How LucasArts seeks to rights the wrong of the first.
May 21, 2010
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed may be the fastest selling title LucasArts has ever done, but I found the game to be largely disappointing. The game had entertaining moments, and I totally dug the way it connected the first and last three movies of the film franchise, but the gameplay felt unrefined, and became a grinding, repetitive affair.
I wasn't the only one with criticisms, and thankfully the staff behind the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2 (TFU2) is taking user opinion seriously. Through hours of focus testing, as well as taking a close look at the failings of the first game, LucasArts is hoping to not only recapture and refine what we loved about the original, but also change the game in some fundamental ways that will hopefully make the sequel everything we wanted the first to be.
For those of you who missed out on the biggest Star Wars release since the films, allow me to bring you up to speed. The Force Unleashed franchise is a third-person action series where you control Starkiller, Darth Vader's secret apprentice. While he ultimately sacrifices himself in order to save the Rebel Alliance, he reappears in the second game as the apparent result of cloning. Through various sequences that I don't want to spoil, he is once again freed from Vader's grasp and working in an effort to see how he can fight against his former master.
The story of TFU was well received (it was actually lauded by several outlets, even winning the award for best videogame writing in 2009 from Writers Guild America), but it was one of the few areas that people didn't have something to complain about. One of the biggest gripes leveled against the original was that every level followed the same formula of fight, fight, boss. For TFU2 the team has tried to break up the pacing, throwing in a series of environmental puzzles to make the player have to stop and think. The demo only featured one of these, but it was clear from the few minutes of gameplay I watched that the goal is to have the player utilize all their powers in order to get through the levels. For instance in the last game players pretty much never had a reason to throw their lightsaber unless it was to kill, whereas TFU2 will make players utilize their saber throw to hit switches during platforming moments as well. The goal isn't to make the game any less combat focused, but to make players feel like they have a greater variety of things to do, moments where they are compelled to stop and enjoy the sights and interact with the world rather than just plowing through it as fast as possible.
A lot of players enjoyed parts of the combat in the original, but it too had faults that the team is trying to address in TFU2. The first game had a large amount of enemies, but a common complaint the team has taken to heart is that the enemies really didn't require the player to change their strategy much. For TFU2 the team hopes to address this by focusing on giving the player few, more complex enemies to fight. For instance, players might face an enemy who's entirely Force resistant, while at another point in time they might fight an enemy that is lightsaber resistant. The whole point is to force (no pun intended) players to have to think about combat more, rather than having it being all about pounding down on their attack button.
Along with more varied enemy types, TFU2 will also give players even greater access to the ways of the Force. New abilities like Mind Trick will allow players to make enemies throw themselves off ledges or attack their allies, while the environments have also been designed to allow players to use their powers to greater affect as well. Small towers that were sparking with electricity filled the Kamino level I watched, allowing Starkiller to use his lighting on them in order to shoot out arcs that could hit several enemies at once.
Another addition to Starkiller's Force arsenal is the ability to use Force Fury. The power essentially allows the player to take their Force abilities to their maximum a few times each level, even when they're not fully upgraded. The thinking behind this is that it gives players the "unleashed" feeling LucasArts wants them to feel throughout the game, rather than having them only have ultra-powered abilities in the latter portions.
The demo ended almost as quickly as it began, and after only seeing a few moments of TFU2 I'm left wondering how sweeping the changes to the game will be in the grander scheme. In small slices the additional Force powers, more varied enemies, and puzzle moments seem significant, but will they still be as game altering when applied to a multi-hour experience? Can a new story about Starkiller have as much impact when it's not as crucial to the continuity of the franchise as the last game? I'm not sure yet, but what I do know is that the sincere consideration and desire to face the problems in the original gives me a new hope for the follow up.