Culture, Gaming

Destroying the Death Star: the Star Wars games of our generation – part four

Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga, key art 01 (1280x720)In the final part of my Star Wars games round-up we look back on the last decade of titles, including the oft-forgotten Republic Commando, the family-friendly adventure that started a global children’s craze, Lego Star Wars, the penultimate epic from LucasArts, The Force Unleashed, and look forward to EA’s Battlefront reboot. This lightspeed retrospective has shown me just how strong the Force was with some Star Wars games – and how nonexistent it was in others.

Enjoy the final part, and by all means share your own memories of Star Wars games if you’ve got ’em. I’m @dk33per on Twitter.

Part one (1993-1999)
Part two (1999-2001)
Part three (2002-2003)
Part four (2004-2015)

Star Wars Battlefront
LucasArts  Developer: Pandemic Studios
Format: PC, PS2, Xbox  Release: 2004
Noticeably dated now, but, at the time, this third-person shooter appealed to more than just the Star Wars faithful, thanks to its straightforward mission structure and its accommodating coach co-op features. Iconic battles from the original and prequel trilogy were included, but all were essentially team-based elimination matches, where objectives hinges on capturing command points and depleting the other team’s respawn tickets. It was slim on mission variety, yet that didn’t stop it from being a terrifically moreish single- and multiplayer game.

Star Wars Republic Commando
LucasArts  Developer: LucasArts  Format: PC, Xbox  Release: 2005
Republic Commando is the dark horse of the last decade of Star Wars titles. This squad-based, first-person shooter borrowed from games such as Rainbow Six and SOCOM to deliver a grittier take on the Clone War than had previously been realised. As Delta 1138, leader of Delta Squad, players had command of three elite clone troopers, dispatches on special assignments. Players could order their squad to breach and clear, take up sniper positions, hack computer terminals and more, as they explored the dimly-lit morass of derelict spaceships and colony settlements. It was the first Star Wars game to feature licensed music (including a song by Ash, titled ‘Clones’), and also happens to be the closest to Halo the series has gotten.

Lego Star Wars: The Video Game
LucasArts  Developer: Traveller’s Tales
Format: GBA, Mac, NGC, PC, PS2, Xbox  Release: 2005
Licensed Lego games are now as commonplace as the play sets themselves. And, judging from the 100m-plus sales that the franchise has sold over its lifetime, there’s a good chance that you’ll have played a Lego game and/or purchased one for someone. Of course, it all started here: Lego Star Wars. This family-friendly character action game was a delight when it appeared in summer 2005. It had drop-in/drop-out co-op play. You could switch between unlocked characters at anytime. Puzzles were straightforward block-building affairs. Levels were stylistic approximations of the films’ settings, complete with the craft and characters of the real play sets. And there were adorable cinematics where moments from the prequel trilogy were recreated with Lego’s charm. The formula may have been done to death by now, but LSW, and its sequel, retained all that was special about experiencing Star Wars with family.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
LucasArts  Developer: The Collective  Format: PS2, Xbox  Release: 2005
Many contemporary SW games before this one were guilty of their lightsaber combat feeling spongy. The tie-in game for the well-received final chapter of the prequel trilogy hadn’t learned this lesson. Battle droids still withstood slashes of your laser sword like it was cardboard. The game followed the events of the film from both Anakin and Obi-Wan’s perspectives. But, outside of the occasional satisfying boss fight (Count Dooku, General Grievous), the much-hyped combat system couldn’t sustain a beat-’em-up whose level design and enemy engagements were this monotonous.

Star Wars Battlefront II
LucasArts  Developer: Pandemic Studios
Format: PC, PSP, PS2, Xbox  Release: 2005
The sequel to the StarWars-game-for-people-who-don’t-play-StarWars-games capitalised on the strengths of its predecessor with a handful of additions. The objectives still revolved around securing strategic capture points and eliminating as many enemies as possible. But now, each team’s four standard classes were joined by specialist and hero characters, including Yoda and Darth Vader – a fun proposition in offline play, but something which reportedly disrupted battles to the point of frustration for some online players. The biggest new addition was space combat, where players engaged in Battlefield-style dogfights and assaults on enemy starships. Still a favourite for players to this day, but can the reboot surpass it?

Star Wars The Force Unleashed
LucasArts  Developer: LucasArts  Format: PC, PS3, 360  Release: 2008
By 2008, it’d been a long time since the last good lightsaber-heavy Star Wars game. TFU represented a passionate push from LucasArts’ internal dev team to prove it was still capable of generating the kind of excitement that made your younger self and your siblings play fight, out in your back garden, with lightsabers made out of hollow plastic tubing and electrical tape. Ostensibly telling the tale of Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, known as Starkiller, the big draw for this third-person action game was its gameplay and the tech behind it. An expansive combo system rewarded players who strung attacks together against its feeble foes that only became a threat in large numbers. There were moments of huge spectacle, too, in what was the penultimate swan song of LucasArts’ dev team.

Star Wars Battle Pod
Bandai Namco  Developer: Bandai Namco  Format: Arcade  Release: 2014
Following in the vapour trials of the fantastic Trilogy Arcade and Racer Arcade is Bandai Namco’s Battle Pod. Released late last year, it’s ultimately a hi-def reimagining of Sega’s take on the original trilogy. But what a reimagining it is. This cockpit cabinet features a humongous dome screen and the attention to detail (right down to Luke’s parallax targeting computer) is astounding. Namco Funscape, in London, is one of the few British arcades to have one of these machines, so don’t pass up the opportunity to have a go should you find yourself on the south bank with time to kill.

Star Wars Battlefront (2015)
EA  Developer: EA DICE  Format: PC, PS4, Xbox One  Release: 2015
Games have a come long way since the days of Super Star Wars on the SNES. The gulf between that 16-bit side-scroller and DICE’s photogrammetrically recreated version of Lucas’ space saga is, in a word, galactic. Of course, rebooting what is among the best-selling Star Wars games ever was always going to be a heavy mantle. The preview beta has prompted grumblings of restrictive design and unfair fights, particularly among the larger, en mass battles, like Walker Assault. While the lack of a replayable single-player mode, such as the original’s Galactic Conquest, suggests the focus is predominantly on the multiplayer experience. So it looks as though the Battlefield creator’s take on the terrestrial skirmishes of the Star Wars saga will be a limited one, but a graphically fulsome one nonetheless.

Star Wars games have had many custodians. They have tried many things, and some have failed, while others have succeeded. But the best SW games have always been those that didn’t simply bring you closer to the enchantment of the film saga, they gave you a play set to generate your own moments of filmic enchantment. This is a new beginning for Star Wars games with new owner at the helm. The least it can do is give developers the opportunity to ensure that the next generation of Star Wars games continue to be capable of generating such emergent moments.

Click to navigate to another post from this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. Or see the entire series here.

Image: LucasArts/Traveller’s Tales/Lego