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Star Wars Battlefront 2

Star Wars

If you think about it, the Star Wars phenomenon and rise of video gaming as a popular past time have a lot in common. Both came from nowhere in the late seventies, both are now loved by millions and, strangely, both are passions we have hung on to as we grew older, whether we originally expected to or not. Of course, the other obvious link is the many Star Wars licensed video games there have been over the years too, some bad (that Clones Wars game, Jedi Power Battles, that chronic bounty hunter game with Jango Fett in, and pretty much anything on the old Atari consoles) and some pretty good (the old vector graphic arcade game, the Super Star Wars series on the SNES, the X-wing series on the PC, and the Rogue Squadron and Rogue Leader games on Nintendo’s machines). But do you know what the best selling Star Wars game of all time is? Remarkably, it’s the multi-format release of Star Wars Battlefront, which only came out last year.

No matter what you say, piloting an X-Wing is cool.

And the main reason behind the game’s success is not the most obvious. Star Wars Battlefront is not a game with exemplary graphics, the controls aren’t pitched perfectly, the frame rate did glitch, and the online set up lacked a lobby and suffered from some serious lag issues. But people still bought, played and thoroughly enjoyed the game anyway (I know I did) and it’s for one simple reason: familiarity.

When I come lumbering over some alien landscape in the latest shooter of the month with a collection of vehicles dotted around me and aliens and spacemen shooting the hell out of each other from various directions, the usual feeling is one of initial bewilderment. What’s that? Who’s he? What’s that tank going to do? Is he on my side? Can I take him out with the weapon I’ve got? What are my other options? And so on; it takes a long time to produce convincing alien worlds and these days software houses employ teams of writers and artists to set it all up for them before they even start coding. But the point of a Star Wars titles is just that; it’s all there already, a richly detailed action universe. And more to the point, everybody knows it.

I know who the good guys are, who the bad guys are, who is hard, who’s weak, and what weapons do what. I also know that, say, on the Endor Moon the Rebels must get to the bunker and blow it up, I know that AT-ST walkers stomp along slowly, can turn their heads, shoot one way while walking another, and have torpedoes in there as well (I saw Chewbacca fire some off in Return of the Jedi, see). I know that on the Hoth level the AT-ATs are nigh on indestructible and that you have to take them down by flying cables round their legs and tripping them over. And I know that X-wings are slightly slower than TIE fighters, but they’re a bit more durable and have more fire power.

These two guys look identical. They must be clones.

In game terms, this means that I can get right in and enjoy myself and the little gripes we have as we play are easily over looked. I mean, it’s Star Wars man, me and my mates were just running round killing Storm troopers on Bespin cloud city: how cool is that?

Anyway, you’ll be thankful to know that compared to the original Battlefront title, the sequel improves the franchise in pretty much every area. The main improvement is the inclusion of space battles for the first time. Now you spawn in the hangar of your capital ship, jump in a fighter and blast off into the middle of a space battle. Here you get to chase down other fighters utilising a control system which feels thankfully smoother than the star fighter controls in the previous game, or move on to tackling the capital ships, like Mon Calamari cruisers and Star destroyers. This is perhaps the coolest part because you’re given a wealth of options. You can pepper away from the outside, concentrating fire on various null points (like the sensor array, life support module or engines), or alternatively you can land in their hangar and go at it from the inside, as corridors branch off the hangars towards shield rooms, engine rooms and such like, so you can blow them from the inside with rocket launchers. This can be so satisfying, but it is hard work too as the only way to respawn in an opponents ship is from inside one of your landed shuttles, and they can be quite tricky to keep in one piece for any length of time. There are also only two infantry classes available – pilots who can repair their ships mid-flight and marines who have blaster rifles and rocket launchers for extra hand-to-hand firepower – and you have to select at each spawning which class you think is most suited to the current situation; remembering that pilots also have fusion cutters, which is invaluable for repairing shields, engine supports, etc. In fact, the only downside to playing in space is the lack of alternate maps. You literally get two large class cruisers, a few dozen fighters and a couple of frigate class freighters on each side with only the static planetary background differentiating between the different space levels. Greater variety in set up would have been brilliant here, but this might be one of those scenarios when you just have to take what you’re given and hope they build on it in the next instalment.

