This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II.
You've got to feel sorry for Star Wars fans in this day and age, when you're not mocking them or kicking them down flights of stairs, I mean. They haven't exactly rolled a double six in the great game of life to begin with, and now the one thing that has made their existence marginally less wretched is crumbling before their very eyes like old pastry in a dishwater. Between movies, games, books and tea towels, the shit of Star Wars now vastly outweighs the good (which consists of the first two movies and arguably Knights of the Old Republic).
Not that they'll ever admit that. It's quite entertaining to watch the level of denial die-hard Star Wars fans operate on as they try to convince you that the romance in Attack of the Clones was totally believable. To say Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman had chemistry in that film is like saying that a chair stacked on another chair is a sizzlingly-erotic love scene. So I look forward to seeing how the fanboys justify The Force Unleashed II, because it is the most grossly offensive and mishandled application of intellectual property since the Schindler's List Easy-Bake Oven!
So we slip back into the Cuban heels of Starkiller - the most hideously-overpowered thing in the Star Wars universe until they figure out how to glue three Death Stars together - Darth Vader's secret apprentice. And after turning against the Empire and getting himself killed in the last game (spoiler alert), Darth Vader has decided that the best course of action would be to clone another one, who hopefully can be persuaded out of his rebellious attitude with rigorous abuse. See, this is the kind of thinking that makes the Empire the formidable, universe-spanning power that can be brought down by college kids and their pet gophers. Quelle surprise, Starkiller 2.0 remembers who he is and kills his way out of the Empire facility to reunite with the Rebel Alliance.
Now, Luke Skywalker could have whined for his country, and his dad went at it like there was a vice permanently attached to his bollocks, but Starkiller wears an emo fringe that reaches to his knees. All he cares about is getting back together with his love interest. And forgive me if I'm unsympathetic, but if Christensen and Portman had a chemistry like two chairs stacked together, then Starkiller and Whatsherface were like a picture of two chairs stacked together, crudely drawn on butcher paper with a bit of partially-dried poo.
So, here are all the ways you can kill people in this game like a bullied teenager with a semi-automatic and an Oedipus complex. You can hit them with a lightsaber, if you're some kind of watercress-eating spod with no imagination, you can reflect their blaster shots back at them, you can throw your lightsaber at them, you can microwave them with force lightning, you can force-push them into walls, you can lift them off their feet and throw them at their mates, you can lift them up, microwave them, throw your lightsaber at them, then throw whatever mess remains at their mates; and you can Jedi mind trick them into fighting each other or hurling themselves off bridges, which is incidentally hilarious. And yet, none of the enemies seem the least bit afraid of you. It's like they all went to the wrong briefing by mistake and somewhere in the universe a platoon of terrified SWAT officers with riot shields and machine guns are facing off against a single, confused Ewok.
You might think this all sounds kind of fu, in a slightly psychotic way, and it is. But the game handles its fun elements like a gazelle handles the fine china. Starkiller is so stupidly-overpowered that individual enemies and even small groups are barely worth registering; just fling a coffee table vaguely in their direction and let them all die of banged shins. There are special, stronger varieties of trooper, but I think there must have been some falling out among the combat designers - perhaps some off-colour comparison was drawn between someone's girlfriend and Emperor Palpatine - and they wouldn't speak to each other long enough to realise that force lighting in one form or another is the one weakness of virtually every otherwise invulnerable enemy in the game.
The combat does get fun when you have to divide your attention between larger groups, mind tricking an elite trooper with one hand and force pushing a lamppost up someone's butthole with the other, but the game doesn't often have the balls to throw enough simultaneous enemies at you to make it a really meaty challenge and more often than not descends into repetitive one-on-ones with a giant robot or one of his three or four slightly different mates. Gameplay pro tip: keep your distance and deflect its missiles back at it. "Which enemy is that a pro tip for, Yahtzee?" "Throw a fucking rock!" (That's also a good tactic).
The philosophy of The Force Unleashed II is that if something's worth doing, it's worth doing fifteen fucking times. It's padded to the point that it insults our intelligence, like a schoolgirl showing up one day with two honeydews jammed down her shirt. I mean, come on, whore-tits, no one blooms that fast! The game has a total of four locations. The last mission is a revisit of the first one. One of them exists only for a cutscene in which Yoda shows up for three-quarters of a second so they can stick his wrinkly Muppet ass on the back of the box and make fanboys cream their C-3PO pyjama bottoms. The rest are sequences of shamelessly copy-pasted rooms broken up by boss fights. Listen, developers: if we've shown we've figured out the correct attack sequence for your little boss, don't make us do it five times. Twice will do, because the first one might have been a fluke, but beyond that, it's a game, not an aptitude test for the operation of heavy machinery.
The very worst part is the final fight with Darth Vader. I'm not sure he even attacks you. Mostly he just blocks half your attacks and loses about one nano-inch of health to the rest. It's like taking down a 30-foot brick wall with a toffee hammer. He does spawn clones to attack you, but they've all got brittle bone disease and give you free health when they die. Not sound tactics, Vader, me old mate. The only real threats are dying of old age or falling off the platform. And on that subject, Force Unleashed II, does falling down an abyss kill us or teleport us back onto the ledge Zelda-style? Because you need to decide! Don't just switch from one to the other whenever the woodpecker on your head penetrates your skull.
So the gameplay time is artificially padded, but here's the punchline: it's still too short! I didn't even think that was possible! It's like they were working on DLC for Force Unleashed 1 and then thought, "You know what, fuck it! If they paid full price for that Clone Wars movie, they'll pay full price for this". I'm actually insulted, and I'm not even a fan of this stupid franchise. If I was, I'd already be measuring myself for the noose. But here's a nice quote for your box art, Force Unleashed II: "Could almost have been written by George Lucas himself!" Because what George Lucas does is not so much "writing" as it is "vomiting through a pen".
Honestly, who still likes Star Wars: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Not that anything I've said here will stop this damn thing making ninety squintillion dollars because there are light sabers on the front
Darth Vader is the giant block cockend Lucasarts is sticking up your butt and you love it