LucasArts needs to take The Force Unleashed games back to school—namely, to the Jedi Academy.
When LucasArts announced the first Force Unleashed game, we were happy to see a return to Jedi-based action games. But it was disappointing to see LucasArts choose a 3rd-person action game as the platform for the return, abandoning many of the things that made its predecessors great.
Assuming there will be a Force Unleashed III—and there probably will be based upon the commercial success of both Force Unleashed titles—LucasArts needs to take a trip in the wayback machine and return their saber-swinging franchise to what made the Jedi Knight franchise (Jedi Knight (Dark Forces II), Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, and Jedi Knight III: Jedi Academy) such great games.
Although we generally enjoyed The Force Unleashed games, both of them are ultimately gaming fast food: good while you’re eating, but less than satisfying.
Bigger isn’t better
Part of the problem with The Force Unleashed II is its ever-increasing quest to one-up itself with boss fights. And most of the boss fights boil down to pre-determined patterns and mini-games that you’ll repeat over and over—at least until you stop dying and get them right.
In the first Jedi Knight (Dark Forces II) game, end-level ‘boss fights’ consisted of squaring off against unique Sith warriors, each with their own look, fighting styles, and abilities.
But unlike typical 'boss fights' these confrontations largely left you the creativity to fight how you wanted to fight—and not just memorize patterns and replicate keystroke-based mini-games. In effect, these battles basically played like a fighting game. They didn’t arbitrarily force you to learn and memorize all-new games in order to beat them.
And because you defeated these ‘bosses’ through your own fighting tactics (and skillful execution thereof), they felt more like an extension of your own abilities, which made for a much more satisfying experience.
More ways to fight your fight
In addition to your lightsaber and The Force, the FPS Jedi Knight games allowed you the freedom to actually carry and use blasters, thermal detonators, and nearly every other weapon in the Star Wars universe. They allowed you to freely mix and match whatever tactics you wanted to use.
Granted, this probably wouldn’t fly with modern players (or even Lucas Arts canon), given how the Jedi have evolved conceptually in the last decade through video games, Episodes I-III, and the Clone Wars cartoon. Generally, Jedi use lightsabers and The Force, and little else.
However, that doesn’t mean the door isn’t open for other options. Jedi with cybernetic enhancements (especially Sith) open up a world of possibilities for weapons, enhancements, and upgrades (think Deus Ex: Human Revolution). And how about the ‘Jedi utility belt’ which (according to recent movies and other media) we know includes grappling hooks and breathing apparatus for underwater excursions?
There are plenty of options available. Any or all of these ideas could be leveraged to take the 'Jedi-based gaming franchise' beyond the platforming whack-a-trooper model of The Force Unleashed games.
Generally, the previous generations of FPS Jedi Knight games mixed separating Stromtroopers from their favorite body parts with a little more exploration, interaction, and even some light puzzle solving.
Modern FPS engines could be used to take this even farther. Vehicular segments on land, sea, and air are commonplace, as is 'collateral damage' (destroying buildings and such). And on top of that, you could add physics-based puzzle solving similar to what Valve introduced with the Gravity Gun in Half-Life 2 (but with Force Powers, of course!)
In the Force Unleashed games, your eyes and mind rarely wander far from the next head you’re going to separate from someone’s neck. Fun, but after a while the pile of heads starts to bore.
Now, think about a game such as Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and replace its setting with Coruscant or virtually any other Star Wars world of any type (city, jungle, etc).
A Jedi-based game that allows the level of freedom and interaction even on par with the original Deus Ex would be light years ahead of its purely action-based siblings. (And if well-executed, it would likely be light-years ahead of the mixed critical reviews the previous and current Force Unleashed games have received (Metacritic 60-70%).
Go back to school, LucasArts!
The FPS genre is stronger than ever across all platforms. The Halo and Call of Duty franchises are more than enough proof of this. And we're comfortable predicting Crysis 2 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution will be "a little successful" as well.
The Force Unleashed III should be 'unleashed' from its 3rd person perspective and return single-player Jedi-based games to their roots: the first person shooter.