Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron is the second title in the Battlefront series to make its way to the Sony PSP. Although it manages to cram in a single-player mode that covers all six of the Star Wars films, along with a multiplayer mode with ad hoc and infrastructure play, it still falls short of what I've experienced on home consoles, and it fails to recognize and improve upon the mistakes from the first PSP title. I was pretty disappointed in this title because I'd been hoping for a more refined experience in comparison to its predecessor.
If you've never played a Battlefront game before, you're certainly missing out on one of the best multiplayer experiences from the previous console cycles. The Star Wars Battlefront games are known for hectic skirmishes that take place on the ground and in the space above planets, often giving players the ability to fight it out with ground units, hop in a ship and fly to the combat overhead — all within one area. It's pretty unique in that fashion; there's little to compare it to when it comes to third-person shooters. Up to this point, the narrative and single-player experience haven't really been the strengths of the series, but if you're a die-hard Star Wars fanboy like myself, you'll still enjoy seeing run-of-the-mill soldiers and Jedi within the context of the film events. In this particular title, you'll run into or play as characters such as General Grievous, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Mace Windu; there's enough fan service here to please most Star Wars fans.
For the campaign mode this time out, there are three acts divided into a series of stages that take place over the events of all six films. The first act is based on the prequel, the second is based on the original trilogy, and the third features new events with main character, X2, who you control. X2 is a cloned Jedi warrior and the younger brother of X1; they were both responsible for training the Clone army that was created by the Kaminoans prior to the Republic's war with the Separatists leading into Episode 3. As the game begins, the Clone Wars are in full effect, and a few recognizable locations are used for a backdrop, like the main planet Coruscant, along with some less-recognizable locales. There's a tutorial mission to get you familiar with the controls, but altogether, the entire campaign feels like one extended tutorial to get you accustomed to how the online mode is going to work. Because of that, the single-player experience doesn't feel fleshed out, and you'll find that a lot of your tasks for each mission are awfully repetitive, to the point of being exactly the same on quite a few occasions.
For instance, Elite Squadron makes a big deal of its ground-to-space transitions for battle, so you'll either start off in a ground-based attack and move to space, or vice versa. However, one other addition to this comes from the ability to board capital ships — think something like a Star Destroyer or Mon Calamari Cruiser. Most missions have you start off in space or the ground, get board a ship, make use of a weapon on the ship to take out giant enemy structures or opposing big ships, and escape. This happens constantly in every mission, often in the same pattern of ground to sky to ship, and it really grows old after the fourth of fifth mission. There's not enough enemy variety to make it interesting, and while you do switch between fighting Battle Droids and Stormtroopers between the two sets of films, they tend to react and fight the same way, so there's really little difference between the two.
The same can be said for almost all of the combat. X2 is able to select from a certain number of pre-made loadouts when it comes to weapons, so you can pick from something like assault, heavy weapons, pilot, etc. There are also a few customizable loadout options, allowing you to handpick the weapons and shields you employ, provided you have the in-game credits to do so. However, there's not a lot of variety between what the weapons actually do. Some are based on ammo, others are heat-based, and others have some type of explosion radius, and some are strictly used against personnel. There's not enough variety between a blaster rifle and a blaster pistol to make one more worthwhile than the other, except for the difference in one using ammo and the other having unlimited ammo with an overheat. Even though the game seems to offer up a lot of items and weapons, you'll quickly learn that the selection is more limited than it seems. Aside from that, the damage difference seems marginal at best. Also, certain objective requirements will require you to switch to tools instead of weapons, automatically crippling your character for a bit until you get to the next workstation that lets you switch out weapons.
The controls are a little awkward this time, and the camera control is a major chore, just like its predecessor. Elite Squadron has some serious camera issues that become absolutely frustrating when you enter the tighter corridors of a capital ship or when you're forced into a hand-to-hand combat situation against Jedi or other enemies. The camera is fixed behind your character but seems to rotate slowly, and it doesn't keep up with the action at all. When you're being fired on from behind, it's a given that you're going to take more than a few shots to the backside before being able to reorient yourself and fire back.
The actual shooting mechanic also feels a little busted; it gives you the option to "lock on" to enemies, but the lock-on doesn't actually hold the reticle in place. You need to fine-tune the crosshairs a bit to keep on target, but since this is all tied into movement (and the camera), it really becomes awkward in big battles. In the online mode, this isn't as big of an issue, as you figure everyone else is suffering from the same handicap, but in the single-player campaign, it's really annoying and hard to overcome. Hand-to-hand combat is a joke, as you can't keep your view locked on your opponent long enough to make the parrying system useful, so you constantly mash the X button in the hope that you'll end up hitting what you want. There's also not enough feedback via sound cues or visuals to make it clear if you've scored a hit or if the enemy blocked it, so that's another big letdown.
The multiplayer skirmish is going to be a big draw for some folks, with the local multiplayer supporting six players and online infrastructure supporting 16, which is certainly impressive. It doesn't come without a hitch, though, as there was frequent lag in the online games that I played, which certainly hinders the experience and the ability to accurately take down enemies. If this were ironed out, it wouldn't be that bad, but as it currently stands, it definitely prevents the game from being a title that I'd suggest to longtime Battlefield fans.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, I really wish Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron had managed to capitalize on the better aspects of the original games on PS2, but instead, we're left with what feels like a rehash of the first PSP title, and that's certainly not a good thing. Awful camera movement, less-than-ideal control setups, and some laggy online play prevent this from being a Star Wars title that's worth checking out, even for the hardcore fan community out there. If the series is going to continue its life on handheld systems, it certainly needs to see more of an improvement than this.
More articles about Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron