Monday, August 22, 2011

Sonic Boom, Sonic Boom, Sonic Boom... coming to XBLA/PSN

If you're wandering why I'm posting the awesome intro of Sonic CD here with that "Sonic Boom" song, its because what is arguably still the best Sonic game ever, Sonic CD is finally getting a release on Xbox Live Arcade and likely Playstation Network as well. Like most people, I never owned a Sega CD when this originally came out, so this release will make me finally play it and see for myself why it is the best Sonic game.

A LTTP "Review" of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II

Note - Spoilers will be mentioned, so you are warned if you still want to play this game and don't want the story ruined (Same goes for the Endor DLC too)

I played through Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II last weekend, but it is more like one afternoon with the main campaign since it was so short. This game came out last fall and it promised to fix the problems the first one had, but I didn't think they did and added along more issues that seemed like a rushed job on LucasArts' part. Then again, you probably can consider how the game ended up the way it was with the whole team being let go by LucasArts shortly after its retail release. At the end of the day, The Force Unleashed II is simply not a good game and even having the Star Wars name does not help either.

If you played through the first game, this sequel follows the light side ending from that which Starkiller, the protagonist of this series and apprentice of Darth Vader, sacrifices himself in attempts of defeating the Empire and forming the Rebel alliance that is in the good trilogy of movies. Vader comes up with a plan to clone Starkiller in the Force Unleashed II in which that is who you play as. This clone is supposed to have no memories of his personal connections with the Rebels, especially his love interest Juno, and able to follow Vader's orders . However, those visions and memories slowly come back to this Starkiller's mind and the game starts out with an escape from the Kamino cloning facility. The whole cloning business feels like a lazy way to have a story arc and let LucasArts to say let's have a sequel since the first game had successful sales. It makes you wonder if it is really that necessary for this whole idea of a Starkiller clone to make some sense. Even with that clumsy story arc, Starkiller has to regroup with the rebels (mainly General Kota) to forge a plan to get rid of Empire and reunite with Juno as well.

The way Force Unleashed II's story plays out until the end is filled with questionable and absurd decisions by LucasArts. Going to Dagobah just for Starkiller to rethink of the whole situation feels like a waste is and basically a filler moment for the sake of pacing (even Kota agrees about being rescued). Dagobah itself is a pointless level with no action and gives the developers a lazy reason to include Yoda in the game. There is also a lack of memorable moments throughout the game as I can only consider two or three of them worthwhile even for Star Wars fans. Even the good ending that continues the canon feels uninspired with no sense of closure to the game setting things up for another sequel that won't happen because the development team is already gone from LucasArts. The dark side ending is a little better based on how it looked alone. The storyline as a whole is a mess from beginning to end and pretty much ruins anything good the first game had on that department (I felt that the first game ended right and had closure to a degree).

While the story feels messy for the duration of the game, even the game design has its own set of lazy problems and numerous technical issues. I already mentioned earlier how short Force Unleashed II is, which is about five to six hours on normal difficulty. This is due to the lack of levels as you're only going to see four locales throughout the game with Kamino (you return there for the finale), Cato Neimoidia, Dagobah, and the Salvation ship. Speaking of the levels, the level design looks and feels uninspired with repetitive backgrounds and corridors as if you're playing a corridor-only first-person shooter (Doom, Quake days). Basically as in any recent action game, you're just playing through sets of kill rooms and going from point A to point B. The game is as linear as it gets even though there are hidden holocrons that can be found to gain more experience, increase your health/force meters, and saber crystals for various status effects. In addition to the boring level design, even the enemy design is unoriginal too from your normal Stormtroppers, sniper troopers that are annoying, enemies that also use force powers against you, various Star Wars-like mechs like the AT-STs, and so on. All of Force Unleashed II's design issues just makes it boring and repetitive to play through along with other frustrations I will talk about in a bit.

