I found myself liking Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron on the DS a lot more than I probably should have. It has some serious flaws, such as it being called a "Battlefront" game while only supporting up to four people in local multiplayer. The Battlefront series has long been known for fun multiplayer action, with most of the single-player portion taking a backseat to choosing a Jedi avatar or other notable face in the Star Wars universe and trading blaster shots with your friend online, either on the ground or in space. The DS version is about as scaled back as you can get with a Battlefront game, and while the PSP iteration did little to impress me, I still found myself drawn to the DS version's simple single-player campaign time and time again.
If you're not too familiar with the franchise, it featured large-scale combat, along with the ability to pilot notable vehicles from Star Wars lore. The two main PS2 titles of Star Wars Battlefront were pretty popular third-person shooters in which you'd take on the role of various Star Wars characters, most of whom were well-known guys like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Darth Vader, etc. You'd battle it out in large, sprawling battleground locations based on Star Wars locales. They were really big on fan service, with multiple characters to chose from, some even coming from the more obscure corners of the Star Wars universe. The gameplay was fast and frantic, offering up a variety of weapons, classes and different tools to help you overcome enemies, whether you were working alone or with a team. Along with the ground-based combat, there was also a heavy emphasis on space battle. Players could transition from ground to space almost seamlessly, taking to the skies in X-Wings, TIE Fighters, A-Wings and more from their landing positions on the ground.
The DS game, on the other hand, has very little of that going for it. There's a big emphasis on the story, which depicts two clone brothers, X1 and X2, right around the events of the Clone Wars story. When the tale begins, X1 and X2 are working for the Republic and are under the guidance of a Jedi Master. It's not until a little later that they realize they're actually clones of another Jedi, who they meet shortly before his demise. As the tale expands across both trilogies of movies, X2 becomes the player-controlled character and faces off against his brother, who's more military-minded and fits in well with the growing Empire. X1 didn't have any issues with Order 66, which was the event in Episode 3 that saw the Clone Army turn on its Jedi generals. On the other hand, X2 had some serious moral issues with what was occurring, and he's ended up on the side of the Rebel Alliance. This puts him close to notable characters like Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, but these guys have little more than cameo appearances in the game.
Over the course of the single-player campaign, you'll visit familiar locations like the bustling city areas of Coruscant, Dantooine, Tatooine and Yavin IV, to name a few. These names aren't going to be too familiar to people who aren't die-hard Star Wars fans, but if you're not a big Star Wars fan to begin with, this title is going to hold little appeal to you anyway. The same goes for all of the cameos; some obscure characters pop up, like the blind Jedi Kota whose only other appearance I'm aware of is from Star Wars: The Force Unleashed on PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii, so this game is really intended for fans.
Without fan service, I don't think Elite Squadron on the DS would hold much weight with anyone in particular. It's a pretty basic action game, with little going for it other than the class-changing mechanic. Everything is presented with a top-down view, most likely to skew the angle so that the poorly rendered 3-D models don't look any worse than they already do. You control X2 through a number of corridors, rooms and streets as you mow down enemy droids, Stormtroopers, or some variation of Clone Troopers, in an effort to move from one checkpoint to the next. Along the way, you'll use bacta tanks to heal, and there are various spots where you can switch out your current class between Assault, Engineer, Heavy and Spy. Certain areas will require you to use a particular class, usually the Engineer or Spy class, but neither is well-suited to combat. For the majority of the game, chances are that you'll rely on Assault or Heavy, since you'll be circle-strafing enemies on your way to the next cut-off point. It's a really simple system of entering a room, clearing enemies, advancing and repeating the whole process.
The game tries to break up that monotony a little bit with the space combat and vehicle sections. For vehicles, you'll come to a pre-mandated spot where you hop behind a speeder, snow speeder, or other vehicle that'll be familiar to Star Wars fans, and rocket forward down a corridor based on the planet you're currently traversing. The main idea here is to dodge oncoming walls and other obstacles, and occasionally blast an enemy or two out of your way. It's a really simplistic, on-rails affair that gives you little control other than tapping right or left on the d-pad to move, and it isn't particularly challenging and doesn't really require quick reactions, which takes away from the fun.
For space combat, at different spots you'll take control of a TIE fighter, X-Wing or other craft, and you'll need to blast all of the enemies out of the sky, collect a transponder or R2 unit, or make your way to a capital ship so it can be boarded and switch back to your overhead ground combat. The biggest disappointment is that there's no vertical movement in space combat; you only move forward and across a horizontal line, making this more of a shooting gallery than anything else. Enemy craft pose little to no threat, and if one gets behind you and locks on, you get a big red reticle on your ship to let you know, which in turn allows you to tap the R button and initiate a barrel roll to break that lock and send the enemy away every single time. There's absolutely no challenge to these segments, and it does little to deliver the intensity of space combat of previous Battleground titles and Star Wars games in general.
With all of these negatives, what does Elite Squadron get right? I thought the story was decent, and although it's told mostly through static pictures with no voice acting and isn't particularly deep or innovative, it's a neat tale of two brothers who are at odds with each other during this big galactic conflict. I think Star Wars fans will like it, even if it is a little simple, and it's nice to see some of the lesser-known characters from the Star Wars Universe get a little face time. Another great aspect of the game comes from the use of the traditional John Williams soundtrack, which is effectively used, whether that's done to drive home a story point or accentuate the on-screen action, and it sounds pretty good coming through the DS speakers.
While I find the combat to be too simplistic, Elite Squadron is still a somewhat relaxing and enjoyable game to plop down for a half-hour. It's a good travel game, with generous checkpoints so that you can put in 10 minutes, gain some progress and shut it off during a break or short trip. It's never frustrating, aside from perhaps one boss fight, though it's easy to get bored with it over an extended period of time. I'd liken it to playing something like Wolfenstein 3-D with the God mode on. You're pretty much invincible, and there's no challenge, but it is oddly satisfying to continuously mow down armies of Stormtroopers and see where the story goes.
Finally, the multiplayer is the last reason you'd want to pick up this game. Offering only local ad-hoc modes for four players, it's a disappointing affair that's definitely limited by the hardware and, perhaps to a certain degree, the imagination of the developers. There are three modes that make use of space and land combat, but since the game already has a limited combat system to begin with, there's not much here when you face off against human opponents. They could have removed "Battlefront" from the title and axed the online mode, and I would have been completely fine with that.
Is Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron on the DS worth buying? Probably not, unless you're a ridiculously hardcore Star Wars fan. Aside from a quick rental, it's not worth it to pick up this title. Once you're done with the story, I can't imagine any reason to return to it, and although it's far more entertaining when played in short bursts, there's a legion of quality titles on the DS that are made exactly with that in mind. If you get a chance to play the game, you probably won't hate it, but it's not really up to snuff when compared to other games in the Battlefront series.
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