Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II Review
2008’s Star Wars: The Force Unleashed reportedly sold seven million units. So, it’s no surprise its Vader’s-secret-apprentice protagonist has--spoiler alert!--cheated death to return in a sequel. That’s right, Starkiller, TFU’s Stormtrooper-flinging hero, is back despite drawing his last breath during that game’s “light side” conclusion (he lived on in the non-canon “dark side” alternate ending.) LucasArts has been criticized for finding or, more accurately, creating a narrative loop hole that will ultimately line George Lucas’ pockets, but I can’t fault them for this. They’d be dumber than Jar Jar Binks if they didn’t make a sequel, and a resurrected hero really isn’t much of a stretch in a sci-fi universe that’s perfected cloning technology.
That said, I wish they’d shared one of those clone cocktails with the rest of The Force Unleashed II‘s story, as it pales in comparison to its predecessor’s. The original’s storytelling was on par with the first film trilogy’s, where TFU2’s leaves a midi-chlorian taste in my mouth. Bringing back Starkiller wasn’t the problem, but supporting his return with weak motivations, a disjointed arc, go-nowhere subplots, and an unfulfilling conclusion does create a disturbance in the Force.
Thankfully, TFU2‘s limp yarn takes a back seat to its epic action. Building on the first game’s Force-fueled battles and thumb-numbing lightsaber play, it retains and refines in all the right places. Supported by a much smoother, more accurate targeting system, combat is far less clunky, yielding cinematic encounters that truly make you feel like a Force-harnessing badass. Choking, pushing and frying foes with the mystical magic is a blast, especially when you switch up and combine abilities for more stylish kills. New powers, such as Force Rage and JedI Mind Trick, further enhance your already empowering arsenal; the former is a pretty standard screen-clearing attack that lives up to its name, while the latter lets you live out your very own “These are not the droids you’re looking for.” moments. Pitting enemies against each other with this trick is fun, but the real highlight is turning Stormtroopers suicidal.
When not convincing the Empire’s finest to jump to their deaths, you’ll be wielding dual lightsabers with flourishes and finishers that’d make Darth Maul pee his robe. The addition of a second slicer is mostly cosmetic and, as with the previous game, melee combat is more button-mashy than strategic. However, complemented by stunning physics effects--including new to TFU2 dismemberments--carving up waves of enemies with the sabers is as entertaining as ever. Even potentially repetitive combat encounters are saved from tedium by the ability to seamlessly switch between the lightsabers and your Force powers.
Your Jedi arsenal can also be let loose during the game’s seat-of-your pants free-falls. Paced sparingly throughout the campaign, these challenges essentially see Starkiller hurtling toward his death, while avoiding items and obstacles. Serving as diversions to break up the combat-heavy pace, they also provide some of the game’s most thrilling moments. Blasting the hell out of Tie Fighters, then navigating through their flame-engulfed debris puts a decidedly Star Wars spin on what could otherwise be glorified on-rails sequences. These level breaks are further complemented by visual and physics effects that make them look more like pretty cutscenes than actual playable sequences.
Sadly, these production values don’t run through the entire game. No question, TFU2 is pushing this generation’s consoles of all their graphical potential--the game is gorgeous from start to finish. But assets and environments are too often repeated and lack variety. This would be easier to accept if it weren’t a step backward from its visually varied predecessor, but one of TFU‘s defining features was it ever-changing environments. There‘s certainly no shortage of cool worlds in the expansive Star Wars universe, so their absence hints at a rushed development schedule. TFU2 does attempt to gloss over this lack of inspiration by cashing in on some of the sci-fi saga’s most familiar faces. Both Yoda and Boba Fett make an appearance, but neither are integrated very well into the already suffering story. Unfortunately, the fan favorites are shoehorned into the narrative in a way that makes them feel like exploited cameos instead of necessary, story-driving characters.
Following the first game’s successful expansion of the universe, TFU2‘s narrative direction is a Death Star-sized let down. Thankfully, its polished gameplay generally overshadows this flaw. The combat’s been tightened up significantly and the new powers are a blast to unleash on the Empire. Still, without a seventh Star Wars movie in sight, it’d be great to see this promising franchise pick up the storytelling torch. If this series can get sharper writing and a leveraging of the strengths of the series’ classic characters and imaginative environments, TFU has the potential to deliver amazing sci-fi yarns to match Lucas’ early work. Until that day comes, though, I’ll have to settle for terrorizing Stormtroopers with physics-fueled Force Powers and dual lightsabers.