For all that it was the fastest-selling LucasArts title of all time and featured an award-winning narrative (from the Writers Guild of America, no less), the original Star Wars: The Force Unleashed pulled up short in the gameplay department.
The game was plagued by elementary flaws such as knock-down locks, poorly implemented mini-game additions (the woeful and much-hyped Star Destroyer sequence, for one) and an unpredictable difficulty curve.
The Force Unleashed II faces two very significant development challenges, then. Not only must it address the first’s numerous gameplay flaws, it must match or exceed the storytelling on display in the original.
LucasArts briefly skimmed over the premise for this second dip into the era between Star Wars movies III and IV. Codename Star Killer – Darth Vader’s secret Sith apprentice – sacrificed himself at the end of the original game so that the Rebellion might have a chance. The first thing this game must address is how to tell a story when the lead character is dead.
Turns out they’ve wheeled out the old “clone” device. The Force Unleashed II sees players take on the role of a Star Killer clone (“or is he!?”) as he escapes from Vader’s laboratory. It’s hardly inspiring and perhaps a little worrying. That said, the wending narrative in the first was a pleasant surprise, so we're already preparing to make a hasty retraction.
The more pressing gameplay concerns are where LucasArts invested the lions’ share of Gameplanet’s eyes-on presentation. Most immediately, Star Killer now has two lightsabers, turning his already-impressive penchant for flashing swordplay into a veritable dervish of neon lights and fan-like audio samples. And detached limbs: Now, Star Killer can decapitate and dismember legions of Storm Troopers as he cuts his way through what still appears to be a largely linear experience (nothing wrong with that).
LucasArts also make deliberate display of the point that players will now have to combine lightsaber skills and Force powers to dispatch enemies. The Euphoria and Havok engines both return to recreate the physics of The Force and the ensuing ragdoll effects.
The developers have also reduced the variety of types of enemy, and made improvements to their AI. The presentation introduced a new enemy, the Carbonite War Droid. This gargantuan robot defends itself with an anti-Force shield that Star Killer must attempt to remove before he can attack its more vulnerable components. The carbonite hose – which the droid is not afraid to use liberally – will freeze Star Killer should he be caught in it.
Like the original, The Force Unleashed II also features Quick Time Events. These button-pressing combos were heavily displayed in the first and composed a healthy majority of the sequences used in “gameplay trailers.” (While we’re on that subject, we consider QTE’s to be little more than cut-scene vignettes with minimal player interaction and believe that they should not be considered “gameplay,” as players have essentially no control.)
LucasArts promises that the QTE’s in The Force Unleashed II will be shorter and faster. As the gameplay footage we watched did not include any QTE prompts, we can’t be sure.
Finally, LucasArts introduced the Force Fury mechanic – a kind of Force overclocking ability that kicks all of Star Killer’s powers into overdrive. Using it, his lightsaber combos become more elaborate, more deadly, so too his Force powers.
The developers closed by promising that the sequel will feature much more precision than the original. In spite of the looming 26th of October release date, we’ve not yet seen enough to corroborate that assurance. Perhaps the game will be The Force Unleashed II, with all the baggage that carries, or perhaps it will finally be what the original promised: a title that truly puts The Force in the hands of the player.
We’ll have to wait and see.