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Send Out the Clones (Force Unleashed 2 Review)

Game: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II
Rating: T
Platform: Xbox 360/Playstation 3/Nintendo Wii/Nintendo DS/PC
Developer: Lucasarts
Publisher: Lucasarts
Released: October 2010

The term 'licensed game' is something of a dirty word in the industry, usually the equivalent of a patchwork red 'A' if you'll allow the extremely tortured high-school lit metaphor.  If one franchise has been able to beat the stigma and turn out a handful of decent to great games, it's definitely "Star Wars," though considering there's at least three "Star Wars" games any given year maybe that's not so hard to do.

"The Force Unleashed" was one of these; despite some weird bugs and a spotty camera it delivered a well-designed action game that encouraged and rewarded experimental sadism to a degree only later surpassed by "Prototype," and told a character-driven story so different from recent entries in the series canon (i.e. it was actually good) that it even won the Best Video Game Writing award from the Screen Writers Guild in 2007, even if that's not exactly a category full of heavy-hitters.  Naturally, it made tons and tons of money, surpassing even "Battlefront" as the best-selling Star Wars game ever made.

A sequel was inevitable, and while "Force Unleashed II" is already a step up from, say, "No More Heroes 2" for actually delivering on the whole 'you get two swords' thing right off the bat instead of remembering it all of a sudden after the 3/5s mark, is it a real improvement over the original?

No.  Not really, no.

"Force Unleashed 1" had a strong ending in which main character Starkiller, Darth Vader's now-canon secret apprentice, ultimately gave his life to found the Rebel Alliance and thus paved the way for the civil war that would be at the heart of the original films.

"2" makes the most of this event and the character's arc by blowing it off completely and literally bringing him back from the dead, now a 'clone' that's having a mid-accelerated-life crisis (supposedly) and goes AWOL to hook up with Juno from the last game and make a journey of self-discovery or something as well I suppose. 

As far as sequels go, "Force Unleashed 2" could be summed-up nicely as following the "God of War 3"-school of design: the core mechanics and combat are improved and it's even better looking than last time, but the story feels considerably weaker, or at least more rambling than it has before.  It starts off with a premise that holds plenty of potential-- a more character-focused entry is part of why "The Empire Strikes Back" worked as well as it did, after all-- but there's very little that actually happens. 

You leave Kamino, go find your badass Jedi Master from Game One, spend a LOT of time on an Alliance command ship, go back to Kamino... and that's pretty much it.  It's not terribly short, but it feels rushed and with considerably less variety than last time-- it says quite a bit that the game succeeds in making a level on a hanging casino planet drag on so long that it ends up being boring.  The existential issue of the whole 'clone' thing, despite supposedly being a major issue for Starkiller himself, doesn't even really factor that much into the character, except for a standout sequence that feels pretty heavily borrowed from Gotham City's home for the Criminally Insane, if you know what I mean.

So the story is kind of a forgettable 'blah' this time around, but the actual gameplay shows a bit more discipline.  It's been tightened up across the board, from the aesthetic (a far smoother framerate and excellent animations) to a more encompassing but simplified levelling system and only a handful of specialized enemy types rather than eighty-billion variations. 

It's still alot of fun-- experimenting with combinations of lightsaber, lightning, grab and push often yields results both effective and amusing-- but it becomes clear very quickly that the combat is essentially unchanged from "Force Unleashed 1."  There aren't any new combos or exotic abilities to learn that weren't there last time (though the Lightning Shield is absent), except for a rather useful counterattack/deflect move.  Not that there was anything inherentl wrong with the first game from a control/gameplay standpoint, but when there's nothing you can think to add to a game for your sequel, maybe it's time to reconsider making one in the first place.

Actually, there is the new Mind Trick ability, which is more a toy than an effective combat tool to be honest.  Don't get me wrong, making Stormtroopers fling themselves off ledges or pistol-whip each other is pretty amusing in a very "Scribblenauts" sort of way, but it takes up too much energy and does too little to be of much use.  It probably won't take long for the novelty to wear off and you go back to killing them the straightforward way, with a lightsaber in the face or 20,000 volts.

"Force Unleashed 2's" cribbing "God of War" even extends to the new Challenge rooms, which I honestly do have to give credit to for actually being varied instead of just a series of "kill everyone" in narrow corridors.

Overall, the game is pretty fun while you're playing it at least, but "Force Unleashed 2" doesn't have enough to make it a worthy successor to the far-stronger first entry and doesn't come close to warranting a full-price-purchase.  Even if the final half-hour or so is quite good, the whole thing feels more like a shallow cash-in than a proper sequel and could have easily been a downloadable game instead.

And if you absolutely must know what happens... well, that's what Youtube is for.

The Good: looks fantastic and has the framerate to back it, combat as good as ever, the last 20 minutes

The Bad: Story never feels like it goes anywhere, voice-acting slightly more laughable


Rating: Z/12 Thank God for Game Rentals