The Force Unleashed 2 Preview: The Same, but Different

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New Force power: Freefall! Only in Frorce Unleashed 2!

Many Star Wars fans like me are very excited for The Old Republic, a Star Wars MMORPG developed by Bioware. There’s a slight problem for me, however: my PC probably won’t be able to handle it. So, what’s a Jedi wannabe supposed to do?

Well, there’s always the trusty console. Back in 2008, Lucasarts released their first Star Wars video game that lived up to the graphics, gameplay engines, and control systems of the new console generation, The Force Unleashed. They sort of crammed it down our throats, too, with an epic-sized marketing campaign that included a novelization, a comic book, Lego sets, action figures, and even some mobile phone versions of the game.

Now that the lovely E3 event has graced us with a glimpse of the sequel, it’s time for a Star Wars nerd of the highest caliber (if I do say so myself) to over-analyze the demo footage for The Force Unleashed 2, which is released in North America on October 26, 2010.

What is New?

Well, I get to do this again. That's got to amount to something.

According to Executive Producer and Head Writer Haden Blackman, there’s a bunch of reasons to buy the sequel this fall. For one, the gameplay gets a facelift; instead of a paltry ten hours of hacking and slashing, players get to use their force powers to solve some environmental puzzles and some strategy will be required in certain combat situations. That sounds an awful lot like Bioshock to me. But we do get to pilot a TIE Fighter at one point, which sounds like more fun than standing in place, pulling on a Star Destroyer turned out to be.

The most obvious new addition is the switch to a dual-lightsaber combat system. So, Blackman says that the combat mechanics are faster and less segmented, meaning both sabers are used effectively. Okay. Now can we flip those sabers around so they’re pointed forward? Nope, but as a fantastic consolation, the sabers actually dismember those hapless stormtroopers in the sequel. Touché, Blackman.

The big thing that Lucasarts always loves to tell us is the inclusion of new force powers. This time around, we get Mind Trick, which is never as cool in games as it is in the movies. As in the Jedi Knight and KOTOR games, Mind Trick causes enemies to switch sides and fight their comrades in this one. The other new power is dubbed Force Fury, which enhances the other powers to ridiculous proportions (ever want to use Force Grip on an AT-ST? Now you can pick them up and crush them like a Dr. Pepper can). This is a welcome idea, because it lets you be extremely powerful right off the bat, but in short bursts.

What is Familiar?

I still get to topple large robotic things, so alright then.

Anyone playing this game when it lands in October will be playing as Starkiller, Darth Vader’s secret apprentice from the first game. Nope, you don’t get to be the hardcore Sith Stalker version of the protagonist that we see in the alternate ending and downloadable content, but the same shorthaired teen that looks like he just bought a ninja outfit on ebay. Instead of hunting Jedi fugitives, Starkiller will be embarking on a personal quest to explore his origins, pursued by Vader and the rest of the Empire.

This all means that the game takes place in between the two Star Wars trilogies, again. In fact, The Force Unleashed 2 takes place six months after the first game, which is about a year before the events of Episode IV: A New Hope. I know that George Lucas is trying to milk the movie timeline as much as possible, but I wish they would pack it in, maybe explore Luke Skywalker’s New Jedi Order in a game. There’s plenty of material to base it on, and this game would feel like less of a shameless rehash.

Well, that isn’t entirely fair. This game may be a rehash, but it is also an opportunity for the developers of the first game to make amends. While the targeting system and Force powers were heavily criticized last time, they are all back for the sequel, only rebuilt from top to bottom in order to be more useful and defined. Here’s hoping that the screwed up camera angles will rise anew like Vader himself, staying on target like Rebel pilots. Could I get one more Star Wars joke at the expense of a Star Wars game? No? Used ‘em up, huh?

The game will run the Havok engine again, along with the Digital Molecular Matter rendering, and Euphoria. Keep in mind that Havok and Euphoria were used masterfully in Red Dead Redemption this year, despite the fact that The Force Unleashed had them both two years ago. Apparently, the genius engines that give players unique AI responses, physically accurate substances like glass and metal, and realistic character modeling are going to be used again for The Force Unleashed 2…but better. And that is the extent of the explanation. They will be used better.

What’s the Deal with Starkiller? (HERE BE SPOILERS!!!)

Apparently this guy just can't be put down, even by fire or death or whatever.

Those of us that played both lightside and darkside endings of The Force Unleashed know that the in-canon ending saw Starkiller sacrificing himself to save the leaders of the Rebel Alliance. Vader and the Emperor live to be evil another day, and the movies still match up.

So, how does the kid come back after death for the sequel? Answer: Kamino cloning. It is well established by interviews and footage that the opening level is Star-Clone escaping the planet Kamino with fractured memories of the dead Starkiller. Haden Blackman gave a noble attempt to make this sound like a mystery (“Can Jedi be cloned?” and “He tries to discover if he really is a clone,” are both nonchalantly thrown into Blackman’s interview at E3), but all I can do is shake my head in amazement. They really couldn’t think of a better excuse. I mean, clearly they wanted to cut some costs and use the older character models again, but a better plot would have involved another deus ex medical machine, as Vader and his apprentice are so fond of.

First Impressions

As long as there are Stormtroopers to hack n' slash, things should go swimmingly.

I reserve judgment until I play the game, and I’m sure to buy this one fairly soon after its release date. From where I’m sitting now, however, it looks like Lucasarts and all their cohorts are trying to cash in on their multimedia Force Unleashed project that didn’t do much business two years ago. Along the way, it looks like the developers of the game are genuinely trying to give some mea culpas, but they are going about it in the wrong way.

Think of it like this: Lucasarts gave us a boring, visually poor MMORPG several years ago with Star Wars Galaxies. Now, they are making up for it with The Old Republic, which looks to be everything that Galaxies was not. The same company gave us a decent third-person combat adventure in 2008 (which seemed mediocre after all the hype), and they are trying to make up for any disappointment by…ready for it…giving us what is essentially an expansion pack with some improvements on gameplay and a story that reeks of bad leftovers.

But like I said, that’s just what it looks like now. Give me four months, and I’ll get back to you with the final verdict.

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