Star Wars: Lethal Alliance
It seems that the gaming wing of the massive Star Wars franchise has been on the up-and-up recently, with the Battlefront series, and the fantastic looking Force Unleashed coming next year. Sony’s handheld, on the other hand, isn’t looking so hot- now that Metal Gear Solid has come and gone, the system is now going through a gaming recession of which there seems to be no end. That’s why it seems odd that Lucasarts and Ubisoft would risk money- putting the Star Wars name on the line, no less- to develop a game on the platform. While it certainly isn’t worth buying a PSP for if you don’t have one, Star Wars: Lethal Alliance is a good action title for the system that current PSP owners should pick up.
Lethal Alliance is, in a nutshell, what would happen if the Wachowski Brothers’ were allowed to play with the Star Wars universe. Mixing the classic Saturday-morning science fiction of Star Wars with Matrix-esque martial arts and effects, it tells a rather cheesy story of a lone assassin taking a job for the Rebel Alliance and eventually meeting a nifty little droid who helps her collect data and infiltrate secure bases. The plot is about as ‘there’ as the recent Star Wars trilogy, which basically means rubbish. However, for as cruddy as it is, the game makes up for it by throwing in lots of impressive visual and musical cues, along with references to the original films (hey, sort of like the prequel trilogy!). Fans of the films will enjoy it mildly, but others will probably ignore it and get right to whooping stormtroopers.
Because the main character, Rianna, is so lithe, you’re allowed to pull off some genuinely awesome fighting moves in close combat with Imperial forces. The game often goes into bullet-time, which seems very out of place at first but eventually grows on you- especially when you learn some of the fancier moves. There is some gunplay, too, which involves lots of slo-mo and cartwheels. All in all, it’s a new look at Star Wars and it’s very refreshing. The gameplay, however, is pretty standard stuff. If you look under the shiny coat of paint, this is really just a watered down version of Syphon Filter with some fisticuffs thrown in for good measure. That’s hardly a bad thing, and Lethal Alliance is a great ride for as long as the story lasts.
Taking players to familiar locations around the galaxy, you’ll beat the crap out of bounty hunters and Stormtroopers a thousand times over. Thankfully, the combat engine is varied enough to stay entertaining and avoids the button mashing doldrums. By throwing in some flying missions and on-rails turret segments, the game stays fresh. Unfortunately, the adventure is pretty short, and there isn’t much to do once it’s over. There are three difficulty levels, but the game is too easy on Easy and ridiculously cruel on Hard, so Normal will probably be the only mode seen by most players. Strangely, there is no online multiplayer to make up for the short campaign, and the shooting engine would have been perfect for some team-based action. Thankfully, there is an interesting multiplayer suite that pits two players against each other in some small arenas, but because it is only Ad-Hoc, so you’ll need to convince a friend to buy the game too. It’s not really worth buying the game for, but it’s certainly nice to have the option if the opportunity ever arises.
The graphics are the strongest part of the package. Running at a smooth 30fps on the Unreal 2.5 engine (no small feat on the PSP) Ubisoft has crafted a great-looking Star Wars experience. Everything is animated beautifully, and the environments rarely repeat or suffer from model recycling, so each level looks distinct. All of the characters are rendered in a good amount of detail, and there are some nice motion blur effects and bloom lighting to give everything that high-production-value feel. Strangely, though, the graphics in cutscenes are absolutely terrible. The first time the game cuts away for a story portion, you’ll wonder if you’re playing the same game- everything is blocking and muddy in these movies. Thankfully these scenes are short, so you can wash the bad taste out of your mouth soon afterwards. There is also a very annoying bug in the game that causes the armor of Stormtroopers to clip in and out of their torsos when moving, creating some bizarre looking black flashes all over their shoulders. It’s a little worrying that this didn’t get caught in testing, considering the fiascoes Ubisoft has had with game bugs before… but that’s a totally different story. Lethal Alliance sounds good too, but then again it’s practically impossible for a Star Wars game to sound bad. John Williams’ classic score mixed with the Star Wars trademark sound effects always makes for an enjoyable aural experience.
It’s nice to see a good game on the PSP these days. While Star Wars: Lethal Alliance isn’t going to win any awards or be remembered as the defining portable game, it doesn’t do anything terrible with the Star Wars name and provides some entertaining action for the short time it lasts. The graphics are by far the best part of the game, but the new stylish camera techniques and gameplay ideas will interest Star Wars fans who don’t mind some artistic experimentation with the series. All in all, Lethal Alliance is a good, if unremarkable, outing on the floundering system.