If you head into space, you want to take the right kit with you. For Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, that kit turned out to be middleware. It's hard not to have fun when you've got the likes of DMM and Euphoria under the hood - the first being a materials simulation system capable of turning out all sorts, from ice that both melts and cracks to convincing broccoli, while the second is a hilariously believable character animation programme responsible, among other things, for Red Dead Redemption's gloriously unsettling horsey deaths.
Together with Havok, they ensured that LucasArts' first Force-powered adventure was as much a treat for physics fans as it was for the kind of people who name their first child Rankor, and while the game wasn't perfect, I certainly remember the day I first mind-gripped a passing TIE Fighter and flung it through a window. (I really do. It was a Tuesday.)
As the best-selling Star Wars game ever made, a sequel was pretty much inevitable, but that didn't mean it was going to be easy. Star Wars fans like their stories even more than they like their plastic Wookiees, and Force Unleashed concluded pretty, like, conclusively, with - spoiler - the death of the player character. That's if you took the righteous path, anyhow, which the team now considers the canonical ending.
Not even Obi-Wan Kenobi likes to leave money on the table, however, which means that LucasArts' writer, Haden Blackman - I suspect Haden put something into one of those Star Wars name generators to come up with that moniker - had his work cut out for him. Luckily, it looks like he's risen to the challenge in a pretty entertaining manner.
A continuation of the previous game's plotline, the story for Force Unleashed II slots in between episodes III and IV, which indicates that it's somewhere around the one where Yoda burns down the frozen banana stand without realising it's papered with money, but before the part where Lando Calrissian's divorced parents both turn up to the same party and the gang have to keep them in separate rooms all evening.
Okay, I'm lying (Yoda burns down the banana stand in Star Trek, obv.): it's between whatever happens at the end of the Jimmy Smits trilogy and the bit when that door fizzes open at the start of the Harrison Ford years.
The story seems to be pretty important for this one, early narrative challenges notwithstanding. Darth Vader's taken the original Apprentice's actions quite badly, it seems, and has spent a lot of time trying to clone the little chap in a nasty and rather sparsely decorated room on the water planet of Kamino.
The process hasn't gone particularly well, however, as most of the clones turn out to be a bit nutty. Brilliantly, you're one of the nuttier ones, haunted by memories of your past life, and not excessively gifted at reigning in your explosive Force powers. Before you can say, "Whatever happened to the guy that played Wedge?" you've busted free and are off on a jaunt across the galaxy to sort your head out and come to terms with your destiny. You know, by throwing Storm Troopers off cliffs.
LucasArts has clearly taken more care and attention over the plotting than is traditional for this kind of game, and you'd be wise to expect surprising twists and lofty production values. Storyboards for the cut-scenes suggest that the staging tends towards the epic, and there's a real sense of the developer trying to do the series justice.
Once the game itself is running, however, LucasArts is mainly trying to do the Force powers justice, and that brings us back to Euphoria and DMM, both of which have had a considerable tweaking this time around. Simply put, the kind of stuff you see unfolding on the fly in The Force Unleashed II puts other games to shame: Storm Troopers cartwheel through the air, limbs flailing, TIE Fighters bounce off girders leaving nasty dents, and platforms collapse unexpectedly beneath droids sending support struts swinging and cables spiralling.
Best of all, when the chaos unfolds, you're generally at the centre of it all, and you'll have more tools at your disposal this time. Force Grip, Force Push and Force Lightning all make welcome returns, and you can now combine them for fun and profit - Push with a little jolt of electricity has some fairly amusing consequences, for example. To encourage you to be creative, there are far more props sprinkled around the environments in Force Unleashed II, and experience points are newly available for particularly elaborate kills.
Elsewhere, you can enjoy the delights of the new power, Mind Trick, which allows you to target enemies and mess about with their heads. Each category of foe will react differently apparently, and half the fun comes from letting rip and seeing what you get this time: a bit like those hanging-claw amusement arcade cabinets, but for psychoses rather than plushes.
Common Storm Troopers just march stoically off the edge of platforms before falling to their doom, while other villains might blow themselves to pieces, possibly setting off chain reactions, and yet more will turn on their allies. You've also got a new fury meter to take into account - a bold theft from Quackshot for the Megadrive - that slowly builds up as you play, and can then trigger a murderous rush of explosive damage against multiple on-screen enemies.
All of your arsenal will get a decent airing as the game explores locations ranging from Kamino to a hazy, orange-skied barge planet whose name I missed while quixotically lending a colleague my pen.
And it's not only the Force that has been unleashed afresh, either: the melee combat has been entirely rethought, with new combos and animations that make the most of the fact that the Apprentice now wields two lightsabers at once - excellent for running through baddies attacking from multiple angles, and presumably pretty handy if he has to unexpectedly guide any 747s to some nearby terminal gates too.
Enemies, meanwhile, have been reduced from around 100 distinct types to around 25 or so, but they're more strongly differentiated in both animation and behaviours. New jet pack troopers swarm through the air trailing clouds of smoke and linger just outside of reach, while improved AT-STs lob rockets from across the map and need to be tackled quickly before the whole thing gets out of hand. Best of all is a huge shielded droid who wants to freeze you with Carbonite before his minions then smash you to pieces: nasty, pretty, physicsy stuff.
It's a lot of chaotic fun for a sequel that the developer is saying is considerably darker in tone than the first game. At the very least, you can expect it to be a lot more vicious. Wherever the story eventually takes you, however, the game should still be a knockabout pleasure to play: part fan-service and licensed product, to be sure, but part Newton's cradle and part Boom Blox-influenced brawler as well.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II is due out for DS, PS3, PSP, Wii and Xbox 360 in late October.