Release Date: November 1, 2005
Star Wars games have run the gamut from amazing (such as TIE Fighter and Knights of the Old Republic) to amazingly bad (Force Commander and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith come to mind). Thankfully, the "sequel to the best-selling Star Wars game ever" does not disappoint: Star Wars: Battlefront II is a must-have title.
For those of you who missed the first Battlefront and aren't sure what to expect, it's pretty accurate to say that it plays like Battlefield 1942, except with hover tanks and capital ships instead of jeeps and battleships. Players can choose between six different character classes (two of which are exclusive for each of the game's four factions) and wage war on various planets across the galaxy. The lion's share of combat takes place on the actual planets, be it the foggy swamps of Dagobah, the rainy platforms of Kamino, or the craters of Utapau with infantry being aided by tanks, snowspeeders, and the infamous AT-AT walkers.
One of the new additions to Battlefront II are space battles. Class choice is limited to either pilot or marine, but there are four types of ships. While each faction has different ships, they all fit into the same archetypes: speedy dog fighting (such as TIE Interceptors and A-Wings), balanced fighters (ARC 170s, X-Wings, etc.), bombers (Y-Wings) and landing craft.
Whatever your objective in these space battles may be, it never hurts to cripple your opponents ship as much as possible. This can be accomplished either by destroying the various sensor arrays and the ever-important life support system from the outside of the ship or by flying into the enemy's hangar, landing, and destroying the ship's systems from the inside. This helps the space battles stay fresh and dynamic, as the only real difference between any of those particular maps is the planet you happen to be orbiting.
Another of Battlefront II's new additions are hero units. When certain conditions are met on the battlefield, a new character is available on the class selection screen, often with lightsaber in tow. You only get a limited amount of time to use the hero, who is a different character for every map and faction (Obi-Wan on Utapau, Yoda on Kashyykk, etc.), but it makes a difference. If there's a sea of enemies between you and the next command point you need to capture, a Jedi's just the kind of thing you'll need: They can run faster, jump higher and down more enemies than any class in the game, just as they should.
The final major change from the first game is the Rise of the Empire game mode. This story driven, objective-based game mode follows the exploits of Darth Vader's personal battalion of stormtroopers, the 501st, from their maiden battle on Geonosis to their greatest victory on Hoth. Temuera Morrison who played Jango Fett and every single clone trooper (that's talent!) in Star Wars Episode II and III lends his voice as a retired clone trooper who recounts the events that made the 501st what it is today. This is a nice Brothers in Arms-esque touch that fills in some of the gaps between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. The gameplay in this mode is a nice change of pace from the rest of the game as it often sends you to blow up vital rebel intelligence or clear and defend a landing zone so your Jedi commander can land and offer his services on the battlefield.
Returning from the original Battlefront is Galactic Conquest mode, which is essentially a sci-fi version of Risk. Your objective is to gain and maintain control of the entire galaxy in a pseudo-turn-based strategy style format. During your turn, you can purchase new units, build a new fleet, and buy bonuses. You can choose one bonus before beginning to either attack or defend a planet. Bonuses range from more reinforcements, stronger armor, better blasters, turret defenses, and being able to access your hero units. Battles, of course, carry out just as they do in Conquest mode, with your forces attempting to capture and hold all as many of the command posts on a map as they can in order to reduce your enemy's remaining reinforcements to zero. Galactic Conquest is certainly not difficult, but there's something strangely addicting about conquering the entire galaxy and ruling with an iron fist.
Both of these single player modes are fun, but the real reason to get Battlefront II is for the multiplayer. The game supports splitscreen for up to four players, but any more than two, and it becomes fairly difficult to see, so your best bet is Xbox Live, which supports up to 32 players. Besides conquest mode, there are one and two flag capture the flag variants, an assault mode where you score points by destroying enemy vehicles and objects. There's also a mode called Hunt, which is a ton of fun. It pits the two sides against each other, with one side only having to survive for a certain amount of time to live. The catch is that one team is often a species indigenous to a certain planet, so on Endor, it's scout troopers versus Ewoks or Jawas versus Tusken Raiders on Tatooine. These games can be hilariously fun and are excellent for the quick game here and there.
Everything in the game looks pretty good and the framerate is solid throughout, which is a must for any shooter. All of the player models are nicely detailed, though they all tend to animate the same. The maps all look great and look about as good as their respective counterparts in the movies. Space battles have a very chaotic sense to them, with turbo lasers and proton torpedoes whizzing by as you swoop in for a bombing run on an Imperial frigate. Overall, everything looks great on the Xbox version of Battlefront II.
This being a Star Wars game, the sound is stellar, as anticipated. Everything you expect to be here is here: the familiar sound of blaster fire, the snap-hiss of lightsabers, and the repressed scream of TIE fighters. The soundtrack is of course a sampling of some of John Williams' best scores from the movies, with a majority of the tracks coming from Episode III. Battlefront II uses some fairly good voice actors to supply the voices of the hero units and seem to hit the sounds of the troops for the various factions perfectly. Luckily, the least we can expect from any Star Wars game is great sound, and Battlefront II is no slouch.
Battlefront II uses the same controller configuration that most shooters do on the Xbox, so with even just a passive knowledge of the genre, you should feel right at home. My one complaint is that sprinting requires you to hold in the left thumbstick while pointing in the direction you need to go, which can get a little uncomfortable. Long story short, Star Wars fans need this game in their collection, as do fans of action games in general. For those who may not necessarily have a sweet spot for the galaxy far, far away, Battlefront II is as solid a rental as you're likely to find this year.