Say this for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II: there is no pull-the-Star-Destroyer-out-of-the-sky moment. The original game got a bum rap because of that Sisyphean boss fight and other missteps like it, not to mention an abundance of small technical glitches. The sequel was supposed to learn from those mistakes. And it does, somewhat.
Sadly, this follow-up fails to learn from the things that made its predecessor great in spite of the flaws. Star Wars has been called both a space western and a space opera, and in The Force Unleashed, writer/producer Haden Blackman managed to capture both sensibilities in one crackling game. Starkiller was the ultimate gunslinger, riding into town and taking names (even the ones unpronounceable by human tongues). Yet he also played the central part in an epic tale of Wagnerian proportions, one that brought depth to the pre-Luke portion of the Star Wars timeline – more so than George Lucas' prequels did.
The Force Unleashed II maintains some of the crazy cowboy mentality. It's still fun to wade into a posse of stormtroopers and unleash every Force stunt in Starkiller's repertoire: slamming the bad guys against the wall, flinging them into oblivion, stunning them with lightning, and of course, decapitation-by-lightsaber. The game is at its best in prosaic moments, when the screen isn't filled with some titanic mega-boss but rather with an array of smaller challenges to dispatch one by one.
The epic scale is gone, though, at least in terms of storytelling. The game zips from beginning to end with practically no fanfare – the second act, such as it is, consists of a five-minute trip to Dagobah. (Allows for the obligatory backward-talking Yoda monologue, it does.) The Force Unleashed II is about half as long as the original, but it's not that the game is short – I'll take a crisp, energetic five hours over a 20-hour slog – the trouble is that not much takes place in that time. Dude escapes Empire, dude retrieves Jedi master, dude fights Empire. Fin.
The central conflict is supposed to be the mystery of whether this Starkiller is the authentic article or just one of many clones that Vader brewed up in his backyard lab. Yet the game minces about this question without advancing toward a meaningful answer, like it's bored with its own premise. Starkiller yells "You lie!" at Vader once or twice or a thousand times, and that's about it.
As far as combat is concerned, while there's nothing that approaches the tedium of the Star Destroyer fight, the handful of boss showdowns don't exactly sparkle with excitement. The Force Unleashed II subscribes to the notion that boss fights need only to be long and noisy.
There is no cleverness required, or even allowed, to battle these monsters. A relentless series of tips pops up on screen throughout the game to guide you to the next step, lest you figure it out for yourself. Likewise, General Kota, the world's bitchiest Jedi Master, is on the comm channel to coach you at every turn. When this ill-tempered lout repeatedly screeches, "You have to deactivate the shield!" over a crackly radio connection, I can't help but think, hey, the Dark Side seems mighty nice this time of year.
Combat against the lesser foes is more entertaining, even though the selection of enemies is so skimpy that you'll see most of the game's basic antagonists within the first 20 minutes. There's the usual array of stormtroopers, of course. As mentioned above, screwing with these guys is so much fun it should be an Olympic sport.
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