A long time ago in a galaxy known as California, George Lucas had an idea—something involving spaceships, swords of light and a black-helmeted villain with respiratory problems. The idea germinated and grew into the Star Wars franchise, a veritable galaxy-encompassing empire filled with movies, television shows, action figures, toothbrushes … and video games.
There are reputed to be more than 100 Star Wars-themed games floating around the universe these days—the most recent of which is Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II. Skeptics might say that the Force unleashed back in the 1970s and '80s was more than enough. But in Lucas' world, one can never release too much Force—not if there are millions of dollars to be made.
The Rebirth of That One Jedi
In the first Force Unleashed, gamers slipped on the digital skin of Starkiller, Darth Vader's secret apprentice who, if you played all the way through, broke free of the villain's vice-like grip and sparked a galactic rebellion—a rebellion that presumably culminated in the Return of the Jedi film. Alas, Starkiller died at the end of the game—thus preventing the digital character from starring in any of the movies and, seemingly, snuffing out the chance of an Unleashed sequel.
But Lucas has never been one to let a character just die. And so, after 6 million folks bought the first Force Unleashed, LucasArts is now trotting out a new Starkiller—an apparent clone of the first. Handy, that: If you lose one apprentice, it's nice to have a spare on hand. Vader hopes to train Starkiller 2.0 in the ways of the Dark Side—and this time make sure he doesn't wriggle away.
Right. Starkiller again revolts against his master and, after various action-packed adventures, the young Jedi discovers he might not be a clone after all. His old mentor tells him that Jedis, much like songs downloaded from iTunes, can't be cloned, which may explain his intense flashbacks and his curious mastery of the Force.
Make no mistake, Starkiller is indeed a full-fledged Jedi powerhouse here—one of the prime selling points of Force Unleashed II. Gamers are thrown into the fire nearly immediately, battling wave after wave of disposable Stormtroopers—cutting through them with light sabers, bashing them against walls with Force blasts, zapping them with purple lightning and even "encouraging" them with Jedi mind tricks to fight their brethren … or jump off a ledge.
Gameplay is easy enough and the opponents weak enough to make players feel as if they've studied a decade or two under Yoda himself. Of course, all that early onset power makes it less rewarding to level up as the game goes on. And there are other problems, as well.
I Sense a Disturbance …
Unleashed II is rated T, which means gamers won't find any Call of Duty-style realism here. But that doesn't change the fact that Starkiller uses his Force-style magic to cut through both human and mechanized foes like a weed whacker through dry grass, leaving casualty after casualty in his wake.
Characters sometimes utter a mild curse or two ("h‑‑‑," primarily), and Starkiller's love interest, Juno, wears a cleavage-revealing, formfitting uniform. (We see the two of them exchange a kiss.) One man tells Starkiller that he can have his fill of "wine, women and blood."
None of this will surprise anyone who's spent any time at all exploring Lucas' wide world of stars. But there is one unexpected twist to be found after Starkiller's climactic battle with Darth Vader: a choice.
[Spoiler Warning] Starkiller, after defeating Vader, gets to choose whether to allow him to live or kill him in anger. If it's the former, Vader's taken away in chains, a seemingly dead Juno miraculously revives and the rebellion finds itself to be in peachy-keen shape. If it's the latter, Starkiller is stabbed in the back by another Starkiller before he can finish the job. Juno stays dead and the newest Starkiller is sent to wreak havoc on the remnants of the rebellion.
This finale adds a surprisingly resonant touch. Starkiller, after all, was presented with a "destiny," and yet it was his own choice that determined not just his path, but the paths of quite a few folks around him. It's a pretty good lesson, really. We decide our own destinies, and the choices we make have some pretty serious consequences.
Too bad there's not much else to say about Force Unleashed II—a beautifully rendered but repetitive clone of a game that feels a little … forced.