Star Wars is one of those frustrating franchises that has the potential to create some amazing, immersive games. So far though the quality has been mixed, and with the Force Unleashed 2 Lucas Arts had a chance to build on the relative success of the first Unleashed title and give the world something to truly savour.
The Force Unleashed 2 carries on from the first TFU game, but you needn’t worry if you haven’t played it as you’re given a story update in the traditional scrolling-into-the-distance style. A series of cutscenes help to set the story further, but as the game goes on the storyline becomes thinner and thinner to the point it’s quite tricky to actually work out what the bigger picture is. You’re simultaneously rescuing a Jedi, trying to beat the Empire and saving a girl, but there’s little to remind you which is the main objective. For a game based on some fairly epic film plots, it’s a sizeable disappointment that the writing team were a little off key. Luckily, the action between this half-story is a little more engaging.
Since Episode IV was released in the 70s Star Wars has always pushed boundaries of animation, effects and visuals and TFU2 is no exception to this trend. From the very beginning everything looks great, from the cutscenes to the visuals during gameplay. Light sabres light up the surrounding areas and reflect off shiny surfaces, character models are well drawn and the force powers bring about some great looking effects. The sound too is fantastic, sticking faithfully to the well known effects used in the films. Hearing a TIE fighter swoop in and shoot its lasers at you makes you feel like you’re watching the films again, more so if you’re wearing a decent set of headphones. The music works well too, building up at the right times to enhance excitement and does a great job of making things feel far more tense at the right times. Let’s face it, anything could feel good alongside the Star Wars score.
The controls are also simple enough to learn but varied enough to offer a decent range of available attacking options. It’s fairly standard fare for this style of game – if you’ve played Prince of Persia or God of War you’ll feel right at home. Jabbing the light sabre button repeatedly will unleash a mightily impressive attacking combo which will take care of most enemies the game throws at you. Some will block your attacks though, and others use jetpacks to hover out of reach. At times like these you’ll be needing your force powers, which is OK until you get a mix of both styles of enemies and need to worry about juggling your sabre attacks with blasts of the force. It can get a little frustrating when you’re surrounded by multiple enemies, especially when the huge walkers turn up and fire missiles at you at the same time, but perseverance is the key. Regular checkpoints help keep the annoyance factor down too, even if their spacing is quite inconsistent.
Many elements can be upgraded, from your force powers to the strength of your light sabre attack. This uses the tried and tested points approach – kill people, earn points, spend points on upgrades. They do make quite a difference and can affect the way you play the game, but it’s nothing new that hasn’t been seen before elsewhere – a theme that runs through much of the game.
One issue with the first Force Unleashed was the difficulty in using the force to throw people and objects around. This has been polished a little and is now easier to send things where you want, but you’ll still be throwing items in totally the wrong direction quite often, which when you’re planning to use some scenery to knock down a room full of storm troopers is quite annoying.
As you play through the game you unlock challenges levels which you can use to test your skills away from the main game. This gives you more to do for a little while after finishing the game, and you’ll be glad of it considering the main campaign won’t keep you going for more than a few hours. In times when most games offer online modes to maintain interest these single player only titles need to be doing more to ensure players get value for money, and despite these extra challenges you never really feel like you’ve got good value for money, especially given that there seems little reason to play through a second time unless you’re a frantic trophy collector.
Different outfits and sabres give you a little variation, more so with the light sabres which give extra abilities like health regeneration, or boosts to your force energy but in practise I found myself just changing them to try and get the best looking combination of colours. I think the biggest problem, storyline aside, is that there’s nothing new here. The game itself is quite good fun, and the fighting generally feels fluid and looks impressive, but it gets very samey very quickly. The fact you only face a handful of different enemies doesn’t make the situation better, although being able to slice limbs off your enemies is curiously satisfying.
I just can’t help but feel that the Force Unleashed 2 was an opportunity lost. We’ve seen how these games should be done with the massive God of War 3, and a shorter game with less variety and scale like this just doesn’t cut it any more. It’s made coming up with a score quite tricky because despite all this the game is, on the whole, good fun to play. It just feels a little underdeveloped. And I can’t help but wonder just how amazing things could have been with an online co-op option available. Next time maybe.