The original Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was the fastest selling Star Wars game of all time, which is kind of a big deal. Offering up a story that filled in the gaps between the trilogies, wildly amplified Force powers, and a dynamic materials system that showed just how destructive these mystical warriors can be, the original game hit many of the high points of gamers' wish fulfillment, even if the overall experience was less than the sum of its parts. Now LucasArts is back with a sequel that extends the story and offers us another chance to check in with Darth Vader's secret apprentice, Starkiller. This time around Starkiller is on the run from his former master and trying to figure out just who he is and where his loyalties are supposed to lie. Saying more than that would spoil what little surprises the story holds.
If Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II has one thing going for it, it's the overall authenticity of the whole experience. LucasArts games, not surprisingly, always feel completely consistent with the Star Wars experience. From the sights to the sounds, every element in this game is a pitch-perfect recreation of what we've seen in the films. Whether it's the warm glow of a lightsaber, the squeal of blaster fire, or the intense moral struggle, everything looks and sounds just like you'd expect a Star Wars game should. LucasArts is so consistently good at this, it almost doesn't seem worth mentioning, but our natural reaction to this world is so strong that simply having the starfighter engines glow just the right shade of pink is enough to have us fully invested in the world.
The game also understands that locations are a huge part of the Star Wars magic. There's a golden-tinged elevated city, which is just perfect for flinging Stormtroopers off of ledges. There's a sprawling iron-grey starship, filled with cramped hallways and massive hangars and some spectacularly large windows through which you can see a massive space battle between two fleets. There's even a stint on a certain swampy planet where you visit a certain syntactically-challenged puppet. The levels themselves are undeniably repetitive, but they're still incredibly well designed from an artistic standpoint. You'll just be confused that in a game where you're running across the entire galaxy, you only seem to go three places - and one of them is just for a quick cutscene.
Sadly, the story doesn't do much with the raw material. There's certainly potential here. Starkiller's story in the first game was quite good but here it just feels like it's recycling plot points with no real motivation for connecting them together. Yes, you're on the run from Vader; yes, you're questioning your very identity; yes, you're chasing Boba Fett to rescue your girlfriend. But none of it really engages the player enough to actually care about the outcome. In fact, the game uses three of the series' most iconic characters, but they never get enough room to be the characters we know from the movie. Okay, maybe Darth Vader is the exception, but even here, he's supposed to be the central villain and he's completely absent for most of the game.
The gameplay is almost good enough to make you forgive the inconsistent story. Almost, but not quite. The overall animations, the visual spectacle of the bulkhead-crushing Force powers, and the new dismemberment effects make combat a real treat for the eyes. You can watch this game and know just how much of a badass this Jedi really is. Whether he's electrocuting flying Stormtroopers, flinging missiles back at AT-STs, or simply chopping arms and heads off of other rival Jedis, Starkiller is a powerful fighter and the game makes that very clear. I could play a whole level where I just threw Stormtroopers off of platforms.