There are two things, I suppose, that all gamers can reach a universal consensus on. The first would be regarding poor sequels, hastily put together compilations of ideas that were rejected during the development of the first game by the developers rushed to the market to cash in on the popularity of the hit game- and there are many, many such sequels, even today. The second would be regarding licensed games, that is, games based on existing intellectual properties. Games in the former category suck without exception. Games in the latter category suck with very few exceptions.
Said exceptions would include the Star Wars games. Crafted by the (once) fine minds at LucasArts, the quality of the Star Wars games may not have been consistently great, but at their best, the Star Wars games have shone as being amongst the very best of their times. The Rogue Squadron games were always fan favorites, and the Knights of the Old Galaxy games by Bioware are definitely amongst the best RPGs ever created. And whereas there have been a lot of Star Wars games that were simply dreadful, it would be fair to say that games based in George Lucas’s galaxy far far away generally have a better record than most of their other licensed brethren.
One of the other standout Star Wars games was The Force Unleashed. Released in 2008, it was immediately noted for its intense action sequences, liberal use of quick time events, the excellent and poignant story, the great dialog, exceedingly refined storytelling, wonderful soundscore, and an overall theme that felt like a worthy addition to the Star Wars canon. And whereas the critical reception of the game was middling at best- reviewers cited many problems, ranging from gameplay glitches and a lack of finesse to an overall lack of originality as far as the gameplay was concerned- fans seemed to differ, as The Force Unleashed exploded at retail, becoming the fastest selling Star Wars branded game ever.
Obviously, such success warrants a sequel. Like, duh. They hit gold, they obviously want more. An ordinary developer, under these circumstances, would decide to smooth out the problems in The Force Unleashed that drew the ire of the critics, and add a level of polish that the first game lacked so sorely. They would also probably be hard at work trying to come up with a story that could at least do justice to the original. In other words, they would work to ensure that The Force Unleashed 2 lived up to the potential of the original.
Yeah, that clearly didn’t happen.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2 is a mess. Everything that was good about the first game isn’t here anymore, while everything that was bad about it is retained, and in many cases, enhanced so that it’s even worse than it initially was. While on a technical level, this game shines, it lacks all the charm, poignancy, and thrill of the first game, leading to a game that is a mechanical drone without any kind of soul.
The biggest issue with The Force Unleashed 2 would be its story. To fans of the first game, this should come as somewhat of a surprise, considering just how excellent the story of the first game ultimately was. This time around, however, the plot is barebones thin, and is mostly a poor retreading of the same ground that the first game covered, complete with a split ending depending upon one crucial choice that you make near the game’s climax. To set up the stage for Starkiller, the game’s protagonist, to actually be here, there is some sort of ridiculously contrived explanation regarding clones and what nots that makes zero sense within or without context.
This automatically places the game at a grave disadvantage- the biggest draw that the first game had under its belt was its trilogies straddling story, and the fact that the narrative of this game lacks any punch this time around is already a major point against it. Even if this game were to be viewed in pure isolation, being judged entirely on its own merits, and without being compared to its predecessor, the story would be marked down for being borderline insulting to the player’s intelligence. And while there are some genuinely touching moments sprinkled throughout, and a few ‘Oh snap!’ revelations, particularly near the game’s climax, on the whole, the story is an excursion in unrelenting mediocrity.
The problem is that the story being weak automatically leads to the game’s biggest strengths becoming meaningless altogether. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2 still shines in the technical aspects, with some particularly impressive graphics and facial animations, and some well directed cutscenes. The problem is, the story they are trying to tell is atrocious, and so, any sheen that these presentation elements may have had is somewhat dulled. And while this certainly does not take away from the impressive lighting effects, or the excellently detailed character models or environments, or even the nice soundscore for the game, it kind of stops having any effect on the player and stops wowing its audience, simply because the story leaves such a bitter taste in the mouth.
However, the game might still have managed to save face had its gameplay been at least up to par. Unfortunately, The Force Unleashed 2 miserably fails in this regard. Whereas I will not deny that dual wielding of light sabers and force powers can be incredibly fun to begin with, messing around with them gets very old, very fast, and we’re left with the same basic gameplay framework that the first game had, albeit with a few puzzles thrown in here and there for some more variety.
This is actually one of the stickier areas when we’re dealing with the Force Unleashed games- there are many who maintain that the gameplay of the first title was perfect for the kind of intense and fast paced experience that it was trying to deliver, so why try to fix what evidently is not broken? On the other hand, even the most die hard of all loyalists will be hard pressed to deny that the first game lacked some originality (it played almost exactly like a God of War game would) and it lacked a lot of polish. Certainly, these two areas should have been addressed properly in this sequel.
Whereas quite a few new powers have been added to this game- the grapple, mind control, Force Sensing- the point is that most of it is really incomplete and half baked in its execution, and none of them really do much to actually shake up the formula. In theory, the grapple and mind control should have been interesting new additions to the game. In The Force Unleashed 2, none of them does anything at all to change the combat, except for adding a couple of cool looking animations. But it all ends up boiling down to the same thing ultimately.
The Force Unleashed 2 isn’t a bad game by design, I think. Contrary to my implicit accusation in the introduction to this review, I think that the developers genuinely wanted to explore new gameplay avenues in this sequel. The problem is that they were working on a very shaky foundation, and that really messed things up for them. The story is appalling, the gameplay is crude, the camera- dear Lord, the camera sucks, and no other adjective can do my feelings justice here- but the graphics are still amazing, the soundtrack is still nice to listen to, and on a technical level, this game excels. Unfortunately, like I said earlier in this review, what that leaves us with is a mechanical drone corpse of a game, a zombie that functions perfectly at the surface level, but lacks that spark, that soul, that is needed to truly make the game something special.
Stay away from this one. The first one is still a much better game.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Great animations, wonderful graphics, nicely directed cutscenes, soundtrack is good, game can be touching in some portions
The story is insultingly bad, the gameplay is just plain awful, the camera is broken, the game lacks variety
Problems abound in The Force Unleashed 2- it should have been a great game by all means, but it ended up being an absolute mess. Stay away from this one.