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Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II Review

November 2, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Tom Dann

The Force Unleashed II is an interesting beast. Typically, sequels aim to be bigger than their parents in as many ways as possible, yet TFU2 weaves an altogether more personal story on a smaller scale. That’s not to say that the game is short on ambition or magnificent set pieces; far from it. Unfortunately, though, despite a compelling story, refined gameplay and improved technical attributes, TFU2 is a major disappoinment.

The game begins seven months after the canon (light side) ending of The Force Unleashed. Starkiller is dead, but the Rebellion has been born. A young man, with the appearance and memories of Starkiller is being held captive by Darth Vader. Vader tells the man he’s a clone, the latest in a long line of experiments and that he’ll probably go mad within months. The clone is plagued by what Vader refers to as ‘visions,’ though we know they are memories. Most importantly, he is still in love with Juno Eclipse, Starkiller’s pilot. This could lead to some very interesting drama: being in love with someone you’ve never met. LucasArts ignore this possibility completely, and instead get on with busting Starkiller-clone out of prison and on the hunt for Juno.

This is a surprisingly personal story, as Starkiller-clone has one goal and one goal only: finding Juno. The Rebellion is in crisis and could use the help of a Jedi, but Starkiller-clone refuses to abandon his search. The theme of duty at the expense of personal sacrifice has already been covered in the prequel movies, and is similarly barely covered here. Typically in the movies, heroes are forced to choose between their own needs and the needs of the many. In most movies, their choice is conveniently backed up by fate leaving the rejected party miraculously safe. Here, as mentioned, Starkiller-clone must choose between Juno and the Rebellion. He chooses Juno. Rather than there being a consequence to this choice, the men he abandons survive certain death, with only a cursory “never mind, we managed.” Disappointing.

Considering Juno is the centrepoint to the entire story, it’s surprising to see no depth to her character. She barely appears in the game, even considering the few flashbacks and visions. If Starkiller-clone’s feelings for her are based entirely on memory (since he’s never met her), it would be fascinating to have a few cutscenes giving a look at a few of his memories: conversations from between scenes in the original game perhaps to fill in the gaps. If Juno is the centrepoint to the story, Kota and Vader are the counterpoints. Obviously, each represent the opposing sides of the force: Kota tries to encourage Starkiller-clone to join the Rebellion, whilst Vader wants him to hunt down the Rebel leaders.

TFU2 gives a very different perspective on Vader as a villain. We’re used to seeing him kill off anyone who fails him, or if he finds their lack of faith disturbing. We know he has no problem torturing or killing innocents to get what he needs. Starkiller, as well as his clone, represents something we haven’t seen before: someone who’s been under the influence of Vader their entire life. Starkiller is the result of, essentially, being raised, then used, then disposed of, by Vader. If that wasn’t bad enough, Starkiller’s clones must also deal with Vader’s psychological tormenting. All these elements combine to make Starkiller (and his clone) a tragic figure, a poor young man whose chances have been ruined by Vader’s machinations. Starkiller is bought to life with sensitivity and anger by Sam Witwer, who provides his face and voice to the performance. Despite the story’s overall lack of emotive power, the closing scene of the light side ending is well realised and filled with pathos.

Despite some interesting story developments, TFU2 is a step backwards from the original. Whereas TFU had a well structured and fairly lengthy storyline, with several twists and emotional payoffs, the sequel is a very linear affair with only a handful of levels and no plot twists. Even the number of locations is reduced: though they frequently look stunning, the original game boasted far more, and far more interesting, planets to explore. Though the frustration of the original is largely gone (there is one lengthy jumping segment which was overlong, and largely pointless), there are now even less enemy types. Though each is more distinct, they still have a specific way to be killed. Mixed groups of enemies, rather than providing interesting and unique challenges, are simply exercises in taking down the most poweful first and working ones way through the rest. Also gone is the sense of progression, since you’ll start the game pretty powerful and, despite earning points to upgrade your powers, it just doesn’t feel as rewarding as before. It’ll be no surprise that there’s a light side and dark side ending – it’s a shame that this choice is based on a prompted button press rather than integrated into how you proceed in the final moments as in the last game.

The Force Unleashed II is not a great game. It is, unfortunately, a case of the sum not equalling the value of its parts. It has a compelling story, an empathetic protagonist, well-acted characters and the most complete and playable set of Jedi powers seen in a Star Wars game yet. All this positive just doesn’t excuse the games brevity – less than five hours, and much of that is repetitive. An essential rental for fans, but otherwise a real shame.

Copyright Tom Dann 2010

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