What We Already Know: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed impressed with the story of Starkiller, Darth Vader's secret apprentice, but the gameplay ended up being ... wonky, for lack of a better word. Mostly that was because of the targeting that plagued your Force powers. You'd lock onto everything in sight, which made your gameplay experience less than stellar. Plus, your lightsaber apparently couldn't even chop through Stormtrooper armor. Well, the good news is that Lucasarts listened and have tailored the experience along with an equally impressive story."
What We're Seeing Now: *Spoiler Alert* If you haven't played Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (and you really should), you might not want to read further if you don't want to be spoiled.
At the end of the original The Force Unleashed, Starkiller is killed by Darth Vader, giving you a fairly grim ending. However, he's definitely back this time around as your playable character, but according to Darth Vader, you're just an inferior clone. But is that true? Vader has set up a secret cloning facility on Kamino, which has plenty of Starkillers stocked in tubes, but are they real?
You're plagued with visions of events from the first game, including your own death, which seem slightly suspicious. According to Vader, these are all side effects as a result of a sped-up cloning process. The player is then put through a fairly light tutorial process so they can learn Starkiller's moves. But, when the training droid morphs into the visage of Juno Eclipse, Starkiller's love interest from the first game, his conflicted emotions keep her from striking her down.
As a result, Vader declares Starkiller of no use to him, and orders him killed. Of course, this doesn't set very well with you, and you use your amped-up Force skills to flee the scene and go on the lam from Vader and his cronies. He flees his cell on Kamino in a dramatic free-fall sequence where you blast platforms out of the way, and eventually do battle on the "surface" of Kamino. Which is basically a lot of walkways and corridors, since it's a facility that rises out of the oceans on the planet.
But enough of the story. You want to know how it plays, right? According to one of the Lucasarts developers, "Not only did we take a look at media feedback, but we also took a look at consumer feedback, and targeting and camera were at the top of our list of things to fix." Which is basically everything that was wrong with the first game. No longer does Starkiller automatically target everything in front of him, as the game now predicts what you might want to grab. They've also cut way down on the number of things you can snag.
What does that mean? It means that it's a lot easier to focus on what you want to pick up and toss, rather than trying to pick and choose, seemingly at random. This was my biggest problem with the first game, and they've introduced this system to address exactly this issue. It's still not the cleanest system in the world, but it's a vast improvement and makes the Force selection process a lot more transparent. It's now more of a gameplay mechanic than a clunky front-end device.
Another feature is actually a new Force power, Jedi Mind Trick: This lets you target an enemy, and work your magic on his mind. He'll turn and fight against his previous buddies, or grab his head in agony and run out the nearest window, or nose dive off the closest platform. It might seem simple, but it comes in very useful when you're trying to corral multiple enemies, or need to affect a target that's a little too far out of your saber range.
Speaking of sabers, Starkiller joins the cast of dual-wielders this time around, as he doubles up on lightsaber power. But, more importantly, his lightsaber now does exactly what a lighsaber should: it cuts off arms and heads. Whereas the first game (and several recent Star Wars games) only lets you beat an enemy with a saber until they collapse, now you can delimb and decapitate them.
I cannot tell you exactly how satisfying this is, but let's just say the word extremely comes close. Doing this leaves an orange, smoldering hole behind, and I know that Lucas was probably suffering from the same misguided thought that Spielberg had when he erased guns from the hands of agents in E.T., but this is precisely what you expect when you swing a coherent beam of light at a thinly-armored Stormtrooper.
Also new to the game is Force Fury, where you click both thumbsticks when your Force meter is fully charged, and you'll go into an extremely amped-up mode. Everything does more damage: Force Lightning disintegrates enemies, Force Push blasts them far back, and so on. In fact, using this ability on an AT-ST will let you crumple it up into a tiny ball. It is the Force "Unleashed," after all. Even more so than last time around.
Graphically, the game looks much improved, as the rain effects over Kamino can attest. Starkiller's uniform looks wet when it should, and it's surprising how much a small detail like that can impress you. Other details pop out as well, like the Carbonite Droid that hoses down anything in its tracks with the freezing chemical. Frozen Starkiller might sound like a menu item, but it also looks very cool. Pun intended.
Challenge Rooms are new as well, giving you timed challenges that involve solving puzzles or holding a spot King of the Hill style to advance. You're awarded medals in here, ranging from bronze to platinum, and earning them yields XP that can be used for things like ranking up your player in the single-player campaign, or unlocking skins, costumes, and so on, just like in the first game. Expect to unlock one or two Challenge Rooms per level.
Thankfully, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2 feels like an improvement in every way over the original title. That game, while fun, definitely had issues, and it's good to know that people at companies actually pay close attention to what people like, even in a title that sold as well as SW: TFU, and make the game better. This is one title that was low on my radar, but now that I've played it and seen the work they've done under the hood, I'm planning on picking it up at release.