While the games industry is fortunate enough to find that its best-sellers are usually excellent products, from time to time a few questionable titles slip through the net. The original Force Unleashed was one of them, with its impressive use of the Star Wars licence thanks to glossy animated scenes and fancy physics prowess unable to quite hide the shallow combat and frustrating boss battles. It was enjoyable but ultimately lacking, and so with seven million sales worldwide it's easy to see why there's a sequel. And to LucasArts's credit, it knows where it went wrong and has clearly worked hard on remedying those disappointing elements.
And he does so in spectacular fashion. The first playable scenes are in complete freefall as he smashes through a wall, using Force powers to break through ledges travelling towards the screen at a frightening speed and chucking his lightsaber at oncoming TIE Fighters trying to shoot him out of the sky. Before long he pummels through the roof of a ground installation, sending patrolling guards flying in his wake, before fleeing off down a corridor and starting the adventure proper. Since his abilities from the last game are conveniently stripped away, the player is taught the basics once more, flinging boxes through force field doors and juggling enemies in the air with new duel-lightsabers.
Since there is also a turret lingering on the sidelines as you battle squadrons of Stormtroopers, the entire section is both a test of learning new skills and ensuring you stay alive. By the end of it, a mechanical beast with freezing gas and high shield requires a QTE finish to dispatch before heading further into the base. From here until the end of the stage it feels more like the progression from the first game, with long linear corridors populated with boxes and sentries foolish enough to take you on. However, the basic combat feels a little more free-flowing and enjoyable now, and the platforming is a little tougher even in this opening stage, requiring full use of double jumps and dashes.
This basic but varied opening stage ends there, as did our hands-on with the campaign, but LucasArts was keen to show off what to expect later. Starkiller finds himself on Cato Neimoidia soon after - a planet featured briefly in Episode III - which is populated with a casino-like 'pleasure palace' that promises plenty of interaction with the game's freeflowing physics systems. The climax is an arena battle against a vast beast called the Gorog, ending in another freefall section as the environment crumbles around him. LucasArts was also keen to stress that boss battles will be more balanced this time around and that it hopes to smooth out those frustrating climbs in difficulty.
One of the more interesting additions is the Challenge Mode, bite-sized missions outside of the campaign designed to make good use of online Leaderboards. They'll be composed of platforming, fighting and puzzle challenges that are scored with timed medals. The only one on show was a basic moving platform section that had you collect an orb and make it back to the beginning, and although the original was not particularly renowned for its platforming, here it felt solid and competitive. The number of stages for this mode has yet to be announced, but it will act as a pleasant means of extending the value of the game, as well as added a bit of variety outside of the campaign.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II will be available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC from October 29.
> Click here to watch the latest trailer for the game