Force Unleashed II: Why the personal journey ain’t so personal

Given that I’ll be soon leaving Platform Nation, I’ve decided to start a small little series called ‘Game critique corner’. Basically it’s a deduction of a new release title or a title that is soon to be released, so all that talk about Shadow of the Colossus and Bioshock will look irrelevant after I start delving into this. I’m doing this because it’s better to take a more recent example than an old one, when talking about games, given how fast technology shifts. Technology inspires the art, art challenges technology (John Lasseter init), I’m not sure whether that applies to games really… we’ll get into that later.

Star Wars The Force Unleashed was a terrible, terrible game in my opinion. It had absolutely nothing going for it. It abused player identity and immersion at the same time, butchered some of the Star Wars lore and added insult to injury by deciding to have a non-canon and a canon ending. If you want to change the Original Trilogy (I’m looking at you remastered releases) then you’re an asshole. Simply put, you should not even come close to their lore and history given how amazing and detailed they are. They are rich in emotion and pretty much changed science fiction forever. Do not bother.

Not only was Force Unleashed a terrible gameplay experience but it was so grating to hear and attempt to care about the story. Let me sum it up for you; Vader has apprentice, apprentice falls in love. Something something dark side. I hate the game, as in, just completely revolt at the sight at it and if you liked it then it’s your opinion but mine is better. Honestly, I do not want to sit through a giant ’emotionally engaging’ experience which turns out not to be engaging or emotive at all. Want to know why? Because you’re doing the same thing that games have been doing for decades.

You, the designer, have decided instead of making an effort or injecting some life into the Star Wars games (Battlefront and the LEGO series are the only good sides) decided to be a complete idiot. The character of Starkiller and the player are treated as two completely separate entities. This is not bad in some games, but you lock my emotions and potential for reaction in a completely different room. Put it this way: if Force Unleashed was a movie then I wouldn’t have a problem with Starkiller falling in love, but it’s not a movie and we’re left with a disgusting taste in our mouths.

Starkiller’s motivation, my motivation, is to run after his girlfriend and save the force or some baloney. What the fuck. Why are you doing this? Love should not exist in a video-game unless it is conditioned by player/avatar interaction. I’m not exactly in love with Alyx from Half Life 2 but I’ve been with her and I’ve met her at the same time as Gordon, which creates this distilled history between player and character. I am not Gordon Freeman, I am Nathan Hardisty; Valve treats me as a player and not as a character. Something which Lucasarts seriously need to get their heads around.

Similar titles that do this: Red Dead Redemption (you don’t even find out ‘your’ wife’s name until half-way through the game, supposedly the main motivation), Dead Space (whole game is practically set around finding her, thankfully this is saved thanks to good writing and clever use of horror elements). This is what you have to fix, you listening budding game designers? You have to fix the big giant disconnection of player action and character action. I am not an observer on the experience and I will not tolerate you telling me what my motivation is, you must set up that motivation instead of making it completely pre-determined. It doesn’t have to be an emergent element of the tale but it does have to be conditioned. Oh and I don’t mean what you actually did in Force Unleashed (basically Starkiller said, in the first cutscene between the two, “I love you.” to which the woman replied “I love you too.”)

I am not a games journalist and my word is not the law, but this is just one giant thread of a bigger problem: the personal story. Not only will Force Unleashed II deal with all the bullshit of the first game (such as the girlfriend motivation) but it is supposedly going to be a more ‘personal’ affair. Personal for whom? The character of Starkiller? Then by default that should be me. All of my actions in the game are Starkiller’s actions too, but really, you’re creating a disconnect between emotive engagement. Whenever Starkiller is crying in a cut-scene, I should still be at least on the same level of emotion or at least understand why it is.

Instead, however, you’re making me go through the entire game as an outsider. Force Unleashed II is not a ‘personal’ journey, otherwise it would be player centric, it is a character driven story and that character just so happens to be the player’s avatar. In essence, you’re abusing my right to experience the narrative and instead telling it for me. That is horrible, horrible storytelling and there is no excuse for that. No doubt the game will sell a million copies and be given critical acclaim and all of these mentions of mine will be rendered worthless.

There should never be a player/character dynamic, treat us as one. There should never be a disconnect between my reaction and the avatar’s reaction. Taking the experience of the narrative away from me is barbaric and only the very worst of the worse should be allowed to do such a thing. From the same studio which made Monkey Island I’m surprised how happy you’re allowing ‘game writers’ and ‘game directors’ to shove more and more common sludge into our heads. Another thing; why do all games have to put moral quandaries on to a metric? Are you seriously telling me that the industry is so unimaginative that we can’t think of a better moral decision other than good/evil? Why are you repeating such a common mistake in a AAA title? If anything you should be dealing with moral questions such as the good of the few versus the good of the many? The two of lesser evils? Zip zap this into the mechanics and you got yourself a winner.

Also, where the fuck is Battlefront III?

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