course of events in the sequel follow the suggestion of whether or not Starkiller is a clone. As such The Force Unleashed II is supposed to be a more personal chapter in the trilogy that explores and questions Starkiller’s very existence. LucasArts handled the introduction of Starkiller with some skill in the original, particularly with plot details such as his efforts in fostering the Rebellion during the gap between Episode III and IV. Unfortunately it simply doesn’t come off in the sequel and is woefully short of any revelations that expand upon the Star Wars universe with any degree of satisfaction. Occasionally the game throws up a flashback sequence that offers a hint of intrigue but ultimately never really delivers or expands upon the Starkiller story. At one point you get to visit Yoda on Dagobah, but instead of using this to play some mind games with the player, ala Luke’s trip in The Empire Strikes Back, LucasArts has lazily restricted this to an unimaginative cut-scene.
To cap it all off the final battle against Darth Vader is a lesson in repetition that fails to linger long in the memory. For some reason LucasArts has weakened the characters of Starkiller with brattish dialogue that ruins any reputation he had from the original. Once again there’s a choice to make at the end, but the events of the game fail to make this a noteworthy decision; the biggest issue is the fact that it probably sets things up for The Force Unleashed III.