Right now the Playstation 2 needs a big title in the worst way. All of the original must-buy titles that were released with the system in Japan were dated for the American release and are ancient now. Without the EA sports standbys and the minimal sleeper hits like SSX and Smuggler’s Run, this system would be an overpriced DVD player. But even those titles are starting to get old, and now, as the system is becoming more and more available and the price is becoming reasonable, PS2 really needs games that make the system worth buying.
In comes Lucas Arts with a well-known license and a history of respected space combat games. Their Starfighter is trying to become one of those titles that will make buying the PS2 worthwhile. Lucas Arts’ history with consoles has been terribly inconsistent. On one hand they have made landmark games that have been widely respected and played such as Rogue Squadron and the SNES trilogy. On the other hand there have been too many bad PC translations and not enough quality console-exclusive gems in the Star Wars universe.
Well with Starfighter Lucas Arts addresses both issues by sticking with what they know (namely space combat) but specifically designing it for the PS2 and its audience. The result is a simple, fast, 3D shooter that is reminiscent of everything that we loved about Colony Wars and Rogue Squadron. Although the gameplay is a bit of a step backwards in complexity and depth, this simplistic gameplay frees up the game for hordes of enemies and constant firepower. I would put this game into the shooter category far away from any kind of flight simulation.
The storyline follow the lives of three unlikely heroes, Rhys (pronounced Rees) Dallows, Vana Sage and Nym in their battling against the Trade Federation (TF). Though the three pilots don’t really like each other very much, they really hate Trade Federation for their own individual reasons and realize that they have to work together in order to bring the TF down. In case you have not already guessed this little chapter takes place around the same time as Episode 1. I know that it is very tempting to skip right past the storyline videos to get into the action, but I would warn against it here. Without knowing any of the story you will be very confused as to what you are doing and who you are attacking. Plus, the story sets up each of the pilots very well explaining through video and gameplay why each of them has issues with the TF. The acting is typical for the Star Wars universe (take that how you want). Like it or not the characters are talking at nearly every point in the game. Thankfully the text is diverse and original. You must pay attention to it too since it usually involves the game plan for the next move.
There have been many different approaches to the cockpits of Star Wars aircraft. The ones on the PC are detailed to be authentic but they can come of as intimidating and hard to get used to. On the flip side the Rogue Squadron controls were simply a map and a colorful rendering of the spacecraft to imply shield-factor. Starfighter splits the difference between these two and features an easy to understand console with enough information on it to be able to strategize effectively without having to worry about too many factors. Each ship has a primary and secondary weapon, the former, which can be fired endlessly and the latter, which must be used more conservatively. Each ship has your basic blasters for its primary weapon and its own secondary weapon. You do not get to choose which ship you want to use for each mission due to the individual story line for each character, but it really is not an issue. Each mission is designed with the ship and its weapons in mind. For example, the ground missions that involve swarms of TF troops are all given to Nym since he has bombs while Rhys sticks to space with his homing Photon Torpedoes.
Speaking of the difference between ground and space…obviously there are two different kinds of missions in this game, ones that do not involve gravity or an earthly plain and those that do. It is really hard to say that one is better than the other since both are very strong in their own way. It is nice to be able to play something that can offer diversity without the player thinking, “When will this be over so I can do the next one.” Both types of stages offer the same kind of intense fast-paced action with legions of attacking enemies and a constant need for firepower. Though they both have merit I think that the general consensus will be that the ground missions are more fun to play since there is so much more going on in such a small space.
Another aspect of the levels that I felt was nice and slimmed down was the medals system. Unlike previous game that awarded medals for arbitrary acts (Shadows of the Empire) or required a certain number of accomplishments that could not be accessed until the level was completed (Rogue Squadron) Starfighter takes a different approach. In each level there are a certain number of tasks that need to be accomplished before the level is complete. Then there are three or more additional tasks that can be completed for medals. For example you may need to escort a friendly ship to safety as your primary objective. But if you manage to destroy an entire army of attacking TF fighters in the process then you will be awarded a medal. Most of the medals are given for speed and nearly all of them are really tough to get making the replay value on the game pretty high. If you earn enough medals then you will be able to partake in some of the bonus levels. Pretty schweet eh?
The only complaint that I have with the game I saved for last. I wish that I could say that it was a little thing and it should be, but sadly it isn’t. See the time is coming when people really want to see what the PS2 can do. They want to know why they forked over $1000 on eBay the day it came out, and most of them were looking to this game to be able to give them a reason. However graphically this game is nothing that special. That is to say that it could have easily been put on the Dreamcast and nobody would have batted an eyelash. The levels are very barren without hardly any backgrounds to speak of. It also suffers from some jagged edges and flat painted on textures on the ships. I say that this should not matter because there is still some really exciting solid gameplay, but folks these days want some eye-candy. There are a few exceptions like flying through an asteroid field or bombing a TF outpost, but not enough. I just do not understand why the battles have to go from barren space to barren land. Why not go into a city in Naboo or a junk yard in Tatooine—something.
I have to say that after playing this game for 5 minutes I was ready to put it down then after 5 more minutes I started to get more of a handle on the control and the weapons and I wanted to play for 5 more minutes. 5 hours later I have to say that I was hooked. Needless to say this game grows in you like a fungus. It’s the simplicity that makes it so catching. The rapid pace of the game, and its constant influx of enemies keep the excitement level hyped and your work cut out for you. I got so into hunting down enemy aircraft and troops that the sparse landscapes never really phased me. The control was never frustrating and the motion was always crisp. While, this may not be a game to totally redefine how we look and play video games, it is a solid Star Wars shooter and should respected as such. One thing that it accomplishes in spades is setting the groundwork for an Episode 2 shooter. With this game engine and the Clone Wars back-story we should be in good for a phenomenal sequel. In the meantime just sit back, relax, and enjoy what will become a very addictive game for you.
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