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PSP/PS2/Xbox/PC Preview - 'Star Wars Battlefront II'

by Alanix on Oct. 18, 2005 @ 2:15 a.m. PDT

Star Wars Battlefront II takes one Imperial-walker step forward with all-new space combat, playable Jedi, and never-before-seen environments straight out of the Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith film. Enjoy an all-new single-player experience that takes players through an epic, story-based saga where every action the player takes impacts the battlefront and, ultimately, the fate of the Star Wars galaxy.

Genre: FPS
Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: Pandemic
Release Date: November 1, 2005

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.…

Yeah, yeah, I know, but sue me; it's a Star Wars game!

Welcome back folks! It's me, your good old pal Alanix, spanning the globe to bring you the human drama of cybernetic competition. The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat … can we stop the clich├ęs now?

I have been playing the original Star Wars: Battlefront at least a few times a week since it first came out, and when I got a chance to participate in testing the newest incarnation, I dove right in there to blow stuff up. Those of you who read my reviews on a regular basis will know how much I love to blow stuff up (and you also need to get a life)!

Players of the original Battlefront know how massive that game is. I have read a number of my colleagues' opinions, and they seemed to think the game de-personalized the individual and made the player seem disposable. I say to them: It's a game, and we always respawn, so in that case, "disposable" isn't that terrible a thing to be.

Now, the guys and gals over at LucasArts are giving us another dozen ways to die over and over again. If it weren't enough to play the Empire, the Trade Federation, the Rebels, and the Clones, we can now become great bloody Wookiees! Additionally, a new, dazzling feature has been added that takes me to a new delirious state of blowing-stuff-upped-ness: space combat! X-Wings, TIE Fighters and all their cohorts are now available for you to jump into and fly.

Enough hyperbole for the moment; let's take a look at the nuts and bolts of this tasty title.

From the get-go, everything looks and feels very familiar. Choose a side, choose a character type, and start shooting. Utilizing the age-old formula of the FPS, you are thrust into battles in such diverse locations as a forest on Kashyyk, to the inky blackness of deep space in a firefight between capital ships. The weapons feel familiar in your hands, and you move quickly to the first choke-point, and start firing. The developers responded to feedback about player movement being too slow in the original Battlefront and implemented the "sprint" ability in this iteration.

Fortunately, Battlefront 2 is chock-full of new character types. Among these new entities are Wookiee Warriors, Bothan Spies, Droidekas, Dark Troopers, and even Jedi! Each of these new guys has their own special attack, weapons and weaknesses.

In order to create a bit more of the "let's try to stay alive" feeling, you must earn the right to play as these newer, more powerful characters. A point-based system has been implemented to keep n00bs from just jumping in and wielding a lightsaber. Do good deeds on the battlefield (like capturing a command point or killing a number of enemies), and you get points; kill your teammates or do something silly, and you lose points. These points are accumulated to unlock the new characters and jump in their skins.

For the most part, if you can drive it, you can control it as well. Land speeders, AT-STs and a host of other vehicles are yours. Some of the neater vehicles have multiple seats, so one player can concentrate on driving while one of more teammates take charge of the turrets and other weapons. This cooperative mode has been around for a while in gaming and is very nicely done.

The "meat and potatoes" of SWBF2 is a tasty blend of running, jumping, shooting and generally wreaking havoc. It's when we get to the dessert that this game really puts a shine on my sabers. That dessert is a beautiful, fast and furious arcade-style flight simulator.

This isn't one of the micro-managing, energy-allocating, waypoint-plotting, jump-gate-using types of exercise either. This is a frantic furball where flying too long in a straight line will get you killed faster than a fly on I-95 during a windshield convention.

This transition from ground- to space-based combat occurs seamlessly. This is a major improvement over a number of "multi-genre" games, which are simply two game engines, meshed through a mission system. In SWBF2, you move your pilot near the craft you wish to fly, hit the "use" key to enter, hit the space bar to take off, and voila! You are instantly airborne and in total control of your starfighter.

In space, there are three methods for you to engage in combat. You spawn as infantry, after which you can either board a docked spaceship and engage in aerial combat, or you can try to sneak into the opposing team's battle cruiser and wreak havoc inside their base. Another option, if you're not particularly keen on flying, is to make your way to the control center and take up a more defensive role by mounting the turrets and repelling the enemy's assault. Each cruiser has multiple turret locations, so it's most effective if you're joined by your teammates (AI or multiplayer).

