Hands-on / Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II

Last week I had the privilege to attend the world’s greatest Star Wars convention: Star Wars Celebration V in Orlando, FL. I could go on forever about all the cool stuff I saw there, but let me get down to business—I got to play a preview build of The Force Unleashed II.

The demo is a cut down version of the game’s first mission, presumably what LucasArts will be releasing as the official demo before the game comes out. It begins with Starkiller, the main character, smashing out of his holding cell on the planet of Kamino and falling what must be several thousand feet in a “dodge obstacles while you fall” sort of minigame. The opening sequence is very cinematic and high-energy and sets the tone for the extreme force moves you’ll be pulling off later.

The first thing I noticed about the game was that it looks a hell of a lot better than the original. Lightning flashes illuminate the stormy world; ambient lights cast shadows in all directions. The lighting engine has been completely revamped. Art Director Matt Omernick was quick to point out that the game now supports over 100 lights in a scene, which really makes the action seem more visceral.

Now, what follows is an exaggeration, but it’s not completely wrong to say that the sequel, even more than the original Force Unleashed, is basically Star Wars: God of War. The melee of the original certainly had a Kratos vibe to it, but this game’s inclusion of a second lightsaber makes Starkiller’s attack animations eerily similar to the combos Kratos pulls off in his game. And the similarities don’t end there: enter “Force Wrath,” a new mechanic that allows you to do some really awe-inspiring killing with your force powers. You use Force Wrath by filling up a large meter in the lower-left corner by getting kills. Want to know how you use that meter once it’s full? Why, yes, by pushing in both analogue sticks at the same time!

The game does too many original things to be called a straight God of War clone, though. There is a major focus on force powers, and LucasArts is making a lot of effort to make those powers even more enjoyable than they were in the original. A lot of the monotony is gone—I can safely say I never had to blast through a door; they all just opened on their own, like space doors are supposed to do. The force powers are just more fun to use this time around. It’s immensely satisfying to completely disintegrate a trooper with your own powers or watch a jetpack trooper to fly around like an untied balloon after a blast of force lightning. New to the series are Jedi Mind Tricks, which, in combat, cause enemies to fight their friends. If you use it after activating Force Wrath, though, everyone on screen just goes crazy on each other—without a doubt on of the coolest (read: hilarious) things I’ve ever seen in a videogame. In certain context-sensitive locations, Mind Tricks can cause enemies to trigger pre-scripted events. I was given the opportunity to force a poor, lone storm trooper to fling himself out of a window. Although, it’s still uncertain how these context-sensitive Tricks will play out in the full game.

What might be the most powerful change LucasArts has made to the original is something very subtle. The Force Unleashed II is the first Star Wars game in a long while to have realistic lightsaber dismemberment. That is, when you wail on a guy, you can chop off his arms, hands, head, etc. It’s hard to see how much this helps the feel of the game unless you pick up the controller yourself and try it out. As Omernick pointed out, it just makes the saber combat seem real—less like a game and more like the films.

LucasArts is on track to deliver that feeling of badassitude the original game promised but never quite reached. The Force Unleashed II is set to drop on all major platforms this October.