Despite a mixed reception and being far from one of the best Star Wars games I have played, the original Force Unleashed is still a fun hack & slash and one that I can recommend to general fans of its source material. However, its sequel was much more controversial upon its release from what I could tell, except for the Wii version. This led me to initially ignore it, but my curiosity got the better of me and I had to see if any improvements were made with this instalment.
Taking place shortly after the previous title, Starkiller has been kept in captivity for almost two weeks by Darth Vader, who is hoping to make him corrupted by the dark side once again. At first, the prisoner seems to be willing to return to his role as a Sith under his old master’s control, but after failing a test, he is told that he is a mere imperfect clone and to be executed on the spot. He luckily escapes before this can happen, though with no clear idea of what to do next.
Onwards from here, the plot does not evolve at all. You will basically reunite with faces from the last entry, including a warrior of the light and a love interest, but that is it. There is no tension to the overall arc and the anti-hero simply wants to escape this world. I will give the story that Starkiller’s struggles with identity make him into an intriguing character, with even the journey complimenting this through appropriate flashbacks and lines reflecting the difficulties of being possibly just a replica of someone else. All of these moments get to shine, turning the lead into a relatable one.
In fact, the entire cast is engaging! Be it your new master still getting a grasp on the situation or the training droid Proxy providing a bittersweet reunion, there are enjoyable personalities to meet and get invested by. Even this universe’s lore gets commendably elaborated upon, such as how attachments can lead to the dark side. Sadly, while this tale is far from intrusive, it also forgettable. The protagonist’s mental quarrels are fascinating, but too short to have any depth and the adventure barely takes you to distinct locations. It becomes more about finding unit A in order to acquire material B, with little to no flavour in between. At best, this feels like an expanded side quest.
Story Score: 4/10
Like a single firework
Upon starting this hack & slash, I got high hopes. The anti-hero comes with all of his powers from the original game unlocked from the intro, such as force moves for causing lightning, pushing fiends away, and lifting them. Dashing around and blocking are quick and responsive, with the combos of the lightsabers being fast thanks to him using two of these deadly weapons this time around. It is even possible to combine his melee attacks with his mystical abilities to create devastating outcomes or to stun antagonists to name some examples, giving many imaginative ways to cause chaos.
Furthermore, you will also get two forms of grabs for executing foes instantly and even a new mind trick to make enemies take their own lives or fight for you! All of this will make you fairly overpowered, but this instalment will occasionally throw a barrage of different adversaries at you, such as Sith Acolytes who cannot be stopped by force actions or ATTs firing giant rockets towards you! They will at first come in groups of varied types too, making you have to use your strengths in diverse and creative manners.
The force moves are limited by a regenerative bar as well, with opponents dropping health orbs upon defeat, making sure there is some balance to these massive battles. If that was not enough, you have force fury too, which is an icon that slowly fills up as you deal damage. When full, you can activate it to become invincible, acquire unlimited force, and do harsh combos. There is even the option to deactivate it in order to save up on some of its amount, which is a nice touch.
All of this might seem like you are overly prepared for taking care of the upcoming threats, but you are also able to upgrade your combat capabilities by spending XP you gain from killing foes and finding holograms. Each action is upgradable twice and this simplified method for what to improve, such as getting extended lightsaber combos or causing more damage with them, helps to enhance your playstyle while also being aware of the various fiends you will be facing. There is even the ability to equip each sabre with one of the crystals that can be discovered throughout, which will provide neat effects like making force powers cost less to use.
Some secret collectables can even raise your maximum health or force meter! Most of them are not sufficiently hidden due to the levels’ linear designs, but offer some incentives to look around a bit. Regrettably, the platforming is lacklustre, if brief. Starkiller can double jump, dash in the air, and use his inner strength to interact with the environment. Unfortunately, these moments serve more as small QTEs than anything else. Speaking of, actual forms of such segments are also used as a way to take out tougher opponents and are completely bland, but not annoying at least.
What is a tragedy then, is how downhill this playthrough goes after the second location you visit. The clever enemy placement of soldiers, snipers, and huge machines, gets suddenly replaced by monotonous fiends and repetitive use of those that just turn invisible. Granted, there are a ton of stormtroopers that could make battles seem similar, but because of differences like using jet packs or robot suits, the combat was initially entertaining. However, stage three merely throws tons of small critter robots at you that are easier to crush than popcorn, making fights barely last a couple of seconds.
