I remember a particularly intense playground argument with a moron. During a Star Wars discussion, he attempted to correct me from ‘lightsaber’ to ‘life saver’. That’s what the poor kid actually thought the weapons were called! I explained at length that a saber was a type of sword. It made sense that such a thing, when made out of light, would be a ‘lightsaber’ in the same way that a knife made of cheese would be a cheese knife. Looking back, I wish he’d had the intelligence to realise that cheese knives existed in the real world and were not, as my seemingly impeccable logic dictated, made of cheese. It wouldn’t have mattered though, because he was still dead wrong. Jedi use lightsabers.
I was beyond outraged that someone could get Star Wars so wrong. I was seething with pedantry. To be fair to the other kid, so was he. He really believed lightsabers were called life savers and my brain almost couldn’t take it that he wouldn’t acquiesce to my correction. Star Wars mattered. More than school, our parents, or air. It was everything. Star Wars was in our blood. We’d been born in the ’80s and our parents owned VHS machines. We both watched those movies on repeat, daily (although he clearly wasn’t paying attention) and spent our school break times running around locked in goreless, poorly choreographed combat – just like the movies.
Then we grew up. We stopped re-enacting Star Wars and, scripts memorised, became awkward teenagers embarrassed by geekdom. We matured. We stopped thinking Return of the Jedi was the best series entry and started loving The Empire Strikes Back. We no longer watched a Star Wars movie a day as we’d realised that at least in the case of air, some things were more important. Those films remained part of us, though, and we would never really outgrew them.
This inbuilt, almost genetic love of the Star Wars films is what developers are up against whenever tasked with creating a videogame in that universe. It must be daunting. Any Star Wars game that fails to make adults between 25 and 40 feel like they’re back in that school yard, driving a Millennium Falcon like a race car is an abject failure. It might have all the graphics, or an innovative gameplay system, or truly progressive sound design but if it doesn’t feel like Star Wars you’re in trouble.
That’s all a Star Wars game has to do – get the feeling right. If I get to hold a lightsaber and swing it around to an accompanying ‘WHOMMWHOMM‘, I’m happy. Without that, it isn’t Star Wars. Likewise, I want to visit recognisable locales and have the chance to really feel part of the films.
And that’s exactly what The Force Unleashed games do. More than any other Star Wars games they get the feeling right. The first entry in the series was widely accepted as A Fairly Good Game. Its always reliable Metacritic rating is a decent 73 – enough to suggest a fair few people enjoyed it. The second game fares less well, and it’s that game that I wish to defend.
While we’re on the subject of Star Wars and Metacritic, it’s worth pointing out that Episode One currently sits on a score of 53 – only 8 percentage points less than The Force Unleashed II. Ok, so the two are from different mediums so can’t be directly compared, but I’m going to ignore that so my argument seems stronger. The suggestion that there’s such a small distance between the travesty that is Episode One and the few hours of fun that make up The Force Unleashed II is drastically unfair. The Force Unleashed II is fun from beginning to end. Ok, so Jar-Jar binks appears in both, but at least in TFUII he’s frozen in carbonite, which is clearly the best place for him.
Graphically, The Force Unleashed II is still stunning. The opening alone, in which Starkiller smashes through a glass dome in the pouring rain, looks incredible. When I first played it I grinned from ear to ear. The first minute of the game has everything needed to elicit Star Wars dribble. Tie fighter? Check. AT-STs? Double check. Storm troopers? Check times many. Darth Vader? Yes. And then you’re back into chucking fools around using the force and hacking stuff up with dual Life Saver lightsabers. It’s everything my childish brain imagined on that playground in the ’80s – I just don’t get the negativity.
I understand that the graphics and atmosphere were not the things that irked players of TFUII on its release. Complaints came about its brevity and the clearly recycled sections. The most insulting part comes about half way through where, after battling through a level the player is tasked with doing it again, only this time in reverse with minor changes to the backgrounds and enemies. That’s the only part that stands out to me as a particularly poor section though, and I have no problem with brevity. Why make a game artificially long? Is there a length at which a Star Wars game becomes acceptable? I’d happily take a well put together four hour experience over a poorly constructed eight hour one, but hearing the reaction to TFUII certainly makes me feel like I’m in the minority there.
And the violence! Let’s not pretend that when we were playing Star Wars in the playground we weren’t imagining hacking off limbs. This game finally realised that dream! There’s no gore and the violence remains balletic, but to hear people complain that it wasn’t very Star Wars had me, as a Star Wars fan, weeping. The developers simply took a shared Star Wars combat desire and made it real. My hat goes off to them.
Unfortunately, my opinion on The Force Unleashed II is rather niche. I have to accept that it’s not, and never will be, at the level of perfection most childhood fans demand, but I maintain it’s a decent entry to the series and it’s still better than the prequel trilogy in its entirety. It allows the child within me to enact those playground scenes in a nearly perfect way and I will be reminded of those fond memories every time I play it. I’m willing to overlook its flaws as it does such a good job of evoking the atmosphere of the films, and I’m sure I can’t be alone, right?