domingo, 27 de febrero de 2011

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, our hero, Starkiller

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, our hero, Starkiller, escapes from a cloning facility in Darth Vader’s TIE fighter. The caped arch-villain watches as his failed protégé takes to the air and escapes the Empire’s custody, setting the stage for yet another attempt at rebellion. The scene is beautifully rendered, as all are in The Force Unleashed II, adding a touch of Hollywood authenticity to the production. But this one scene, beautiful and fleeting, breaks any sense of immersion almost as quickly as The Force Unleashed II starts. The paradox: if my character, Starkiller, can grab TIE fighters out of the sky and crush them, why wouldn’t Vader just do the same and spare the Empire the nasty headache caused by Starkiller’s rage?


I probably wouldn’t have been so bothered by it had I not already been bored by that point and looking for something to harp on. I was pretty close to hating the level design, but it wasn’t particularly offensive in any single way other than being repetitive, and it actually (marginally) improved in the game’s final act. I even thought about railing against the use of the cliché text crawl to introduce the game, but that’s practically sacred at this point, so I won’t go there (but there are better ways to introduce the audience to a property without having to make them read several paragraphs). I was becoming discouraged - I knew I didn’t like The Force Unleashed II very much, but I couldn’t nail down why - until this illogical cutscene popped up.

It doesn’t seem like the developers tried all that hard with The Force Unleashed II. Sure it looks really swell, but I would expect no less from a studio run by a company that makes a bulk of its money doing special effects work. But once you get over the fluid motions of the dual lightsabers Starkiller wields as they slice through waves of Stormtroopers, you realize that the game is thoughtless. It constantly presents players with an endless series of paradoxical, nonsensical situations. Can’t get through the engine room because there’s too much machinery in the way? Just blast at parts with lightning and jam randomly strewn metal objects into moving gears. The ship will certainly run fine!


The bulk of the game consists of fighting through a couple of waves of enemies in a locked room, going through a door, following a corridor, getting locked in a room, and then fighting through a couple of waves of enemies. Early on, barred paths require that the player use the Force Push power to move objects out of the way, but by the end of the game this mechanic is dumped in favor of force-fields that magically drop as soon as you kill every last enemy (and not a second sooner). There’s very little in terms of character development, making the plot, which focuses on Starkiller’s attempt to rescue his girlfriend from the Empire, all the more forgettable. There is no subtlety to this Jedi - this is the narcissistic, psychopathic side, and he’s very one-dimensional.

I will say, I appreciated the fluidity of the combat. Starkiller wields two lightsabers (how two are better than one, I’m not sure) and six Force powers adeptly. The game controls very comfortably despite a lot of different abilities, and switching between Force powers on the fly to respond to the different strengths and weaknesses of the dozen or so enemy types that you’ll face is quick and painless. Frustration does crop up in combat when attempting to target particular enemies; the auto-lock feature will often target everyone and everything that you don’t want to focus on. This can become particularly annoying when trying to pick up explosive barrels to fling at your enemies or if you’re trying to focus on the most significant threat in a group.


My biggest gripe with The Force Unleashed II is that it doesn’t really seem to try to be anything special. There are a few memorable segments, but these are few and far between. Having finished the game, only one segment, an epic boss fight as you’re falling thousands of feet from a floating city toward the ground, stands out. The rest is just a blur of identical corridors. There are only four proper levels, and save for a very brief trip to Dagobah, there’s no diversity to any of them. There’s nothing that stands out like the ice fields of Hoth, the deserts of Tatooine or the forests of Endor. You’re instead stuck inside soulless military bases, and it feels like you’re wasting your time.

The lack of diversity extends to the gameplay. While technically a hack-and-slash platformer in the same vein as God of War or Dante’s Inferno, platforming in the game is rare and certainly never challenging. Even the final platforming segment, which actually had moving platforms and required the player to ascend upward toward the final confrontation, was a letdown. Just like everywhere else, opportunities to expand the game were ignored. This design extends into the combat, too. Battles against the bigger droids almost always present an opportunity to enter a QTE to take down the mechanized foe. While flashy and beautifully animated, they require nearly identical inputs from the player. At least mix up the buttons I have to press over and over again to keep me on my toes. I should have to look at the button prompts.


Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II looks great and the controls work well, but almost every other part of the game is underwhelming. The game just feels uninspired. It’s a quick sequel, probably pushed out without too much time in development to capitalize on the success of the first game. The mechanics behind the game are solid, but it doesn’t seem like much thought was put into anything else. To top it off, an experienced player can get through the game in five hours, and there isn’t much in terms of replay value. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II is a poorly executed, thoughtless game that is best to be avoided.

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