Season two of the "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" animated series opens with a title card that reads, "No gift is more precious than trust." That is a theme that the team behind the upcoming Clone Wars video game has taken to heart. They know that gamers out there trust them to do a good job with the property, and they don't want to disappoint. Of course, we weren't about to take their word for it, so we spent yesterday visiting Skywalker Ranch to check out the finished game and play through a few of the levels.
In terms of timeline, Republic Heroes is set in between the first and second seasons of the show. While the plot can stand alone, it is designed to act as a bridge, so if you've been following the events of season one, the game picks up right where things left off. Things start off on the planet Ryloth, which should be a familiar environment for fans of the series. From there, a new villain appears on the scene, basically holding the galaxy hostage with a super weapon. We won't spoil all the plot twists, but expect many familiar faces to show up both on the republic side (eight different Jedi from the series all make an appearance) as well as the separatist side. After all, you can't keep a good villain down.
Levels are split into Jedi levels and clone trooper levels. You'll switch off between the two styles of play as you progress through the game. As a Jedi, gameplay is a combination of platforming with a decent bit of lightsaber combat. As a clone trooper, gameplay is more of the traditional shooter style, with the ultimate goal being to just blow up everything. The clone trooper control scheme is actually very reminiscent of Smash TV; the left stick controls your movement while the right analog stick fires. Playing as a clone trooper on the Wii, the right analog stick is replaced by the Wiimote's IR sensor. You move with the analog stick on the Nunchuk, but shooting targets is simply a matter of pointing and shooting at the screen.
Jedi controls on the Wii differ by way of the lightsaber. You have the option of using buttons to control the lightsaber, but since it's the Wii, you can also wave the Wiimote around as if you were holding an actual lightsaber, and your on-screen Jedi will do the same. When you're swinging your lightsaber around, the classic hum emits from the speaker on the Wiimote. Yes, it's simple and basic, but it's enough to make the fanboy (or fangirl) in anyone squeal with glee.
A total of four worlds are in the game, with each world being split into multiple levels. The worlds that you will get the chance to explore are Alzoc III, Behpour, Juma-9 and Ryloth. We took the Jedi on a romp through Juma-9, which is the same space station that you explore with the clones in the Xbox 360 and PS3 demo. Playing as the Jedi, the world design was much more vertical than it was in the demo level with the clones. Instead of simply moving left to right, we were jumping across pits, doing acrobatic flips from beam to beam, and climbing narrow chasms by wall jumping back and forth. Some of the jumps were a little difficult to pull off, but the game's generous respawn system ensured that we never suffered a horrible setback.
When we switched to the clones, it was time to check out the secret facility on Behpour. The specific level we played was outside at night. Combat was heavy, though the generous cover meant plenty of places to hide. At times, things could get a bit hectic, making it easy to lose track of your clone, especially when trying to dodge, weave and shoot all at the same time on the Wii. The targeting reticle is always visible when playing with the Wii, which means you know exactly where you're going to shoot, but it also means that's where your eyes are likely to be focused. Players should expect a slight learning curve when charging forward on Nintendo's system.
Visually, the Xbox 360 and PS3 are the sharpest of the bunch, but the Wii holds its own. The three builds appeared to share the same graphics models, with the Wii simply showing a few more jagged edges and running at a lower resolution. In all versions of the game, the distinct visual style of the show is quite obvious.
All of the levels are played co-op, either with an AI partner or with a friend. One of the beauties of this setup is that it makes it possible for gamers of all skill levels to make it through the game. Whenever a player dies, he or she is only out of the action until you pass a checkpoint; these happen to be spread fairly liberally throughout the game. Boss fights are also put together with duos in mind. One fight we saw had one of the players distracting the boss robot while the other took out its head.
Taking over robots, or "droid-jacking," as the developers refer to it, is a Jedi technique that allows you to take control of just about any robot in the game. All you have to do is jump on top and drive your lightsaber into its head. From there, the droid is yours for a limited time. This can be really useful when trying to clear out a crowd of opponents (just grab a droid with powerful guns) as well as in the droid challenges.
Droid challenges are an optional thing that adds a competitive flair to an otherwise co-op game. In droid challenges, you and your partner have a limited about of time to eliminate as many droids as possible. Whoever clears out the most, wins.
Points earned during the game can be redeemed in the shop between levels for upgrades. One of the shop options is the ability to buy various masks, which give your character a different look. It's a bit Halloween style (think rubber mask rather than a proper re-skin), but the masks allow you to do things like run around the level as an Admiral Ackbar-looking Jedi. It's nothing more than fan service, but it's a nice touch.
In addition to the combat, hacking also makes an appearance by way of a mini-game. Here, the specific method depends on the console. On the Xbox 360 and PS3, hacking involves moving rings around into a matching pattern with the analog stick. Playing on the Wii, you have to physically rotate the Wiimote into position. While it may sound simpler on the Wii, it's not. The game doesn't give you a whole lot of time, and it requires your positioning to be rather precise when hacking. It's just challenging enough to be fun.
Unfortunately, our time with Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Republic Heroes was limited (and a few clone troopers wanted their turn), so we didn't get a chance to check out any of the vehicles, but the game's producer did let slip a nifty little tidbit. It seems that after you beat the game, bounty hunter Cad Bane unlocks as a playable character. Check back in a few weeks for our full review to find out if the Force really is with this one, or if it's just a bunch of fluff.
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