October 14, 2010

Demo Report – Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II

The demo for The Force Unleashed II is in the wild, and I have distilled its thundering contents into a collection of words arranged into a string of paragraphs for easy assimilation. If you are already familiar with forces and the task of unleashing them, you may wonder: have they unbroken it?

The answer is a resounding maybe.

The demo opens with Starkiller (or a clone of Starkiller, as Vader would have you believe) perusing a brief tutorial before exploding gloriously from the pinnacle of a tower on Kamino, and performing a violent, destructive dive to a platform below. This isn’t a particularly challenging sequence; it’s apparent purpose is to make you feel awesome as you effortlessly smash through anything in your path. As you come to an explosive landing, your impact hurling stormtroopers through windows, you may mark it down as a success, as did I.

The first improvement you’ll notice is that the game looks great. TFU, while employing beautifully rendered cutscenes, was sometimes underwhelming in the graphics department, with visuals that often became a mess of jagged, clashing details. The demo showcases an immediate and significant improvement, with far smoother, clearer details and more attractively designed environments. Rain-soaked Kamino looks great, with the effects of its weather also apparent on the body and dress of the Secret Apprentice.

The real test, of course, is the gameplay design. As the meat of the demo begins, Starkiller possesses the same basic suite of powers as he did in the first game, and they function almost identically. Lightning, push, and repulse work as sharply as they did in the first game, and will batter enemies quite nicely. The lightsaber combat also functions identically, with the caveat that one can now see the damage being wrought upon enemies, with limbs and heads flying about the screen. It’s a small thing, but it enhances the sensation that your lightsaber is, in fact, a lightsaber—whereas in TFU, it was difficult not to feel as if you were wielding some kind of lightbaton.

This is exactly as fun as you think it is.

Force grip also functions in largely similar fashion. Targeting, however, has been adjusted, as now whichever enemy or object is currently targeted—based on where Starkiller is looking—is highlighted with a dim glow. While such precision choices about which object or enemy to grasp are often unnecessary, this does serve to make some of the more tense combat situations easier—you won’t have any trouble picking out the more dangerous enemies. This is also a critical improvement for more demanding tasks, like snatching tie-fighters out of the air as they rocket past.

If you felt that the problem with force grip was in the throwing, you won’t find relief here: it’s exactly the same. Throws are achieved by flicking the directional sticks according to where you wish the object (or enemy) to go as you release your grip. Though initially disconcerting, I find this system to be responsive once one understands the basic concept. Still, precision throwing is difficult, and you will occasionally find objects veering off in unexpected directions.

Ultimately, if you found the flaw in the original entry was in the combat and power design, the mild adjustments this demo showcases aren’t likely to change your mind. If, like me, you felt these elements were solid, and that TFU’s real problem was in enemy design, you’re in luck. While only showcasing a small number of enemy types, the shift in philosophy is clear. Instead of frustrating enemies who were immune to nearly all your powers and would block endlessly, enemies now have specific resistances for more intuitive countering. Stormtroopers with jetpacks are logically difficult to defeat with powers like force grip or force push, but fall easily against force lightning. Troopers wielding energy staffs are resistant to melee attacks, but can be defeated with force powers.

If the more intelligent approach to enemy design holds true in the full game, TFUII will have surmounted perhaps the most fun-sucking attribute of its predecessor. We’ll have a full review shortly after the October 26 release.

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