Luckily, the game gets better after the fourth one, but then we are reaching the finale. Yes, there are only five areas to visit, with only three of them being serviceable. It is here where Force Unleashed 2 falls flat on its face; its structure. There is no good evolution to its difficulty and the mechanics that try to change up the journey are too straightforward to be interesting, such as the chase scene through a hallway or the tedious fetch quest. Not to mention, with the level design taking a backseat to some underwhelming platforming, you will be begging for something remotely worthwhile.
Truth to be told though, it is simply fun to play as Starkiller with all of his combat abilities to experiment with by fighting plenty of opponents. Even the bosses are great, despite being effortless to take down, as they have creative patterns and setups that force you to use your powers variedly. Although, when the structure is uneven and repetition can be a major factor, you will feel this title’s rushed development. This adventure does not last long enough to become dreadful due to clocking in around three hours, but also stops before reaching any potential it could have had for becoming an adequate entry within its genre.
Gameplay Score: 5/10
Every single motion the protagonist makes is a mesmerizing treat to witness. Be it the surreal effects of the force or the insane choreographic combos, it is all wonderfully satisfying to create. Adding to this are the results of your button presses through destructible environments, limbs of your fiends flying off, and being able to eliminate tons of them at once. Even something as minor as smoke coming from your lightsabers is hypnotizing due to how gorgeously implemented it is.
It should also be noted that the foreboding atmosphere gets enhanced through similar fantastic details, like raindrops reacting to the surfaces they hit, the excellently rendered lighting, and the CG cutscenes containing remarkable textures and camera angles. While the Havok engine still creates hilarious ragdoll physics, it is impressive how Force Unleashed 2 can make me both intimidated by its slow events that visually express someone’s struggles and simultaneously hyped by the tons of explosions and action occurring.
Unfortunately, the places and opponents you encounter quickly become repetitive. Three stages are sterile space stations with little to their designs and one other is set in a dark forest that barely has any other colour than dirt green. Even if the second level is more diverse by being a casino that includes a huge arena at the end, the colour schemes do not change enough to make its locations exciting or distinct. The same can be said for the antagonists, as they are mainly units of the empire with humanoid troops or simple machines that are constantly reused.
However, this product never gets dull visually due to the insane chaos that can appear on the screen, with the sound effects being harsh and appropriate for every power Starkiller utilizes. John Williams’s orchestral score complements magnificently the grim setting, with Mark Griskey providing his own take that works perfectly alongside the original compositions. All of the tracks are unique, bombastic, and evolving, making them a delight to listen to. The same praise has to go to the voice actors too, since while each has only a couple of lines, they get every emotion out thanks to flawless directions and tones in their performances, making every single word carry weight to them. Even if the variety is lacking, the quality is too strong to not make the presentation admirable at the very least.
Presentation Score: 6/10
Something for your troubles
The holograms to find throughout range from decently hidden to impossible to miss. Admittedly, the rewards are nice and can be in the form of artwork, extra lore, upgrades to either of your bars or customisable elements such as different colours for your lightsabers and costumes. It is a shame that searching for them is not engaging at all, though playing dress-up certainly is! Most skins are just outfits for the protagonist to wear, but there are some characters to play as also, which adds to some fun replay value. There is especially one from another LucasArts game that I absolutely love, and now wish was canon.
Besides this, there are cheats to input, an unlockable difficulty mode, and trials to take on. The last option involves diverse setups, such as combos to perform, defending specific areas, and obstacle courses. All are entertaining to try out with getting the highest rank being insanely tough. Regrettably, even if the rewards make revisits more worthwhile, these missions are short and the hardest mode for the campaign does only increase the opponents’ stats. That is it, making this aspect a mixed bag, but more on the positive side because of the customization of the anti-hero.
Extra Score: 6.5/10
A part of me likes this instalment better than its predecessor due to its more polished combat and smoother controls. Yet, the forgettable plot, lack of varied locations and enemies, and problematic structure are ginormous issues that do hinder the overall enjoyment of this title. There are some solid things to come back to, but I cannot help but feel that this sequel was forced into being made and that the team tried their best with what they had to work with. A guilty pleasure that I see potential in, but not much more than that.