Sunday, November 7, 2010

What a Piece of Sith

Review: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2 (Xbox 360)

At the time of this writing, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II has been on store shelves for close to two weeks, and if you’re the type to scour video game review sites and blogs on a daily basis, you’re already well of its myriad of problems and you’re probably not all that likely to pick it up in the first place. But if you’re still considering a purchase, I’ve got a few reasons to save your cash for something else.

Bear in mind, I wasn’t all that complimentary toward the original Force Unleashed. In fact, in my review of the first game, I called its core combat gameplay a “needlessly tedious exercise” and lambasted its broken camera and targeting system. However, I did—and still do—think that the original title’s story of betrayal and redemption had an “old-school” Star Wars feel to it, surpassing much of the melodrama and ham-fisted plot developments that plagued the prequel trilogy. Surely a sequel would address the original game’s shortcomings and deliver an equally gripping narrative, right? Well, read on, young Gameplayer.

I Find Your Lack of Story Disturbing

As I already mentioned, Starkiller’s emotional journey made the original game worthy of at least one playthrough. But if you played that story to completion and earned the “light side” ending, you know that Darth Vader’s evil-turned-valiant secret apprentice sacrificed himself to save the fledgling Rebel Alliance. So how the hell are we still playing as him in the sequel? It’s a good question, and it’s one LucasArts doesn’t bother to answer in TFU 2.

In this game, you’re one of many clones of the original Starkiller, but you’re haunted by the memories of your deceased Force-sensitive template. Is he really a clone? Did Vader somehow revive his fallen apprentice? Is this clone a medical anomaly? We never really find out. Instead, we follow Starkiller on his single-minded mission to reunite with Juno Eclipse, his love interest from the original game. And that’s about it. The game never gives you a reason to care about what happens this time around, let alone provide a compelling argument for its existence as the continuation of a finished story. If you’re expecting anything deeper than a “fight the bad guys to kiss the hot girl” plot from your video games, you might want to try something a little bit more sophisticated in the writing department—Just Dance 2, for instance.

Also, without going into detail, this game also makes Vader look like even more of a wimp than the prequels did, especially following the ridiculous (and canon-defying) finale.

Mash Buttons, Throw Controller, Repeat
The combat, Force powers and camera are greatly improved from the first game, meaning you’re able to slash, fry, toss and dismember legions of Stormtroopers, mechs and walkers to your heart’s content. Unfortunately, the routine wears thin about midway through the game (which is after the second level, by the way, but I’ll get to that later).

Force abilities are cool until you come face-to-face with enemies resistant to them, while wielding two lightsabers at once is awesome until you come up against enemies that block any and all physical attacks. And since the game likes to throw a healthy mix of opponents that are alternately weak to Force attacks and resistant to them, most of the game is spent frustratedly spamming enemies with whatever they’re vulnerable to so you can move onto the next group of bad guys. Isn’t being a badass Jedi with near-limitless power supposed to be fun?

“Boba Fett? Boba Fett? Where?” (SPOILER ALERT)
To answer your question, Mr. Solo, he’s in TFU 2…for about a minute. Yes, in an effort to appease Star Wars fanboys, LucasArts weaved two of the saga’s most popular characters—Boba Fett and Yoda—into the narrative. Wait, “weaved” isn’t the right word. Crammed? That sounds about right.

You meet Yoda outside the infamous “dark side” cave on Dagobah (he sits on a rock and spouts some nebulous dialogue in a cutscene), while Boba is hired by to kidnap Juno and lure Starkiller into a trap. You see him, but you never get to fight him. Instead, you battle legions of robot spiders in the bowels of a command ship. Yay.

The brevity of these cameos didn’t stop LucasArts from using both iconic characters in their marketing material (Yoda’s even on the back of the box). It’s funny how that works.

This Game Is Four Hours Long
I was going to include a clever title for this section, but I opted to take the direct approach because THIS GAME IS $60 AND ONLY FOUR FRIGGIN HOURS LONG. TFU 2 isn’t a full sequel: it’s a glorified expansion pack.

However, the repetitive combat and the copy-and-paste level design actually make the game feel twice as long. So that’s something.

I’d love to be able to say that TFU 2 is somehow worthy of a rental, but with so many better action titles on the market right now—including Dead Rising 2, Fable 3 and Fallout: New Vegas—playing through this lackluster sequel would rob you of time better spent playing games that matter. Sure, the graphics and the controls are an improvement on those of the original Force Unleashed, but the lame story, laughable length and boring combat not only make this a bad game, but a seemingly-intentional insult to Star Wars fans. LucasArts should be ashamed.


Doomed True Believer said...

I will stay as far from this game as i can! (unless i borrow it from you when i have four hours to spare)
BTW, i love the format of this review. Makes it alot easier to read in bite size chunks! Kudos

James Wortman said...

This was a new review style I was trying out. Glad you liked it!