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Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II
Graphics: 8.4
Gameplay: 6.2
Sound: 8.1
Control: 6.5
Replay Value: 5
Rating: 6.6

The first Star Wars: The Force Unleashed received only a lukewarm reception from the critics, but the fans loved it. It made perfect sense to do a sequel and given all the feedback they received, one would assume LucasArts would’ve produced a vastly superior follow-up. Well, they certainly worked on the artistry, cut-scenes, story and a few other intriguing facets but too many of the flaws remain and in the end, we get an adventure that feels a little too tiresome and repetitive. Essentially, this is just more of the same, albeit wrapped up in fancier packaging with a prettier bow. Inside is pretty much the same gift and in fact, we might actually get less enjoyment out of this one because it doesn’t feel as fresh as the original, and the pacing and diversity seem to be…well, off. I suppose it’s still a must-play for the Star Wars aficionados, though.

LucasArts wasn’t kidding when they said they worked hard to overhaul the technical aspects. This is one damn fine game to look at: the artistry is top-notch; you might not expect such a beautiful array of colors and various tones in a slick sci-fi presentation (which normally consists of silvers, blacks and grays), but it’s visually impressive. So many of the environments are a joy to behold and although there don’t appear to be as many enemies (and hence, a lack of variety in terms of design), the splendor of the locales will satisfy even the most anal graphics aficionado. It’s a little unfortunate that so much adopts this “look but don’t touch” attitude because you don’t do a heck of a lot in some truly gorgeous places. But the special effects in combat, the stunning weather effects, and the fantastic character design and detail carry the day.

The sound represents the other half of a technical presentation and once again, LucasArts comes through in fine fashion. The music is vigorous and compelling, the sound effects are usually sharp and in-your-face, and the performances are surprisingly solid. I only say “surprisingly” because every time I think of Star Wars, I can only picture that utterly painful scene between Anakin and Padme on the balcony…ugh. Well, Lucas never could write dialogue. But the point is, fans of the legendary franchise will recognize so many of the well-chosen tracks, which greatly enhance the action, and the balance remains stable throughout. I’m not the biggest fan of all the voices, though, and due to the repetition of the gameplay, you start to hear the same effects over and over; a few times too often, if you ask me. Still, when combined with the nigh-on superb visuals, the sound gives The Force Unleashed II a couple very sturdy legs on which to stand.

In other words, the foundation is there. But somehow, the developers didn’t seem to take the next step from a gameplay standpoint. It almost seems as if they eliminated many of the foes we had in the first game (correct me if I’m wrong), and decided to toss only a few enemy types at you, again and again. Sure, those enemies are cool and all and it’s almost always fun to dispatch them with either your potent Force powers are always-deadly dual lightsabers, but I really felt that it started to feel like a standard “rinse-and-repeat” experience. Don’t get me wrong; the physics are reliable and the assortment of character skills and abilities makes one feel appropriately powerful. But even then, you can often feel a little overwhelmed, as some of the battles felt specifically designed to piss me off. “Oh look, walkers that fire missiles…I’ll just grab one and fling it back…wait, gotta deal with those acolytes…hey, they’re resistant to my saber attacks!”

So, in addition to being a little repetitive and lacking in enemy diversity, there are times when you lose that sense of power. I must also mention the targeting mechanic, which still - still – doesn’t work as well as it should. They added a way to lock the camera onto a particular target but this didn’t seem to assist my butt-kicking in any way and eventually, I just got sick of using it. However, all this being said, I really like the new abilities: the mind trick can confuse the hell out of enemies and cause them to attack each other (berserk they go!) and the Force Sense just points you in the right direction (hence, no need for a map). But the new skill I used most often – or perhaps even abused, depending on how you look at it – is the grapple, which lets you eliminate enemies quickly, and the camera zooms in as you bust ‘em up. Was it cheating? Should it have been more limited in some way? Perhaps…still had fun with it.

Then there’s the story, which has some bright spots but doesn’t really deliver much in the way of engrossing development. Starkiller is a decent character for the story but he doesn’t seem to need much help; he has most all the skills he requires at the start, so leveling them up almost feels a little superfluous. You combine this with the short length – probably about 6 hours, which I’m sure people will hate, as nobody these days can be bothered to buy a game that isn’t 10+ hours – and you’ve got an adventure that may not appeal to non-Star Wars followers. For a short game to succeed, one needs variety, great pacing, a satisfying story and characters, and above all else, gameplay that continually evolves and changes. This doesn’t really happen here. Starkiller relentlessly beats on bad guys and he can do so in all sorts of bad-ass ways but somehow, it all loses its luster after an hour or two.

If one were to compare this to other Star Wars adventures, in terms of storyline and action, it might pale in comparison. On the one hand, we’ve got all sorts of sweet abilities and skills, beautiful environments, awesome cut-scenes, and smooth gameplay that doesn’t usually fail us. On the other hand, the plot lacks, the game gets too repetitive due to uninspired and underdeveloped ideas, the lock-on and control still doesn’t gel, and the collision detection is iffy. Oddly enough, this might be one of the best-looking games of the year and yet, it’ll go without our recommendation. Most of the time, great technical proficiency goes hand-in-hand with competent gameplay, control and depth but…well, not this time.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II is up against all new competition in 2010 and although some of the new stuff is cool, it just doesn’t take the necessary steps. Sorry, SW fans.

The Good: Looks beautiful; great artistry, cut-scenes, choreography and special effects. Sounds good. New powers are effective and fun to use.

The Bad: Lock-on and camera still falter. Story doesn’t deliver. Repetitive, even tiresome gameplay. Short (maybe 5-6 hours in length). Devs don’t take advantage of good ideas. Some annoying encounters.

The Ugly: When done, one might feel totally unfulfilled…

11/4/2010   Ben Dutka