LucasArts had a good idea a couple of years ago to create an explosive, physics-driven Jedi action game, and thus Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was born. Unfortunately that game's combat suffered from some control and design issues that kept it from realizing its full potential, but at least it had a clear ambition to offer a great, epic Star Wars experience. The new sequel The Force Unleashed II doesn't even feel like it's trying to reach those same heights. It's a short, shallow, linear game with entertaining core mechanics but a paucity of all the other things that a really satisfying and memorable action game ought to have.
That core combat feels a little more refined and accessible than it was in the first Force Unleashed, but otherwise it really hasn't changed. You can still lift stormtroopers up into the air and fling them around, zap them with Force lightning, throw your lightsabers at them, or hit them with a quick Jedi mind trick to make them jump off a cliff (which is pretty funny). But that's about it. There's not much of an upgrade path for all these powers--you can merely put experience points into making them a bit more powerful--so you'll have seen just about all of the combat abilities, not to mention the small handful of enemy types, a couple of hours into the game. I had fun playing through the game, but man, there's not a lot of substance here.
The story doesn't feel much meatier. The first Force Unleashed ended with the demise of its protagonist, Starkiller, but this one starts with a contrivance that has Darth Vader creating a perfect clone of Starkiller with all his Jedi powers intact... not to mention all of his memories. So you're basically playing the same guy, rendering the last game's ending largely irrelevant. That could have been an interesting setup if the game explored some kind of contrast between the original Starkiller and this reproduction, but it ignores that element almost completely and instead gives you a thin, boilerplate tale about Starkiller helping the Rebellion attack the Empire and looking for Juno Eclipse, his pilot-slash-love interest from the first game, at the same time. Juno and the Jedi general Rahm Kota play very minor roles, but there's next to no dramatic weight in the storyline here. It mostly just serves to move you from one place to the next.
Then again, there are very few places to see. You start out in the cloning facilities on Kamino, head over to the homeworld of those awful Asian-stereotyping business frogs from The Phantom Menace, fight some droids on a starship, then... go back to Kamino to fight the last boss. There's a bizarre little detour to Dagobah shoehorned into the middle of the game, where you run through an empty level for about five minutes, watch a quick out-of-place cutscene with Yoda (with no explanation of how Starkiller actually knows Yoda or knows where to find him), then leave the planet. It's a weirdly forced and unnecessary interlude crammed into a journey that isn't all that deep or interesting in the first place.
There's still an appeal to running around with two lightsabers and a bunch of crazy Force powers, laying waste to everything around you, and at least The Force Unleashed II looks great while you're doing all that. The game looks sharper and runs more smoothly than the last game, with some striking lighting and surface effects, and a nice motion blur that enhances the way everything moves. It's too bad there isn't more here to look at, but what's here looks surprisingly good.
It's just too bad there isn't more to this sequel in general, really. Aside from some very basic throwaway challenge levels and costumes to unlock, there's not much to do beyond the six or eight hours the story lasts. It feels like the developers had the right idea about how to meaningfully improve on the work they did in the first game, but then they failed to really flesh out a robust game around the core mechanics. This should have been a superior sequel, but there's not enough here to make it anything than a mildly enjoyable but ultimately underwhelming action game.