Destroying the environment feeds you in-game currency, so you can level up your powers, but it also charges up your Force Fury – a juiced up concentration of Force goodness that bears more than a passing resemblance to Kratos' Rage of the Gods. Force Fury basically causes Starkiller to bubble with Force energy and cranks all his powers up to 11, letting you fire huge streams of lightning, slice enemies into pieces and pick up and throw massive droids and vehicles. A typical feature in a third-person action game, perhaps, but certainly appreciated when you're in a pinch and undeniably flashy looking.
It's clear that LucasArts is determined to show off the combat at the moment, but there's an unfolding storyline full of recognisable Star Wars alumni (Boba Fett and Yoda, for instance) and the mandatory series of twists and turns. After escaping from Kimino (by nicking Darth Vader's personal TIE fighter: a nice touch) you end up in a gladiatorial arena on the ornate planet of Cato Neimoidia, eventually falling down a chasm and battling a Gorog (multi-storey monster, huge teeth) on the way down. That's very Lord of the Rings, but a brilliant set-piece for the game to borrow. The first game won a Writers Guild of America award on the strength of its writing, and over 80% of the original development team has stuck around to work on the sequel. Expect more of the same narrative, basically, albeit with a darker tone.
Another big focus is on the pure gameplay experiences offered up by the challenge rooms. One was on offer in this preview build, a retrieval trial that makes you jump across a series of moving platforms to pick up a shiny object and then hoof it back to the starting point.
The room is high up, and beneath each platform are bilious plumes of fog, creeping vines and wispy trails of mist. It's a bit dank, but that's hardly the focus – you need to make it to the object and back in less than 40 seconds to get the platinum award for the challenge. I couldn't manage better than 56 seconds, which got me a crummy silver medal and a deep feeling of professional insecurity. It's all about familiarising yourself with the path of the platforms, but also it requires perfect understanding of Starkiller's abilities to shave away those all-important seconds: you can zip across the first couple of platforms with a simple dash, for instance, eliminating the need to waste time by jumping into the air.
There's no word yet on how many challenge rooms will make it into the final game, but they condense the experience down to addictive bursts of trial and error. They might lack the spectacle of the overblown campaign mode, but they're undeniably addictive gaming morsels – evoking the same compulsive need to excel that causes people to invest months of their life into games like Trials HD and Joe Danger.
The Force Unleashed II is a true sequel – an unashamedly direct continuation of the commercially successful original. But it's also clear LucasArts is focusing a lot of effort addressing the criticisms of the original, so it's highly unlikely we'll end up trudging through Starkiller's next adventure with a poor range of powers and unexciting levels. Jedi Mind Trick and oversized pinball bumpers is a clear sign of good things to come.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II is due for release on Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Wii and DS on October 29.