Review: Star Wars The Force Unleashed 2 (PS3)

Title: Star Wars The Force Unleashed 2
Format: Blu-ray
Release Date: October 26, 2010
Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: LucasArts
Original MSRP: $59.99

Picking up on the premise that players completed the first Unleashed with the “good” or Light Side ending, as well as essentially ignoring the fact that players (like my 11 year old son) had opted to join the Dark Side, we start up Unleashed 2 through the eyes of the latest iteration of a Starkiller clone.  I say latest iteration because we are informed that all other versions of Starkiller have been destroyed after being stricken with madness from repeated visions of the past.  What is alluded to is the fact that Lord Vader has been unsuccessfully trying to regenerate a cloned copy of Starkiller – minus any hint of potential Light Side tendencies.  As a last ditch effort to purge Starkiller’s emotions for his former love interest, Juno Eclipse, Vader pits him against robotic images of his past self’s girlfriend.  Love may or may not concur all but Starkiller makes the conscious decision to rid himself of his Dark Side companions and seek out his former Alliance cohorts – starting with the rescue of General Kota.

Gameplay:
Minutes into the game I noticed a significant difference with the lock-on and aiming controls.  Thankfully, the developers of Star Wars The Force Unleashed 2 took to heart the most common complaint and more or less fixed one of the bigger problems that plagued Starkiller’s first romp through the galaxy.  Because the majority of the game engages Starkiller against hordes of Stormtroopers the ability to select one – or more than one as your powers progress – to force levitate or shock with force lightning is much smoother and easier to manage.

Speaking of Force powers Star Wars The Force Unleashed 2 has included some interesting and fun additions to the standard force push, pull and lightning powers from the first game.  Most notable are the Jedi Mind Trick and Force Fury.  With Mind Trick, although limited in scope, it does provide for a near instant partner by “tricking” one of any number of Stormtroopers into fighting as your ally until dead.  It can provide for some much needed help in the most dire of situations.  Force Fury, on the other hand, is essentially Starkiller’s version of Rage mode.  This ability needs to be built up before it can be used and, although time sensitive, provides for near invincibility.

Commanding such power, although providing for an extreme amount of satisfaction, is really only one-half the equation to the reason why so many loyal fans of the Star Wars canon flock to this video game.  Of course, I’m suggesting the ability to wield one of the most notable weapons in cinematic history – the Lightsaber.  LucasArts stepped up their game this time around by allowing it’s protagonist to flail about with not one but two of these Jedi weapons of choice.  Added to the already established sequence of attack moves is the ability to throw both lightsabers at your targets of choice – big, small or mechanized.

Unfortunately for fans of the Star Wars universe the improvements made to The Force Unleashed 2 isn’t quite enough to make it much better than an average videogame.  Beyond the repetition – wave after wave of Stormtroopers – the overall story of The Force Unleashed 2 pales in comparison to the more involved and infinitely more interesting story of the first Unleashed.  Then again, storytelling always tended to come up short for many of the Star Wars movies when compared to the more in-your-face action sequences.  Placing higher expectations on the videogame universe is maybe expecting too much.

As the campaign advances several unlockable staples become available – from cinematic replays to concept art to informative details about the game’s more interesting characters.  Although nice to look at and relive after the game has concluded it doesn’t quite live up to the other available option.  The challenge modes provide further means by which you can prolong your Jedi fantasy.  They include, but are not limited to: Domination Trial, Cloning Spire Trial and Gauntlet Trial.  These challenges include a fairly robust mix of complexity, difficulty and timed events.  Some I might recommend while others I might recommend staying away from.  In the end, whether or not you decide to invest any additional time with these challenges is entirely up to you – trophy whores be warned.

Visuals:
Where the story of The Force Unleashed 2 falls flat the visuals of the game continue to impress – both with respect to in-game action and cut scene.  Particularly, the handful of outer space sequences, whether landing on Cato Nemoidia or taking off from Dagobah, the scenery was always awe inspiring.

The character models also held to a very high standard of visual presentation.  Of note is the “level” that includes the mighty Yoda.  I use quotes to describe this part of the game because it equates to nothing more than a 2 minute walk through the swamp before triggering an impressive cut scene between Starkiller and the iconic green Jedi.  I may have even received a trophy for this little jaunt (insert PlayStation 3 Trophy tone here).  Still, the quality of the presentation was probably the best of the entire game.

Leading up to the highlight of conversing with the universe’s oldest Jedi was one of the more memorable gameplay moments.  In terms of visual eye candy and epic battle the mid-game Gorog sequence was reminiscent of some of the grander God of War boss battles.  It was epic in scope, multi-tiered in it’s level of design and complexity and ended with enough punch to leave a lasting affect.  It’s too bad that the rest of The Force Unleashed 2 wasn’t able to continue with this pacing and effective gameplay.

Audio:
The Force Unleashed 2 brought back the majority of the same actors that lent their voices to the first Unleashed story.  The acting the second time around proved to be just as good but also proved, once again, that the writing continues to be a source of irritation for just about every Star Wars endeavor.  Some of it was downright difficult to listen to and I often felt bad for the actors as they were presented with less than enriching lines of dialogue.

As bad as the dialogue has come to be expected with a Star Wars title the incredible score is just as expected.  John Williams continues to make his mark as one of, if not the, most recognizable composers in modern history.  From the explosive orchestral opening to the subtle score of Starkiller’s previous life memories, Star Wars The Force Unleashed 2 continues to evoke emotions through musical composition – and it continues to impress.

Nearly as recognizable as Mr. Williams’ timeless art is the consistent use of special audio effects.  The lightsabers, when flung from Starkiller’s hands, hum and vibrate from ever corner of my gaming speakers while the screech of Vader’s Tie Fighter is presented in near perfect surround sound.  These are the sound effects – to name a few –  that continue to evoke images from my childhood and the incredible experience I had while seeing Star Wars: A New Hope for the first time.  It is also one of the primary reasons why I continue to visit this universe, for all that it has to offer – both good and bad.

Conclusion:
When all is said and done I came away from Star Wars The Force Unleashed 2 feeling as though I had just begun with the first of a five course meal.  Aside from the fact that the single player campaign weighed in at a meager 5 1/2 – 6 hours in length the story just didn’t satiate my Star Wars fix this time around.  I had fun with the game and feel that the developers made a noble effort at enhancing some of the basic mechanics from the first Unleashed game.  I must say that, after Starkiller’s first journey across the galaxy, Unleashed 2 literally took us to only 2 separate gameplay planets (I’m not counting Dagobah).  When considering how expansive the Star Wars universe really is it goes without saying that I felt a little robbed of my adventure.  Still, being a lifelong Star Wars fan I can’t not recommend this game.  However, based on the incredibly short campaign I’d suggest a rental over a purchase as the replay value (aside from the light/dark side decision in the game’s final moments – yes, it returns) is practically non-existent.

Score:
7.5

Written by Bill Braun

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook