Culture, Gaming

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

Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, 01, Boba Fett (1280x720)In the penultimate edition of my Star Wars games round-up, we find ourselves leaping between LucasArts mostly-middling Episode II-related titles, the original Star Wars MMOG, and BioWare’s celebrated RPG, Knights of the Old Republic. Now, allow me to dispense with the pleasantries and get stuck in, before Vader’s comes a-knocking to put me back on schedule.

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

Star Wars Jedi Starfighter
LucasArts  Developer: LucasArts  Format: PS2, Xbox  Release: 2002
Force powers in space: that was the big innovation for LucasArts’ sequel to 2001 space combat shooter, Starfighter. This was another case of iterating on an established foundation. But even though its gameplay changes were slight, narratively and artistically, it was a solid achievement. Now in the tailored boots of Jedi master Adi Gallia, you joined space pirate Nym in search of secret weapons, in the lead up to Attack of the Clones’ finale. As well as scattering enemies with Force Push, you could pilot secret craft, such as Jango Fett’s Slave I, and test your skills navigating the Geonosis asteroid belt. Pity the game was never given a follow-up to round off the story of Nym and company.

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
LucasArts  Developer: THQ  Format: GBA  Release: 2002
Games have long struggled with the subject of love, which Episode II was all about. Even so, a romantic visual novel, a dating sim or an interactive pictogram would have stood a better chance of translating Lucas’ second prequel than this dismal side-scrolling beat-’em-up for GBA. Through 11 lacklustre levels, you fought vague approximations of droids, Tusken Raiders and Geonosians, swinging your character’s florescent baton left, right and overhead. By the end of level two’s dull rail-piloting mini-game, you’d seen that EII didn’t have any battles to offer, just busywork. Never mind fear. If you’re forced to play this game for too long, you’d give yourself to the dark side just to escape its soul-crushing misery.

Star Wars The Clone Wars
LucasArts  Developer: Pandemic Studios
Format: NGC, PS2, Xbox  Release: 2002
“You are thrust into the heat of battle in the galaxy’s most unforgettable conflict”, it says on the back of the box. You’re more likely to see an unforgettable conflict in a supermarket deli queue than in The Clone Wars. Based on this botched excuse for an action game, it’s hard to imagine that Pandemic, maker of Mercenaries, would go on to make the superlative Battlefront games. There were few redeeming qualities to TCW, which had you attempting to mow down hundreds of droids with embarrassingly-bad targeting controls, invisible walls that broke the illusion and vehicle sections that may as well have been on-rails. Performing pathetic three-string lightsaber combos as a Jedi on the battlefield only added to the disappointment.

Star Wars Bounty Hunter
LucasArts  Developer: LucasArts  Format: NGC, PS2  Release: 2002
In Bounty Hunter, players assumed the role of Jango Fett prior to Episode II, and the events of game explained how the masked hitman came to be in the service of Darth Tyranus. Though rough around the edges, this third-person adventure incorporated a fair number of systems that kept each mission engaging: most notably dialogue with NPCs to acquire crucial information, bonus bounties and a practical set of identification and trapping gear, such as poison darts and a wrist-mounted lasso. Simply getting to scout about Coruscant’s nightclubs and gamble dens at your leisure was enough for players who craved exploring of the film’s distinctive locales.

Star Wars Galaxies
LucasArts  Developer: Sony Online Entertainment
Format: PC  Release: 2003
The story of Galaxies is a saga of sorrow. This MMOG, from the makers of Everquest, launched with ambitions to become a place for warriors, peacekeepers, builders, teachers, pilots, artisans and even barmaids – a world to reflect almost every relatable profession in the Star Wars universe. Alas, as the MMOG space grew more competitive, particularly with the arrival of World of Warcraft in 2004, SOE struggled to maintain the game’s fragile ecosystem, and it was shutdown in December 2011 (the same month that BioWare launched its long-delayed SW MMOG, The Old Republic). Chris Thursten recently wrote a fascinating account of Galaxies’ gradual implosion for Edge magazine this year.

Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic
LucasArts  Developer: BioWare  Format: Mac, PC, Xbox  Release: 2003
Before there was Mass Effect, there was KOTOR. BioWare’s first stab at the space saga introduced a deep role-playing system that handed players the reins to recruit a party, explore exotic locations, feel a sense of progression to their combat abilities, enjoy a spot of virtual gambling and, most intriguing, engage NPCs and party members in dialogue that had a real affect on the overall plot. The sequel, developed by Obsidian, added to the original’s RPG fare, while adding more nuance to its cast of characters. At present, BioWare still has its hands tied up with The Old Republic MMOG and its fourth Mass Effect. It’d be interesting to see a true KOTOR III from the original team.

Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy
LucasArts  Developer: Raven Software
Format: Mac, PC, Xbox  Release: 2003
Raven’s second Jedi Knight sequel made player choice an even bigger part of the adventure than it had previously been. Taking on the role of apprentice to former protagonist, Kyle Katarn, players chose their species, gender, lightsaber colour and fighting style from the outset. It was also possible to wield one, two or a double-sided lightsaber, much to the delight of Darth Maul fans. There were new additions to the multiplayer, including Powerdual and Siege. And the single-player adventure, though FMV-less, was a fitting yarn of betrayal and resurrection. Three games in, the formula showed its age, but this Quake III-powered Jedi adventure was a bright spark.

Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike
LucasArts  Developer: Factor 5  Format: NGC  Release: 2003
After producing RS II, the standout attraction for the launch of Nintendo’s GameCube, which was also one of the greatest SW games bar none, a third Rogue Squadron game from Factor 5 was still cause for excitement. Sadly, the studio’s infatuation with ground combat, first seen in Battle for Naboo, saw it tack on limp, on-foot sequences in between the customary aerial combat. Grim distractions to an otherwise welcome sequel. Other changes were mostly limited to effects improvements and number of enemies on-screen, plus a set of co-op missions. Nonetheless, RS III’s core gameplay ensured that the main meat of its campaign stayed worthy of attention.

Click to navigate to another post from this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 4. Or see the entire series here.

Image: LucasArts/Giant Bomb/green_incarnate