The first forray into Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, Starkiller, was met with conflicted reviews, to say the least. Still, the announcement of a sequel, along with some changes to the game had many anticipating it’s arrival. Furthermore, this writer was glad to see the PC port of the game announced as on schedule to release alongside it’s console brethren, sparing us from the suspended animation long wait the first port saw. Now, the only questions left were how Lucasarts could continue a seemingly contained and complete story, and still keep things relevant to the timeline between Episodes III and IV.
I know there may still be some who have yet to complete the first game(including one of our own writers, whom I know has a copy on his digital shelf). That being said, it is tough to discuss the pickup and continuation of Force Unleashed II without spoilers. So, let’s skim some details and say that the opening has Starkiller tasked by Vader to seek out and destroy the returning character and Jedi Knight, General Rahm Kota. Amidst a confrontation, Vader is defied, and the young apprentice flees. He must escape Vader’s grasp on Kamino, and go in search of Kota, but for what purpose? If you are a fan of the first game, then just stop here, because this is as interesting as the story gets. Basically, Starkiller goes on a blind rampage spanning a skimpy two more locales, one of which does not even contain any combat segments, and before you know it, the book snaps closed, with the choice of Light and Dark Side flavored endings. While I did not like the linking of the first game with Episode IV, there was a coherent, tangible story within the game, that compelled the player. The same cannot be said for Force Unleashed II. In fact, I am certain that my 10 year old could have penned a more interesting and riviting backdrop for Starkiller’s rage fueled antics.
Gameplay follows much like the first game, only completely buggy, completely uninspired and completely shallow. Starkiller lays waste to anything in his path in God of War style combat, dual wielding lightsabers. In a nice twist, you can choose what saber crystals to equip-and each one you find may offer different bonuses. If you want to dual wield the crystals, you’ll have to find them both. Only one new power is introduced, Mind Trick. This allows Starkiller to control up to three enemies at a time, with an obvious limitation on boss characters. I would like to say that the combat is still satisfying, but even on it’s lowest settings, the game chugs and skips as if you were watching a Star Wars Robot Chicken stop-motion claymation filming. I would like to say that the campaign takes about three hours to complete, but I’m sure that would not factor in the time spent troubleshooting the game, needlessly updating drivers, and ultimately spent waiting for the choppiness and glitching to subside so you can continue your quest. The game takes place across four worlds, one of which is visited twice, and another of which does not even feature any combat. All of the first game’s combos have been force pushed out of the picture, and now, your force points may only be used to upgrade your force abilities. The entire upgrade system has been stripped down to a bare minimum, giving the player very little incentive to customize or replay the game. If you were not a fan of the Star Destroyer segment of the first game, you will be baffled and apalled at it’s attempted replacement in the sequel, it is thankfully less frustrating, and even more unimpressive and uninspiring. If you are a glutton for punishment, then the game offers a series of challenge rooms that test your skills in combat and in some additional objective based scenarios. I have three times the recommended video RAM on my GPU, and cannot find any troubleshooting tricks to get this game working smoothly–even by resorting to a hack, found online, to remove the 30frame per second cap coded in, and replace it with a 60 frame per second one. The game has been released, in what I believe, to be an unpayable state, so if I cannot dissuade you from a purchase, I would at least encourage you to wait until a patch has been released.
OK, good things first. I can’t say I completely hated this game – the Mind Trick power was fun to use, the saber crystal customization was a great idea, the opening sequence was very good and the boss battle on the second world was pure genius. However, those brief shining moments are overshadowed by a buggy mess of a game that loses any hope of a story before it even gets off the ground. This game is horrible in every possible way. All semblance of basic plot and story elements are missing in action, the voice acting in the endgame sounds as if it were done via an iphone sound-board app, and it’s ridiculously short length and multitude of bugs make it even a poor rental. Even with a patch, to fix some of the issues, this game is sloppy, uninteresting, and way too short to be worth your time or money. It seems as if the developers stopped programming after the first two levels, and the rest of the game was force pushed together with chewing gum and duct tape, using whatever leftover concept art and pieced together voice over lines could be found on the Lucasarts cutting room floor. If you are a fan of the first game, go play it again, and don’t let this sloppy sequel defile the interesting story and lore of that game.
[starreview tpl=14 size=’30’]
UPDATE : 11/10/2010 – Since writing the review, I have been able to patch my Nvidia graphics drivers and alleviate some of the framerate issues. However, this doesn’t fix all the bugs, for example, one involving a grapple move where instead of finishing off an opponent, the game glitches, removing your opponent from in front of you and ‘beaming’ them down to the ground. This takes away what should be the killing blow of an air combo, and gives your opponent the advantage, completely negating any usefullness of that move because of a glitch. I’ve completed a second, complete playthrough of the game, in it’s patched state, and I stand by my score. I think a game should be judged, as it is released, and while I do understand the need to stay on top of driver updates, I don’t think a game should be completely crippled if you don’t have the newest ones installed. Even with new drivers, the framerate chugs here and there, and my other issues with the game—the story, among others—are not so easily fixed.