Controlling Starkiller is still fine for the most part especially having two lightsabers at your disposal throughout the game. It is still cool to decapitate enemies' body parts off with your lightsabers and use force powers to decimate the opposition by lightning, push, and force gripping them to bottomless pits. Even all of that gets tedious and tiresome after a while especially near the end of the game where kill rooms become more frustrating than fun. You can't really go nuts with the powers on the later enemy encounters as you think you can considering you are some Jedi badass as you can get killed quickly if you don't have some sort of plan of which enemies to tackle in a certain order. This is crucial on harder difficulties where the enemies deal more damage, so even someone as badass as Starkiller has to pick his spots to fight these battles right. Then there are the platforming elements, which is the only reason I hate about controlling Starkiller. Sure, he has a double jump and a dash, but the game's physics make the platforming more of a nuisance than enjoyable as there are times I feel like I made the jump, but turns out I don't (this gets really frustrating in the playable challenges). Since it is a modern action game, quicktime events are everywhere in Force Unleashed II, specifically in big time moments and the boss fights, which have their own problems. There are really only three boss fights in this game with the last one being one of the worst final boss encounters I played through in a while. The finale with Darth Vader is dragged out for too long as it supposes to be some epic battle transversing through numerous platforms, but it ends up being another lazy design decision by the developers.

While the graphics in The Force Unleashed II look sharp in certain areas, especially the skyline at Cato Neimoidia, the game is a buggy mess at various times with lots of technical issues. The framerate does not stay consistent throughout the game dropping below 30 frames per second at times (its worse on the Endor DLC). Enemies get misplaced at certain times to their death right away. They even pop in and pop out appearing out of nowhere once you activate their presence in a combat section. In addition, my character gets stuck in the environment at certain times too and the frustration really kicks in when you get killed by something off-screen for no reason at all. The checkpoint system can be generous at times, but not as so in the later enemy encounters. The CG cutscenes look fine even though I didn't find any issues with the in-game ones. The sound production is on par for Star Wars standards, which is usually the only thing LucasArts does not screw up with these games. You're getting your expected theme songs when the game starts and whenever Dark side related action happens. The voice acting is okay as the script and dialogue is typical for a Star Wars product with some dumb, cheesy, and hokey moments.

I did play through the one dollar Endor DLC as well, which is not that bad being only a dollar. In this one hour what-if mission, you play as the evil Starkiller clone (if you remember the dark side ending of the main game) to prevent the Rebels from arming the charges to destroy the shield generator at Endor. In other words, you're basically reversing the events of Return of the Jedi assuming you already killed Luke in the first game's downloadable what-if Hoth scenario from Empire Strikes Back. Endor itself is a straightforward level like the campaign levels except with rebels to kill and ewoks to kick, which never gets old. Your Starkiller has different force power stats from the main campaign, but you're able to use any of the saber crystals you found. This mission does include encounters with Han Solo and Chewbacca in the captured AT-ST along with a surprising yet good boss fight with Princess Leia (you can probably guess why she is a formidable opponent at the end). That boss fight is better than the all of the boss fights in the main game because it felt like more a one-on-one duel than an ordinary boss fight with obstacles in your way. The Endor DLC does has its share of technical issues from not allowing to skip the intro, cutscenes, and credits at all along with an unstable framerate as well.

At the end of the day, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II felt rushed, lazy, unpolished, and the game is just flat out boring. That is something to say considering the Star Wars name, but I still stand by that statement. It is disappointing on so many levels from the short campaign, technical bugs everywhere, lazy game/level design, and more that has been mentioned already. The replay value isn't much other than some bonus challenges and harder difficulties to play through for achievements/trophies. It definitely is one of those unnecessary sequels that exists in today's world of entertainment, but since people still love Star Wars and they wanna have the chance to control someone as powerful as Starkiller, LucasArts basically made a cash-in game to feature all of that. There are still some redeeming qualities such as the core gameplay remaining intact and some cool Star Wars-like moments, but those qualities alone can't make Force Unleashed II a good game. Star Wars fans will probably still find some enjoyment out of it, but even I can not recommend getting this game back when it came out last year and even today.

Score I would give it = 6/10