Another week, another sequel to a top-selling game of 2008. This time, it’s The Force Unleashed’s turn, not letting a little thing like the death of the main character at the end of that game ruin the chance to milk the franchise for more money. The game opens on Starkiller (apparently not important enough to have a first name), Darth Vader’s ‘secret apprentice’, failing a test put to him and having to escape Vader’s notoriously ungenerous attitude towards poor exam results. See, it turns out he’s a clone of the guy from the first game (who died), though later on one of the other characters (who, depending on your choice at the end of the first game, should also be dead), tries to suggest that’s a lie. He then proceeds to slash and force power his way across about five distinct levels until a showdown with Vader again to save the woman he (supposedly) loves, via saving some old bloke along the way, who is apparently important.
If that sounds a little vague, then I’m terribly sorry; you see, SWTFU2 doesn’t really give me any explanation as to who the hell anyone is in this game, including the main character (but I picked that up from the game box), let alone their motivations. From the off, if you haven’t played/are slightly obsessed with the first game, you either won’t know or won’t care what is going on throughout SWTFU2, and, as mentioned above, even if you did, but chose the ‘wrong’ ending, ultimately what you did will be invalidated. Aside from the obligatory scrolling text introduction, I had no idea why Starkiller (yes, I know it was the original name of Luke Skywalker, but there’s a reason George Lucas changed it- because it’s terrible) was so intent on rescuing a particular blind Jedi, why he cared about a woman he kept seeing in flashbacks/premonitions (lover? Sister? Mum? Sith Lords Anonymous sponsor?), or why he did anything else.
Well, that’s not the end of the world, right? If a game is entertaining enough, who cares about things like character motivation? I have no idea why those blocks kept falling in Tetris, but I still played it. Unfortunately, SWTFU2 has some major problems in this area too. There are perhaps five distinct levels in the whole game (one of which is about five minutes long), making the game criminally short at around 5 hours.
The combat is bland and uninteresting, with one button for the impressively-fancy (but completely out of your control) swishing of Starkiller’s double lightsabers (because more is always better, right?) and the others for the various force powers such as lightning, grip and push. Some of the later powers require two combinations, but that’s about it. Obviously, being such an unstoppable force of The Force, you have the ability to tear through any enemy with ease, whether it’s a stormtrooper, TIE fighter, or even at one point moving an entire Corellian cruiser with your powers. So naturally, as required (i.e. from the first level onwards), the game effectively cripples you by throwing out enemies that are susceptible to one (BUT ONLY ONE) type of attack, forcing you not to innovate but to switch to another button when someone in different armour shows up. Apart from the (very) occasional new enemy, you’ll pass through every single level in the game doing the same thing: enter room, mash buttons through sometimes hundreds of cookie-cutter enemies, move on to next room. As ever, there’s also an upgradeable weapons/powers system, but, as is so often the case, it’s either utterly irrelevant or completely uninteresting.
It couples its meagre selection of incredibly repetitive (though generally architecturally beautiful) levels with interminable boss battles that combine tedious, skill-free button mashing with Quick Time Events for maximum frustration. There are two major boss battles in the game, each lasting north of 20 minutes, and I have to say, that if not for my journalistic integrity (here at Jaded Eye, we never review a game we haven’t finished – unless otherwise stated), I would have given up on this game way before the end through sheer boredom.
Even the game itself seems determined not to forge a story of its own, content to follow literally two ideas, both continuations from the first game, throughout: find man, save girl. There are no choices, no characterisation, no plot progression outside of cutscenes, and I was left feeling there was no real point to anything I was doing. At one point, the only potentially interesting and original plot point about the game is completely thrown away when Starkiller asks “You still think I’m not a clone, don’t you?”, and his companion answers “I don’t think it really matters”. Too true.
That’s not to say the game is all bad. The thing is, the only things that are good about it are nothing to do with the game part of it. The cutscenes, for example, are really well directed, obviously by someone desperate to be making their own Star Wars film. Having realised this is the closest they will ever get, they are determined to let the whole ‘game’ element get in the way as little as possible. It even automates some of the fighting, with initially-entertaining-but-soon-boring pre-choreographed finishing moves handed over to Quick Time Events, and frequently cutting into the tedious action to show you another part of the level, where something a lot more interesting than what you are doing is going on. Some of these incidental or fleeting focus changes are handled in an impressively cinematic way, which is equally a welcome moment of diversion in the sisyphean monotony of the combat sections, but also incredibly irritating when the game stops you every couple of minutes just to remind you that other people are having more fun/drama.
It’s also obvious that the concept art and design team had a great time on this project. New stormtrooper and other enemy characters are really well designed and thought out, fitting in nicely with the aesthetic of the Empire or the Imperial guard as required (again, it’s a shame that they’re almost universally implemented as boring one-weakness ponies, but you can’t blame the artists for that). Each one is given a neat little supporting text in the extra features, be it fictional journal entries or third party accounts that really help to bring them to life a lot more than they bothered to do within in the game for any of the supposedly important characters.
At the start of the game I was impressed with the scene-setting, the aesthetic and the possibilities for an exciting and involving action experience it presented. Unfortunately, as it went on, it became obvious that it wasn’t going to fulfill its potential, content to try and wow you with cutscenes and convinced that peoples’ investment in the story (from the first game) will sustain them through the banality of the gameplay. Maybe if you did play the first game (unlike me) and really loved it, then you will feel this is a great new installment in the franchise, though even in that case I’d suggest it’s likely to have diminishing returns. How on earth did they make a game where I can shoot lightning and cut people into pieces with laser swords so boring? I have no idea, but they did.
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