Friday, February 4, 2011

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II

Star Wars games can be pretty hit and miss, but more recently have had a pretty solid run. One of these games was called The Force Unleashed, which had a unique idea behind it in that you play as a secret apprentice of Darth Vader codenamed Starkiller. The game had its own flaws, but it had a lot of potential going for it and a sequel seemed natural, if not inevitable. I wouldn't say that it was a classic, but it was at least a guilty pleasure for me, and I was really looking forward to its sequel. Now that I have played it, I can say it still has a ways to go.

The game takes place a good while after the first game, now with the player controlling a clone of Starkiller. After failing to kill a facsimile of Juno Eclipse, from the previous game, Vader claims him to be a failed experiment and plans to discard him. However, Starkiller escapes with the intent of finding Juno to make sure that she is still alive, as well as figuring out just what he is. As you can probably tell, the plot is more personal than before, but that's not really a bad thing. I liked the direction the game took and really wanted to see it unfold. While the story was fun to see, it could be a little predictable at times, but those moments don't really detract from it. It was written well, but isn't really required to understand the movie canon, in fact feeling more self-contained.

The characters retain their voices from the last game, so it was nice that the voices were familiar. I thought the performances were done pretty well, but there are a couple of minor things to point out. For one, General Kota is especially hammy in this game, which made some serious moments funnier than they should have been. Also, while Boba Fett and Yoda do make cameo appearances, their scenes were a little forgettable, as I only really focused on what was going on with Starkiller.

While I was fond of the gameplay of the first game, I did want to see some more variety, which, thankfully, this game provides. Players can now wield two light sabers at once, with different crystals found in the game providing different bonuses. These crystals can be mixed and matched, creating some rather interesting, and effective, combinations depending on what you want to do. Some of these combinations are more situational, however, such as combining crystals that grant health bonuses or crystals that deal with your Force Powers by lowering their cost to use or increasing their effectiveness. But most importantly, this allows players with differing play styles to get the most fun out of the game. The different costumes are also fun to wear, including a cameo in this manner by Guybrush Threepwood from the Monkey Island series of games.

Speaking of Force Powers, one of the few new additions is the ability to use the Jedi Mind Trick. Using this power allows you to control the thoughts of your enemies, be it turning against their own allies or committing suicide. However, there is limited use for this power. Some enemies are unaffected by this power, so its use is less effective as you get deeper into the game. Also, the thought you put in their head if you are successful is random, so you may have to try a few attempts before getting them to do exactly what you want. It was a nice addition, but it could have been more satisfying if there was more of a use for it.

The combat is a combination of both melee with the light sabers and the force powers, which can be very satisfying at times, but sometimes not as much as you would hope. New enemy types are introduced throughout the game, but just by looking at a wave you can tell what to do. By this, I mean that I was able to figure out the most effective order to taking out the enemies, made easier by the fact that some enemies with spotty AI will stay in one spot the entire time or have very little variety in their tactics. While there could be some challenge, it could still sometimes be disappointing. It seemed really to depend on the scenario at hand. I also noticed that the quick-time events were changed from the first game. This is fine, but I couldn't help thinking of God of War III the entire time due to using the same scheme of mapping the button presses to the sides of the screen. Even with this innovation, it wasn't as satisfying as it could have been, since you can easily memorize the commands to input at this time.

Going back to the sound design, I thought the score fit the tone of the game very well and was very enjoyable to listen to. However, there were some times when the music would cut in and out, even stopping completely. Sometimes, there was no sound at all during an in-mission cutscene, which wasn't particularly fun, especially if all you have are the sounds of everything else. The general sound effects, however, were appropriate for the various interactions and felt in place with the universe they fit in. Still, I wasn't able to find out the cause of the sound issue, so we may have to wait for a patch to fix that small problem.

Looking at the game, you can tell that the graphics aren't the best around, but they look and flow amazingly well. The game looks much more impressive in the pre-rendered cut scenes, so it is sometimes worth playing through the levels just to see the next one. The textures matched each area, making the levels feel more unique, even when most of what you see is the Empire's color scheme of grays and blacks. The designs of the levels were fairly straightforward, so it's very easy to navigate through the game. This can be good or bad depending on your perspective, but I thought that it could feel a little too easy to get through the levels, so there wasn't as much fun in them as I had hoped.

The biggest part of the game's story comes at the end, where you must choose between joining the Light Side or the Dark Side. Both endings are, of course, different, but being satisfactory is entirely left up to your own opinion. To me, the Light Side ending concluded the self-contained universe better, while the Dark Side ending felt more in line with the Star Wars canon. Either way, it’s at least 7 hours of gameplay to get there, which is fairly average these days. In some ways, it felt a little too short, but I can't really complain.

While Force Unleashed II had some innovations, they were fairly minor and sometimes darn near useless. I appreciated the game for what it was worth, but it isn't a game I would recommend to most people, I myself considering it more like one of gaming's guilty pleasures. I might play it again down the road, but I don't see that happening in the near future, especially since there are better games out there. If you are a fan of the previous game, a huge Star Wars nut, or are looking for a decent rental game, be sure to check this one out. Otherwise, I would suggest looking at other reviews of this game before taking a full purchase into consideration.

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