During my first sortie, I just couldn't get the feel of the flight engine. Flight by mouse has never, in my opinion, been a viable form of craft control, especially at the dizzying speeds generated by a starfighter. Then, on a whim, I reached over and moved my flight stick, and lo and behold, the craft responded! Hmmm… could the rudder work as well? As a matter of fact, it did! I continued experimenting and found that while the throttle stick was non-functional, the stick performed perfectly. All you have to do is continue to use your "W" and "S" keys to control your speed, and if you wish, the "A" and "D" keys to roll your craft.

More than simple x- and y-axis reaction was right there, out of the box. My trigger fired the lasers, the "bomb trigger" fired torpedoes, and the two other buttons on the top face of my flight stick served to cycle through enemies on radar! (For those of you tech-heads out there, I now use a combination of the Saitek X-52 Flight Control System, Saitek gaming keyboard with satellite command pad, and a Logitech Optical MX518 gaming mouse.)

In my case, I was rewarded with near-full functionality, response, and control, without my so much as having to set a single controller option anywhere during the installation process. Eleven marks out of 10 for the control system across the board! This is a wonderful sign of the user-friendly advances that go on in gaming every day.

The gameplay in Star Wars Battlefront 2 steers away from the original's single-player focus with mission-based objectives in a slew of gameplay modes. Instant Action is the mode that will likely see the majority of gameplay; within this mode, different games await you, from Command Point, Capture the Flag, Hunt, and Assault. The new "Hunt" gameplay mode involves combat situations involving species native to the SW universe, such as Wampas versus Rebels, Scout Troopers hunting the Ewoks, or Battle Droids versus the Gungans.

Galactic Conquest, which features an overview map of planets, has been expanded upon, providing an extra strategic "layer" that goes hand-in-hand with the Instant Action portion of the game. A gameplay mode exclusive to the PSP is, appropriately enough, PSP Challenges, which highlights pick-up-and-play games, perfect for the portable console. In wifi multiplayer mode, you can play Instant Action games or PSP Challenges, and the latter can either be played cooperatively, or you may choose to compete against your pals.

The graphics are basically the same as in the original, with the mandatory tweaks that come with a new engine. One exception is in one of the interior battle scenes, where I think the walls and surroundings are a bit too white and sterile-looking, almost seeming devoid of texture. The space battles are rendered very nicely with great lighting and flare effects, and the fire effects are among the better I have seen in games of this ilk. Now that I think about it, most of the actual explosion effects have gotten a major facelift, perhaps at the expense of the wall textures. But now I am nit-picking. Trust me, you won't even notice. You'll be having too much fun!

On the ear candy front… c'mon folks; it's a LucasArts Star Wars game. You know what everything sounds like, and it sounds just like that! (chuckle) You know the music, and it's there in its entire John Williams splendor. As Obi-Wan-Martha-Stewart would say, "… and that's a good thing."

The multiplayer front end is easy to navigate and is integrated with GameSpy. This may not be the case in the shipped product, but as GameSpy was hosting the beta, it made life a lot easier. As in the control scheme, ease of use is another big plus here.

In the new online mode, Celebrity Deathmatch, every player can control a Jedi, Sith, or hero; this sounds very snazzy, but balance issues made it difficult to play. Characters who tote a lightsaber are controlled in third-person view, but Han Solo and Princess Leia are ranged characters and are therefore played from a first-person viewpoint. If you're controlling a character with an imposed first-person view while a character with a lightsaber uses the Force pull on you, you are tugged towards him/her which causes your screen to sputter, thereby placing all ranged characters at a distinct disadvantage.

Another balance issue with Celebrity Deathmatch is the power of Aayla Secura, who is so strong that most players selected her as their playable character. Not only does she wield dual sabers, but she also moves quickly and is capable of massive jumps. If these issues can get ironed out, then multiplayer will be a delightful experience for all.

In the not-so-final analysis (this was an unfinished beta version, after all), Star Wars: Battlefront 2 is a worthy successor to its lineage. It builds, and improves upon, two classic LucasArts genres: the first-person shooter and the spaceflight sim. It does this with style, grace and a seamless integration of two extremely diverse gaming styles. I cannot wait got get the final product. May the force be with you, LucasArts!

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