For all of its promise, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was a painfully frustrating game. You would have thought that one man with the Force as his ally would be close to unbeatable, but Starkiller was an overly fallible Sith/Jedi. Boss fights were brutal (read: cheap), and large-scale battles often led to many (MANY) deaths. Worse than that, SWTFU featured several painful (read: almost broken) platforming sections, and more quick-time-events than all of the God of War games put together (slight exaggeration, but you get the point). Based on the thoroughly enjoyable demo alone though, it sold more than enough copies to justify a sequel on all major platforms. To be entirely honest, I expected nothing but the worst from Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, but after four or five hours I was happy enough with what I had seen.
The story is a throwaway What-If scenario that ends in ridiculous fashion, no matter which side you choose (I YouTubed the Dark Side ending and it is even more preposterous and pointless than that of the Light Side arc). What's more, the sole moral choice in the game is saved for the last twenty seconds of actual gameplay. There is no lead-up; players decide just before the credits role. I don't mind (probably would have back in the day) so much that the developers have taken some liberties with the fiction, because otherwise I would prophecise that the tale would have been even more uneventful. Restricting yourself to the period ending just before the original Star Wars trilogy begins should mean that some of the central characters in this game are safe from (a lot) of harm. Not really the case here. The greatest compliment I can give to the writers is despite the shallow Starkiller clone premise, the action moves at a fast enough pace that the plot holes don't really seem to matter that much.
The combat, save for some cosmetic changes, hasn't changed too much. Starkiller now has two lightsabers, but the combat works similarly to when he was equipped with the single weapon. His actions look more graceful, but there are no meaningful additions to melee combat. There is only one new Force Power (Jedi Mind Trick), and I think I used it about five times. Why would you bother suggesting to a Stormtrooper that they jump out of a window, when you can just pick him and his three buddies up and slam them against any surface (glass or otherwise)? That being said, it is still fun to charge up a Force Push (read: Star Wars-flavoured Hadouken), electrify foes, and dangle them over precariously high places. There have been some new enemies added, but they are used ad infinitum (and ad nauseum), and ultimately betray the developers lack of creativity. Players can now activate Force Fury, which is essentially an "I win!" button that grants unlimited Force Power usage for a limited amount of time, as well as invincibility and damage buffs. It takes a fair while to charge the Force Fury meter though, so it can't be abused too often.
Unfortunately, the uninspired platforming sections from the original make a return. None proved to be anywhere near as frustrating as those found in the first instalment, but they still felt entirely unessential. The level design on the whole for that matter, is fairly inconsistent. The first level, which is entirely unchanged from the demo, features some enjoyable combat scenarios, but is otherwise pretty bland. The second level, set on Cato Neimoidia on the other hand; is full of fantastic architecture, varied combat segments, and a wide palette of colours. The scale of the boss fight in this level is also reminiscent of that found in the God of War games. It is spectacular. The final two levels of the campaign are way too long, and only display brief glimpses of what could be considered good level design.
As hinted at above, the multi-stage boss fights make a return as well. There are less to conquer this time around, and they are ridiculously simple. Even counting the final forty-five minute boss fight that fuses the broken platforming mechanics and easy combat into one powerfully-unsatisfying experience; I would have died about five times across all of these encounters. The standard combat is also markedly less difficult than that found in the first game, and contributes to the solid pacing overall. I've actually started playing through on the hardest difficulty (Unleashed), and I'm about a third of the way through. Sure I have died more often than the playthough on Normal, but I would argue that Unleashed difficulty in the sequel is about equivalent to Normal difficulty in the first instalment in terms of both frustration and difficulty. The campaign lasts about four hours on Normal, and while there is a challenge mode available afterwards, there is very little reason to come back to the title upon completion.
In terms of visuals, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II is leagues ahead of its predecessor. There are several noticeable instances of screen tearing during cut-scenes, but some of the scripted sequences are simply breathtaking. The character models during pre-rendered sequences are particularly good-looking, but the weather effects and environments are also of far greater quality than that found in the original. While technically impressive, some of the levels are a little uninspired from an artistic perspective. The lapses in creative energy are most prevalent in the level set on a capital ship. The engine rooms of these massive starships feature quite the multitude of decorative (read: pointless) gears and obstacles. In direct contrast to the visual audacity on display, the sound design is very much understated. The cliched segments of John Williams' composition return, and you'll here the requisites screams, lightsaber whirs and blaster effects; in the end though, it all sounds like white noise.
5.0/10 - For those like myself, who expected very little from Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, I often found myself surprised. There are flashes of brilliance in this sequel, but they are often obscured by some questionable level design, and almost complete absence of challenge. Some of the scripted sequences and boss fights are spectacular, and while not essential, should be experienced if you find this swimming around the depths of the bargain bin. This is a more enjoyable game than its predecessor, but that is a backhanded compliment if ever there was one.