Release Date: November 1, 2005
I made a bet with myself. Could I actually start a review of a Star Wars title without saying, "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…?"? I guess that second sentence proved that I can't. Oh well, I owe myself a drink. But I digress…
Faithful readers, you poor souls will recall that, for the most part, I am in love with LucasArts games. Even in some of the worst titles, there is a glimmer of hope that it will get better, and with their best titles, a near-blissful state of immersion is achieved.
I participated in the closed beta of Star Wars Battlefront II for the PC and wrote about my experience in this hallowed cyber tome. Scant weeks later, the finished product arrived, this time for the PS2. In the space between, I played two demo levels of the Xbox version that were packaged on the bonus disc that comes with the DVD of "Episode III: Revenge of the Sith," so I have had the luxury of tasting all three ports of this sprawling action game.
Let's get the obvious out of the way: The game looks best on the Xbox. Duh.
I'm not going to spend a lot of lines on talking about the original Star Wars Battlefront. If you want more of a history lesson, I refer you to the aforementioned beta preview article. What I will talk about here are the major changes, and how they impact gameplay.
First of all, there is a strong "sense of self" here that was sorely missing before. This is less important in the multiplayer games (which will be covered later) than it is in the single-player campaigns. The campaign mode in the first game was pretty much just playing all of the maps with (and against) computer A.I. instead of human beings, and frankly, the A.I. in the original was as believable as Keith Richards doing a "Just say No" ad.
In SWBF2, a series of objectives are presented to you, and only your character can complete them. No amount of posturing or order-giving will pick up the crystal and take it back to your dropship (for example). Don't get me wrong, this isn't "Trading Spaces: Tatooine," but as someone much wiser than I once said, "If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself." Come to think of it, I think my wife said that on our honeymoon, but again, I digress… Although the overall scheme of taking and holding command posts remains intact, SWBF2 gives players more of a feeling of individual achievement than the earlier incarnation.
Initially, only four of your chosen faction's soldier types are available for play. To access the more powerful classes, you must first prove yourself on the battlefield by amassing points based on your performance. SWBF2 also rewards skillful play with an awards system that isn't bogged down in allocating points to a character's stats, but rather gives bonuses and better equipment based on the use of those selfsame weapons and skills. As an example, if you can score six kills in one "life" using only a pistol, your character will be rewarded with a better pistol. As these awards accumulate, you will be able to control more of the actions of your A.I. teammates using a simple intercom system. If you try to order your guys around too early, they will out-and-out tell you, "No."If that weren't enough for you, the highest scoring member on each team can be granted the ability to play as a "Hero" type. While these are mostly Jedi, you also have the chance to play as Han Solo, Princess Leia and other familiar characters from the Star Wars universe. The Jedi, however, are what really take this game a step beyond the normal assault environment. Brandishing their lightsabers, they forge into battle, taking out multiple enemies in their paths, and they utilize The Force to give them an impressive advantage on the field. The best use of Hero characters, however, comes in the form of the Hero free-for-all multiplayer mode. Imagine 10 Yodas, nine Luke Skywalkers and 11 Obi-Wan Kenobis slugging it out. Two words: don't blink.
The battlefields you will be assigned to fight on are, once again, huge. Every time you think you found a great place to camp and snipe, someone shoots you in the back of the head. I hate it when that happens. As a consequence, players need to be more aware of alcoves and cubbyholes than before. The A.I. is also a lot smarter now, and it won't just lock onto you and fire, all willy-nilly. They sidestep, use cover, and dodge pretty well. While I still see a lack in strategic A.I. (i.e., how the computer mounts an organized assault), the individual units have seen a marked improvement.
One of the other major overhauls comes in the form of space-flight combat. I don't know about you, but the Star Wars flight games (if it had the words "X-Wing" or "TIE Fighter" in the title, I played it) were among the best spaceflight sims ever designed for any system. I know there will be a lot of Wing Commander, Privateer and X2 players out there crying for my head on a pike, but these are my opinions, and if any of you out there ever figured out how to play Battlecruiser 3000, you are probably smarter than I am, so I'll let you slide.
One of the things I really love about the PC port is the ability to use my fancy-schmancy flight sticks to play the space battles. I find mouse-based spaceflight to be as plausible as Ashlee Simpson actually singing her own songs live. The PS2 version makes the flight engine challenging, but highly accessible. Throttle and roll are controlled from the right analogue stick, while direction and pitch are the domain of the left analogue stick. I find the default settings more than adequate, but of course, you can alter these settings to suit your own style. The shoulder buttons represent your loadout and triggers, and the action is, to overuse a cliché, fast and furious. In addition to the tactical level of individual ship-to-ship combat, there is also a strategic element as to which sub-systems of a capital ship you wish to target. If your team is well-coordinated, you can take a transport full of Marines into the very landing bay of your enemy and take him out from the inside. Of course, he has troops in there, so, you do the math. (grin) Your in-space arsenal includes TIE Interceptors, X-Wings, V-Wings, Y-Wings, Strike Bombers and those too-cool Vulture Fighters seen in "Episode 3."
Meanwhile, back on the ground, there are many more vehicles available than ever before! AT-ATs, AT-STs, STAPs, AT-TEs and other dangerous-sounding letters are all yours to control with violent aplomb.
I have always found the PS2 to be the most cumbersome console when it comes to connecting to the tnternet, and BF2 just makes that all the more apparent. Maybe I need a new router, but I have no problems with my Xbox or PC where connectivity is concerned. I literally have to power-cycle my cable modem, make sure my PC is turned off and time my connection attempt from the PS2 to coincide with specific, now-recognizable, light patterns on the modem. Once connected, however, the GameSpy-supported front end works very well for finding the right kind of multiplayer game.The multiplayer games are the usual fare. One- and Two-Flag CTF games, Hunts (which are mostly just timed team deathmatches with no re-spawns), Conquests (which are "Capture and hold the Command Posts" squabbles) and Assaults (which are basically a "Blow it all up for points" affairs). Even playing on servers with low (-100) ping rates, the game suffers from what I consider to be an inordinate amount of lag, especially in a "Heroes Only" match. It's frustrating to start swinging a lightsaber at someone, only to find him slicing at you from behind a second later. Those of you who know my work and my gaming will know this is not because of a lack of sabersmanship (Call Webster's…I have a new word!).
The other form of head-to-head playing is available in a splitscreen mode, which is as useless as George W. ordering his staff to take "ethics classes." No, I am NOT making that up; he actually did it last week. Mr. Pot, say hello to Mr. Kettle. But for the third time, I digress… In splitscreen mode, you can decide whether to play it cooperatively or confrontationally. Just pick the same, or opposite, sides. Either way, when the screen is wide enough to see the side-to-side periphery, you miss anything coming from above or below, and vice versa. Unless you have a 200" plasma HDTV, stay away from this mode at all costs.
In the final analysis, Star Wars Battlefront II is far superior to the game which spawned it in all areas. The landscapes look great, the character system provides some depth of play as well as a sense of worth, and the space combats are the "twitchiest" I've seen without being uncontrollable. The Force is strong with this one ....