Send in the Clones: The Force Unleashed II Review

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Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II
Developer: LucasArts
Xbox 360, PS3
ESRB rating: T for Teen
System reviewed on: Xbox 360

We all know the story of Darth Vader, right? Ambitious Jedi Anakin Skywalker succumbs to the Dark Side of the Force, loses much of his humanity but gains unspeakable power as Sith Lord Darth Vader. Though he’s became one of fiction’s most memorable villains, after seeing all of the Star Wars movies, it’s hard to ever forget that Darth Vader’s a quadriplegic inside of all that Sith glamour. His limbs were cut off and he only walks with mechanical help.

Unfortunately, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II follows Anakin Skywalker’s arc in the worst possible way, where great promise curdles into something bad. In the case of The Force Unleashed II, the Dark Side is a profit-driven sequel greenlight. The increased powers are the vastly improved graphics and physics engine that TFU II shows off.

Mind you, the improvements everybody wanted after TFU II are there. The game looks amazing, with sharper characters, environments and animations than its predecessors. Remember how buggy TFU I was? That jankiness was the result of fusing three separate systems together–Euphoria for AI, Digital Molecular Matter (DMM) for realistically destructible environments and Havok for physics. TFU II shows almost none of the enemy confusion, collision detection or rendering problems the first game had. And the combat flow still grabs you by the lapels and slaps you around. It’s fast, responsive and empowering. Starkiller remains a one-of-a-kind badass and his new Force powers make him feel even more so. About two-thirds through the game, I cleared out one whole chunk of a level simply by using the Jedi Mind Trick power and having Sith Acolytes and Storm Troopers kill each other. That was undeniably fun.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that Force Unleashed II feels hollow, like the shell of a game that was promised to those anticipating it. The way it’s structured feels driven by a checklist. New enemy types? Yup. New powers? You betcha. Big honkin’ set pieces? Absolutely. But those elements happen in an experience that feels poorly stitched together. The game feels chopped up in assembly-line chunks. You’ll enter a section, partitions will go up, and you’ll face a mix of enemies. The dual lightsabers that Starkiller wields don’t only affect combat. By swapping out saber crystals, you can change the way certain abilities work. Some crystals make you heal faster, while others dole out more upgrade points for destroying the environment. But none of that changes the fact that you can button-mash your way through most of the game. Every time you do something cool–like taking down a giant wardroid–you’ll do it dozens of times more throughout the game. Lather, rinse, repeat. Or a long walkway beckons, only to turn into yet another run-for-your-life-while-flying-ship-tries-to-gun-you-down sequence.

It’s not that TFU II doesn’t have stunning moments. The planetfall sequence where Starkiller returns to the planet where he was supposedly cloned is amazing… to watch. But the playing of it is minimal. TFU II feels like it’s coasting for much it’s very short playtime. The worst of it comes when Starkiller visits Dagobah, for the sole purpose of Yoda mutter some platitudes at him after he has a vision. Even the most fervent Star Wars fan would ask why this level is in the game. And things that were potentially exciting–like the creepy Terror Troopers Peter highlighted in a post a while back–get totally underplayed in the game.

Force Unleashed II relies too heavily on its template, which is a shame because the half-baked gameplay really underserves what’s potentially a great story. I say potentially because the proceedings feel  lifeless when compared to the redemption arc of TFU I. Juno Eclipse is little more than a damsel in distress for most of TFU II and Starkiller shows little of the cockiness or humor that made him so interesting in the last game.

The first Force Unleashed game felt like a surprise, but this one comes across as a cookie-cutter, by-the-numbers action title. Sadly, it shows a few plot and continuity problems, too. That it’s obnoxiously padded with annoying platform sections just adds insult to injury. Despite being part of the Star Wars legacy, The Force Unleased II isn’t one of those sequels that feels better than a first installment, like Empire Strikes Back. If the rumors are true, and we don’t see another game in the series, then this unfinished-feeling title is a miserable way to go out.

Official Techland Score: 6.5 out of 10