Aside from a few misgivings, I actually enjoyed 2008’s The Force Unleashed. Despite the sometimes buggy way that all of its different engines would work together, it still managed to be a good game with a great Star Wars story that filled in an important part of the canon. Taking on the role of Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, you guided Galen Marek, nee Starkiller, through various worlds until you reached the final confrontation on the first Death Star.
The game was filled with great moments and definitely seemed to have some promise of better things to come lurking around. We’ve seen a few games this generation that used the first game in their series as sort of a tech demo, a jumping off point for bigger and better things. The Force Unleashed seemed poised to make this leap when it was announced last year at Spike’s Video Game Awards, so how does it do now that it’s on the second iteration? Is this game any good, or has Star Wars disappointed us for the last time?
Unfortunately, The Force Unleashed 2 doesn’t do anything to improve upon the first game; in fact it actually takes a step backwards in most regards. The combat is samey and repetitive, the game is short and the story is uninteresting, and the boss fights are possibly the worst in the history of video gaming. While I did enjoy the demo at PAX 2010, that one level showed off everything that the game had to offer. It may seem impossible that being a super-powered Jedi hurling Stormtroopers around with abandon and crushing TIE Fighters with your mind would get boring, but it does. Very quickly.
From the outset, you’re as powerful as you were at the end of the original Force Unleashed. The difference this time is that Starkiller uses two lightsabers instead of one. Other than that, the game is largely the same in terms of combat, aside from the addition of the grapple moves, possibly the most emasculating addition to any brawler. The grapple move is an instant hit against all humanoid enemies and can’t be blocked. Even for foes that take more than one hit to kill, it throws them down and makes them easy prey for a quick finishing stab. I’ve dubbed it the “win combo” because you can win almost every fight by using that move, and it quickly takes the challenge out of fighting the harder enemies. There are robots and Imperial walkers to battle as well, but the game practically hands you the key to defeating them on a silver platter as they all have some weakness that can be exploited over and over again.
Grapple move aside, the game actually has less leveling options than the first game since you start off with all of your combos, like I mentioned earlier. Killing enemies still nets you experience points, but these are only used to upgrade your Force powers and the damage your sabers do. Since the first game had an actual sense of progression that made leveling up worthwhile, this game just feels like a slog since you don’t actually gain anything really important from defeating enemies. Sure, you can make your Force Push and Lightning stronger, but they were already pretty kick-ass to begin with. There’s very little incentive to keep playing the game after you’ve completed it in this regard because from the beginning you’ve pretty much got access to every cool move.
This may also be a small nitpick, but I feel the need to mention that after every saber hit on an enemy, the game freezes for a second, so the fighting feels really jerky and stilted. While the game did feel smooth as butter in the demo, the final product has inexplicable fits and starts which breaks the illusion. The Force Unleashed 2 also brings back the annoying habit of knocking you down, making you wait a few seconds to get back up, then knocks you down again. Would it have been so hard to make Starkiller do a little Force wave to push enemies away when he stands back up to give you a second of breathing room?
It’s really too bad that the combat is so boring and repetitive because that is literally all you do in this game. There’s maybe a couple sections of platforming, which is a pain due to the awkward jump controls and the tenuous, slippery grip Starkiller has on every flat surface, so the less said about those, the better. There’s no real exploration or puzzle elements, so you had better like pummeling dudes for a few hours because that’s all the game has to offer.
Perhaps it’s a blessing that the game is really short, only about five hours in length. I’m not a big “games are sixty dollars so they should give you X amount of hours” kind of guy, but at the end of The Force Unleashed 2 I felt more than a little cheated. First of all, you only go to three real areas: the cloning planet Kamino, Cato Nemoidia, and a starship. There’s nine levels in total, but that’s deceptive considering how few places you actually visit. It’s quite a difference from the planet hopping in the first game, which is essential to any good Star Wars game. Pre-release materials made a big deal about going to Dagobah and visiting Yoda, but the whole level is a linear two minute walk with a useless, if pretty looking, cut scene.
In fact, the whole story of TFU2 is just one big tease. Unlike the first game, which made an actual effort to be an essential part of Star Wars canon, this game has a very shallow, pointless story which kind of feels like a slap in the face considering how disappointing the combat is. The computer-animated cut scenes, made by the prodigious team at Blur, look amazing and are well acted for the most part, but they can’t save the script from being a total write-off. There’s no real story contained in those five hours, and both of the endings are fairly ambiguous and unimportant to the overall scheme of things, unlike the first game’s story. Additionally, both of the big, fan favorite characters, Yoda and Boba Fett, make more of a cameo appearance than anything.
Perhaps the most egregious offense that the Force Unleashed 2 commits is in the boss battle area. While the first game had some amazingly memorable and difficult fights, TFU2 totally phones it in in this regard. The first boss you face, the Gorog, is a massive creature the towers over you and attempts to swat you like a fly. The entire fight consists of three phases, all of which repeat the same mechanic for way too long.
The first section of the fight has you facing off against the monster toe-to-toe, using your Force powers to gain an advantage. Just like the Star Destroyer fight of the first game, your mentor Rahm Kota is yelling advice to you over your earpiece despite the fact that he’s busy doing something else entirely. If you were annoyed by his constant shouting in the first game, well, I’ve got some bad news for you as his verbal diarrhea comes back full force in this fight. He constantly screams useless advice at you that seems to run counter to what the game actually wants. He instructs you to shock the Gorog’s shackles with Lightning even though it’s more effective to hit them with the your sabers. Rahm also has an annoying habit of giving you instructions for something while you’re doing it, so even this easy boss fight drove me nearly to tears thanks to the abuse the game heaped on me in this regard.
The second section has you trying to get the Gorog to destroy the hanging supports of the arena you’re in, trying to get it to plummet to the ground far below. The game tells you to destroy the supports, so is that all the little cables every where? No, it’s the giant column on the far right of your platform that looks more like ornamentation than anything else. It’s amazing that a game that tries so hard to hold your hand can fail so miserably at it.
As long and tedious as this boss fight was, it doesn’t even compare to the total abortion that the final fight is. You face off against Darth Vader on a couple cloning towers, and it goes on for entierly too long. The whole fight is maybe an hour, and at no point did I feel threatened by Darth or even challenged by him. He telegraphs all of his attacks so they are easily countered and the minions he summons to fight you are effortlessly dispatched via the grapple attack. Darth Vader didn’t even come close to killing me once, and I feel that if a boss, especially a final boss, doesn’t kill you at least a couple times, then there’s definitely something wrong with the game’s design.
I was sure that I was going to give The Force Unleashed 2 an F by the time I reached Cato Nemoidia because I realized that I had seen all the game has to offer. I didn’t feel compelled by the story and there was nothing for me to do after I had beaten the game. I mean, I could go back and collect all the Holocrons and max out my Force powers, but why?
If this had been the first game in the series, I would have given it a D because the Force powers would have been unique and the game would have still been new even if it was the same fight over and over. Because this is the second game, it deserves the F because it seems like LucasArts didn’t learn anything from the first, but rather that they actively ignored all the feedback that they should have been paying attention to.
While the game is gorgeous and the level designs feel like a labor of love, those two facets alone aren’t enough to raise this game to an acceptable standard. The Force Unleashed 2 is easily the biggest let-down of 2010, and even if the third game comes out, I’m not sure I’d even want it.
So, that’s what I thought about The Force Unleashed 2. I certainly didn’t like it, but maybe you did. Have you played this, and what do you think?
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