Finally a demo that I've been waiting to get my hands on since the end of the original game has hit Xbox Live; The Force Unleashed 2! For the multitude of Star Wars fans out there, this should herald at least a couple of hours of button taping mayhem as you bound around as Starkiller causing havoc and terror amongst the imperial forces once more. I'm happy to say from the looks of things so far, the sequel's shaping up to be a truly epic instalment of the series and I'm hoping that, like the original game's demo, it's only given us a brief taste of the gameplay we'll hopefully be treated to come 26th October.
The demo kicks off in one of Vader's training rooms as he and Starkiller discuss a series of visions that the conflicted youngster's been having, which should seem very familiar to those of you who have already played The Force Unleashed. Vader also states that he's captured General Kota and orders Starkiller to travel to the planet he's being held on, in order to execute the visually impaired Jedi Master, following which he cruelly tells our conflicted hero that the ultimate test of his loyalty will be to destroy the thing he loves the most in the universe; Juno Eclipse.
At this point the video ends and a group of holo-droids impersonating Rebel troops surround you, whilst another, posing as Juno, taunts you about returning to Vader's side. The intro to the game flows pretty well and it's great to see Starkiller visibly shaken by what Vader's asked him to do and ultimately break free of the wheezing Sith Lord's grasp to follow his own path in spectacular style, as he blasts Vader with force lightning to give himself enough time to bring down one of the training room's walls, so that he can jump out and free fall to safety.
Gliding down the side of the Kamino building is amazing to watch as you try to avoid lightning bolts and antennae arrays, whilst blasting TIE fighters and platforms littered with storm troopers out of your way with the force. Unfortunately, this crazy chapter has to end, and eventually Starkiller smashes through the roof of an imperial watch tower and you return to a bit of familiar Force Unleashed gameplay.
Stormtroopers are of course the enemies that you come across most frequently and now that the developers have included a dismemberment and decapitation engine into the game, it's even more fun dispatching them with your lightsabers. What's that you say 'Did he just say lightsabers, as in plural?'. Yes, I certainly did! This time around Starkiller's decided that one glowing stick of death isn't good enough, so he's picked up a second, which is definitely a good thing because lightsabre combat doesn't feel like an inferior way to take out your enemies compared to your force powers anymore. In fact not only is it fun to watch the fiercely capable force user twirl his sabers around leaving a pile of severed limbs and heads in his wake, but the sounds the dual sabres make are wonderful to listen too and would strike fear into even the most composed opponents. The option to throw your lightsabers is present once again, only this time you'll be able to get rid of two enemies with one throw, even if one's decided to take cover behind a conveniently placed object.
All the force powers from the previous game are present with the exception of lightning shield, but then again that's not exactly a bad thing. In the previous game, targeting enemies with force powers that relied on a bit of accuracy wasn't always the easiest of tasks. Luckily in the sequel, the outline of the enemy or object you're targeting lights up, which definitely makes things a bit easy and avoids wasting force energy.
Of course without the addition of a couple of new abilities the gameplay would almost certainly have felt a little bit stale, so it's a good thing that you're now able to use Jedi Mind Trick, Jedi Sense and Force Fury. Jedi Sense is a standard navigation device, which shows you where you need to go when you get lost and to be quite honest I don't really know why you'd need it due to the linear nature of both the original game and this demo, hopefully it's an indication that the environments in this instalment are a little bit bigger than before and require a bit of exploration besides looking for illusive holocrons. When I first heard about Jedi Mind Trick being included in this game I wrote it off as a purely humorous power, however it's actually pretty useful for quickly dispatching more powerful enemies, like the energy staff wielding troops, by convincing them to off themselves by either jumping over the side of a platform or straight into an electrical device such as a forcefield. Mind Trick also allows you to convince stormtroopers that they're allies are in fact their enemies, and I found it quite amusing to watch one stormtrooper turn around to accuse another of being 'Rebel scum' before opening fire against his unsuspecting comrade.
So that leaves Force Fury, which effectively turns Starkiller's force powers to 11 and allows him to tackle seemingly impossible odds as he reduces hardened units, like AT-ST walkers, to scrap with ease. Whilst raging out in Fury mode; your force lightning turns purple and can cause your enemies to explode and even vaporise on impact; you can knock entire battalions of stormtroopers and other such units back with force push and/or repulse; sabre throw becomes a sustained attack on larger units; and mind trick'll effect all the enemy that are within range. Basically, you'll be able to kick your enemies arse before they know what's hit them.
The demo captures the look and feel of the original game remarkably well, however you should be able to tell immediately that the graphics have been polished even further in this instalment. Everything looks fantastic from characters' movements in video sequences to the remarkable weather effects as a rainstorm breaks out over Kamino. I was particularly impressed by the reflections cast by individual bolts of force lightning, the rain sliding over the cloning facility's windows, the running sequence as Starkiller attempts to evade fire from an Imperial drop ship, steam that rises from Starkiller's lightsabers as they're hit by raindrops, and the fact that your lighsabers'll slowly roll away from your body when you're killed.
At this stage it's hard to find many lasting flaws in the demo, however I have to agree with Matt, it's a real shame that the developers haven't allowed you to pick between outfitting yourself with a single lightsabre, dual wielding, or grabbing a double bladed lightsabre, which is especially disappointing considering we've had this choice before in Jedi Academy. Just like the original game, there's no variation in kill animations once you've completed a quick button sequence to eliminate the various mini-bosses, which'll inevitably lead to boredom on multiple play throughs. Also, the redesigned menu got on my nerves remarkably quickly and I couldn't understand why it'd been changed.
It's a little bit too early to claim that the Force Unleashed 2 will be the series Empire Strikes Back, however I've got my fingers crossed that it'll be more impressive than the original, and I find it hard to believe that it won't be considering the end of the demo has one of the cheekiest mission endings in Star Wars games history; having electrocuted Vader before mopping up a decent sized Imperial force, Starkiller escapes by stealing Vader's personal TIE fighter!