I still get a chill when I see that title card: "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away."
The brassy fanfare that follows, with the Star Wars logo, has great power over me. Being able to channel the Force and wield a light sabre goes a long way.
But with The Force Unleashed II (LucasArts, Red Fly, Aspyr/ESRB: Teen) it doesn't go far enough.
The action game begins with you escaping planet Kamino and the cloning facility where Darth Vader claims to have created you from Starkiller, the protagonist of the first game and one-time Vader acolyte.
The first Force Unleashed, released in 2008, ended with Starkiller sacrificing himself for the revolution, and your new character is troubled with what seem to be his memories, including that of his love, Juno Eclipse.
Vader, trying to quash the rebellion, wants you to start cleaning up the mess left by Starkiller, but conflicted by the latent memories and portentous visions of the future, you bolt instead. It's the kind of space operatic story typical of Star Wars, and it's a great beginning.
But the story moves too quickly, and leaves too much out, to be satisfying. After that first decision to escape the cloning facility, we're never really sure why Starkiller II makes the decisions he does. It's as if the story was never developed beyond an outline, or chunks of the plot were left out of the game for some reason.
The truth is The Force Unleashed II would have made a great movie, where a thinner plot can be stretched (case in point: the six Lucas films). And this game often plays like a movie, giving the player little choice in what to do, and sometimes little to do at all.
- The Goods Platforms: DS, PC, PS3, Xbox 360 (reviewed), Wii The Good: The decent voice acting bolsters the story, the controls are responsive, and wielding a light sabre never gets tired. The Bad: Repetitive and simplistic, what makes this game notable is a lack of variety and inspiration. The Verdict: This short, uninspired return to the Star Wars universe provides the occasional thrill, but will leave you unfulfilled.
One level has Starkiller II visiting Dagobah, and meeting a younger Yoda (well, younger than Yoda was when Luke Skywalker met him, although you might not be able to tell). But the Dagobah experience requires nothing of the player. You'll lift a rock or two, and visit the Tree, but all you really do is walk through the level.
If that sounds familiar, there's much of the plot in The Force Unleashed II that is common ground. In trying to pepper the game with recognizable elements, the developers have almost retold the story of Luke Skywalker. Reluctant hero following his heart, instead of his head? Check. Darth Vader using a personal relationship to lure his nemesis into a trap? Check.
This tendency to reuse material is true of the game's design, too. The art direction is commendable, but because of the game's small size there aren't many environments to be rendered, and they get reused and recycled as often as possible.
The environments are also designed with puzzle and platforming elements, but neither are implemented with any panache. The puzzles are simplistic (use your Force powers to insert a fuse) and the run-and-jump sequences feel thrown together. We'd be better off without them.
Still, The Force Unleashed II is not a total waste. If you're like me, you get jazzed by becoming a powerful Jedi and wreaking havoc with the Force. The ability to flow lightning, move objects with your mind, and wield a light sabre in each hand is delicious.
You can also throw your sabres, which return, boomerang-like, to your hands. And you can now use mind control powers, to suggest to weak-willed stormtroopers that they attack their comrades, for example.
As much fun as that is, though, it feels a bit pointless after a couple of hours. Given that the game won't take even six hours to complete, that's saying a lot.
You'll find, in the end, that you're so full of ennui you could care less whether Starkiller II is a clone or not.