That was a bit of overkill on that rebel soldier.

The other major improvement over the original Battlefront is being able to play as heroes and villains of the saga. When certain battlefield conditions are met (certain number of points, a time limit, etc) one hero or villain becomes selectable for a limited time and usually to the currently most successful player (although that can be configured in the options). Now, this sounds fantastic I know but the reality of the situation is that, being mostly Jedi or Sith, heroes and villains are lightsaber wielders and as such have limited range attacks, meaning you tend to spend most of the time charging towards your opponents at breakneck speed, hammering the attack button to get that lightsaber a-swinging. You can use sabre throw or use the force push to knock opponents off their feet, but I bet you end up using your sabre more. You also get the option to use special characters like Han Solo, Leia and Boba Fett, but these come across as underpowered compared to their Jedi counterparts, and despite the extra firepower and cool equipment these characters bring, they can frustrate as much as entertain. In general though the jedi and Sith feel clumsier to control than the ambassadors of the force they’re supposed to be and they can be taken done quite easily with some coordinated, concentrated firepower. The overall effect is that heroes don’t seem quite as powerful as they should, although it does have to be said that if you don’t get the hairs on the back of your neck sticking up the first time you see Yoda ignite that little sabre of his, then you’re playing the wrong game anyway.

Alright guys, break it up, it’s a child friendly site here.

Considering the first game only had the conquest mode to keep solo players happy, it’s no surprise that the sequel comes with a whole new single player campaign. Rise of the Empire basically charts the story of the clone troopers, starting with their debut on Geonosis and filling in a few gaps between the two trilogies, before ending with that popular snowy Hoth battle. On the whole the campaign is a lot of fun, letting you get used to the game and introducing the new levels comfortably, but there is nothing here that hasn’t been done before. It feels a lot like last year’s Republic Commando actually, except the levels here are based as much on the original trilogy than the prequels. Ever wondered what it’d be like to be on the other side of that door on Princess Leia’s starship at the beginning of Star Wars? You know, when the door is blown and the storm troopers pile through? Well now’s your chance; one of the missions makes you do just that. Brilliant.

The rest of the changes are a little more predictable: an extra class for each side, neater graphics, improved vehicle handling, a new and slightly more fiddly way to command your troops which involves targeting them first, and an improvement to the standard grenade type whereby they now stick to vehicles when thrown at them, which turns out to be incredibly useful. There’s still no lobby as such so if you’re playing with mates you’ll be spending a lot of time texting them as the network set up is still buggy, and if you host your own games expect the audio to struggle if you have anything but the fastest available connections. But then again, buggy stuff like that (and other weirder stuff like ghosts of frigates you’ve already destroyed hanging around) is the kind of thing that is patchable, and there’s no lobby but at least the team select screen now includes a list of player names, so at least it’s workable. Here’s a hint for you though, if you’re playing with mates be sure to arrange in advance who’s on whose side, otherwise things get really confusing fast.

You can play as all the heroes and villians in Mos Eisley. It gets a bit crazy.

So, as usual, the latest video game representing the illustrious Star Wars franchise is great fun but far from perfect, mainly due to a handful of little niggles. Again the network play is buggy and needs patching, again the set up limits you to four people if you host your own game (how come you don’t have this issue in, say, TimeSplitters Future Perfect? Have EA just got a better network than Lucasarts?) Also, it’s still possible to catch NPCs getting stuck in corners and behind objects and what have you, meaning the improved AI hasn’t been improved all that much. But when push comes to shove, are any of those niggles above going to stop you playing this game again and again? With the original Star Wars generation – and consequently the first generation of real gamers – hitting the affluent late 20s and early 30s wage brackets round about now, can you imagine those guys not wanting to play this game? Of course you can’t, but whether or not gamers would even give this game a second look if it wasn’t Star Wars is something we’d best not think about.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is the Deputy Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2002.

Gentle persuasion

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