Friday, April 14, 2017

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II (Wii) Review

In 1986, a movie called Highlander was released.  Featuring memorable characters and an intriguing setting, the film, while initially a box-office failure, would later become a cult-classic that is still fondly remembered to this day.  Unfortunately its legacy was soiled by the release of Highlander II: The Quickening, a sequel which took the mythology established in the first and turned it into a nonsensical science fiction plot, souring the charm of the original in the process.  Yet, what does a movie about swords and immortality have in common with The Force Unleashed?  Because like Highlander, the first game also received an unnecessary continuation that unwrapped the meaningful ending of the prior entry, and continued the story of a sith-turned-jedi through convoluted means.

(WARNING: SPOILERS ARE AHEAD FOR BOTH THE FIRST AND SECOND GAMES) After sacrificing his life so that the captured Rebel Alliance members could escape, Starkiller is brought back as a clone by Darth Vader, who intends to use his new project to track down the rebels and put an end to their operation.  Unfortunately for him, the clone is plagued with the memories of the original, and he begins to doubt if he truly is a clone, so Starkiller escapes the planet in search of answers.  His searches head him to Cato Nemodia, where General Kota is being held in captivity, forced to compete in an arena for the entertainment of the man who runs the place.  After Kota is rescued, the two head off to meet with the rebels to lay out a plan that will cripple the empire's operations, one which involves their cloning facilities on Kamino.

With a lazy story and characters that have taken a step back in regards to depth and likeability, The Force Unleashed II fails in keeping the gamer's attention on the plot.  The game's one interesting hook: the idea of whether this is the real Starkiller or not, is never fully explored and most information given is left to interpretation.  Also, his characterization here is dull; simply put, the man who redeemed himself at the end of the original has been turned into a clueless individual whose sole goal is to get back with a former love that may not even be truly his.  Speaking of which, Juno Eclipse returns in the sequel, but only as a cameo, a notion which applies to the remainder of the cast, except for Kota and Vader.  Like Starkiller, Kota is very different in regards to his personality, as he spends most of the game yelling orders at Starkiller and acting like an angry old guy.

Meanwhile, the menacing Darth Vader has been turned into a mad scientist, since we learn that his overall goal is to create not just one Starkiller, but an army of them capable of overthrowing both the rebels and the empire for which he helped the Emperor establish.  Yet, the worst offenders of the roster are the glorified cameos of Yoda and Boba Fett.  Yoda shows up halfway through the game when Starkiller decides he needs to clear his mind by going to Dagobah; there, the little green munchkin points him in the direction of a cave that will provide the answer's he's looking for, and then he disappears, probably to get his paycheck.  The same notion applies to Boba Fett, who is hired by Vader to find Starkiller; afterwards, he's only seen in a few moments during the campaign, one of which is in the game's terrible ending.  Not to spoil much, but let's just that it ends right about at what should be the halfway point of the story, leaving an empty pit in players' guts.

This sequel retains the same hack-and-slash style of the first, but a lack of improvements and many design flaws dour the experience.  One positive to the gameplay is the control scheme; the Wii version was handled by Red Fly Studios, the same team responsible for Ghostbusters, and the set-up they have created makes using Starkiller's twin lightsabers and his array of powers a breeze.  Except for the QTE events, which utilize swipes of the remote that can easily be misread, the remainder of the gestures for moves such as the force push or lightning work well.  Additionally, there's also a multiplayer mode not present in the 360/PS3 versions, but that was unable to be tested.  Unfortuately, it's bolstered to a game littered with many shortcomings.

For starters, most of Starkiller's abilities are lifted straight from the first, including force push, lightning, repluse, and lightsaber throws, and what has been added is either game-breaking or not implemented well.  There are three new powers in the form of force rage, force sight, and the mind trick.  Force rage is a technique that can only be used when enough energy has acquired; once full and activated, time slows down and after highlighting enemies with the remote's pointer, Starkiller unleashes a flurry of attacks.  Yet, this move severely diminishes the difficulty since it one-shots all foes, big or small.

His other abilities do little to stand out.  Force sight is a riff on the Arkham games' detective vision, as it highlights objects of interest and can allow the player to see invisible enemies such as the Predator troopers, who can cloak themselves.  The mind trick, which can hypnotize bad guys into attacking their allies, is fun in concept but is never used in any meaningful way and comes off as tacked on.  However, the biggest problem facing this title is its repetitive and limited scope.  There are only a handful of enemy types to confront, including the returning Stormtroopers, jetpack soldiers, plus the new carbonite droids and previously mentioned Predator troopers, but the lack of challenge, combined with the cheapness of some attacks, makes fighting boring and at times, annoying.  Additionally, the level design is painfully linear and the amount of locations to travel to is small, consisting of only five areas, one of which is visited twice.

Even though the Wii isn't quite the technical powerhouse that the 360 or PS3 were, the visuals still come off as average.  The visual effects for attacks and the character models look decent, but the environments are bland and uninteresting.  Meanwhile, the cinematics, both in-game and computer-generated, vary in quality; although the cut-scenes done with the graphics look fine, the quality of the CG ones is rough, with many scenes often looking reminiscent of FMV's for PlayStation 2 games.  Sound is competent but unspectacular; voice acting is good despite the choppy script, and the music, which relies on a mixture of old and new Star Wars motifs, is equally solid.

Short, pointless, and all-around lazy, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II does little to improve upon its predecessor and comes off as just an inferior sequel.  The story is borderline fan-fiction and though the control scheme is unique and intuitive, its bolstered to gameplay that lacks the thrill of the original and like a Stormtrooper, misses more than it hits.

Final Score: 3/10

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