The Star Wars universe has become a case of parallels run amok. One event foreshadows another, this guy becomes that guy, I'm your father, he's my clone, and she's "got a bad feeling about this." Some of it is precious ("He's going to be the death of me," says Obi-Wan of Anakin), some of it is overkill (How many times does Darth Vader have to lose his hand in order for us to understand that connection?), but it is all in good fun. Plus, it makes great fodder for the films, novels, comic books, and, of course, the video games.
Star Wars Jedi Starfighter takes place during, around, and in between the events that occur in the film Attack of the Clones. It also continues the story that took place in its video game predecessor, Star Wars Starfighter, which in turn shadowed the events of the film The Phantom Menace. You see what I mean about too many parallels? Starfighter was a fantastic game, Attack of the Clones was a great movie, Phantom Menace was, well, it was a movie...and Jedi Starfighter is somehow supposed to follow in all of their footsteps. The trouble is that Jedi Starfighter does nothing to surprise us or get us excited about another rally against the Trade Federation. From the moment the opening titles end, and the game begins, you feel like you have done this all before.
The story places players in the role of Adi Gallia, a Jedi Master put in charge of both testing the prototype Jedi Starfighter and investigating a threat to the resource-rich Karthakk system. Players will also occasionally have to assume the roll of Nym, an alien pirate introduced in the first game, who, along with other freedom fighters, is defending Karthakk.
The game has fifteen levels in the story mode, which range from original ground-based missions, and open space battles, to the climactic clone battle from the film. Each level gives you a minimum number of objectives to complete in order to progress, as well as bonus objectives that will unlock the five single-player missions, six two-player missions, and extra spacecraft, as well as game trailers, commentary tracks, and behind-the-scenes footage.
If all of that sounds familiar, that's because it is. The missions contain all of the standard objectives: destroy this, protect that, destroy these things while protecting those things, et cetera. Adi's Jedi Starfighter and Nym's Havoc Bomber are vastly different in function and performance, and vary the gameplay nicely, but no more so than the spacecraft in the original Starfighter. The game boasts all new Force Powers, which allow you to use Ali's Jedi skills in ship-to-ship combat. There are four powers at your command: Force Shield, Force Lightning, Force Reflex, and Force Shock Wave. Each power has different levels of effectiveness depending upon how long you hold the button before releasing it. The Force Shield is exactly what it sounds like, deflecting lasers in its weakest state, reflecting them back at the enemy at its strongest. Force Lightning strikes your target, plus a small or large number of surrounding craft. Force Reflex slows down the action around you-sort of like a "Jedi bullet time." The Force Shock Wave pretty much wipes out everything in its blast radius. Each power depletes your Jedi Meditation Meter, which must fill before you can use the power again. In the end, however, these powers just seem like kind of nifty secondary weapons, much like a missile or bomb. Some are almost too powerful. The Jedi Lightning is neat, but it takes out so many enemies and recharges so fast that it makes you lazy. To be honest, I liked the secondary weapons of Nym's Havoc more. They were cooler, and they required more skill to use.
In fact, the only new elements that actually add anything to the series are the multiplayer options. First, there is the Cooperative Mode, which allows two players to play through the entire story mode together. This is just what the game needed, and what few games like it have. Some missions, like Poisoned Skies, are begging for two players. In it you must save an Island compound from destruction. But you will be taxed to your limits as you must shoot down wave after wave of missiles raining down on you from space, all the while veering off to take out fleets of bombers, fighters, and huge warships. The pace is relentless, and it is nice to have a partner to help out. There are also competitive missions that have you dogfighting, trying to destroy the most targets, and more. These missions are much better done than in the previous game.
The controls are a sticking point with me. This is one game where the PS2 controller, with its four shoulder buttons, is far superior to the Xbox's two triggers. The original Starfighter on the PS2 placed all of the core functions-accelerate, decelerate, primary and secondary fire-on the shoulder buttons. Therefore, they were all accessible while keeping your thumbs on both analog sticks. You could move your nose with the left stick and roll with the right while speeding up, slowing down, and firing. Once you got used to it the game really took off. Rolling, spinning, and diving while firing at enemies and navigating canyon runs-it was beautiful. With the Xbox controller, you have to take your thumb off of the right stick in order to fire with the A and B buttons, which eliminates your ability to roll during dogfights. Sure, you can use it to get a good angle on something if you have the time, but sharp, banking turns are out of the question. This takes a bite out of the "realism," and the fun. For all intents and purposes, the controls might as well be the same as Rogue Leader. Also, the addition of the Force Powers, which are selected with the D-pad, make giving unit commands frustrating during battle. You now must press and hold the white button while pressing the D-Pad, which takes your thumbs off of both of the analog sticks.
The presentation runs the gambit from truly amazing to dreadful. The graphics especially are uneven. During the game the graphics are decent, but far from great. The original Starfighter looked better, and compared to Rogue Leader on the Gamecube, forget it. In that game nebulas and asteroids became works of art; here they are merely objects on the battlefield. The special effects are practically non-existent, or, at best, unimpressive. But the strangest thing has to be the dichotomy between in game and pre-rendered movies. The pre-rendered movies are fantastic. The "Jedi Valor" cinema that comes after you have infiltrated the Trihexalon factory is awe-inspiring as Adi leaps out of her ship and cuts her way into a firefight with her lightsaber-force-pushing droids, reflecting shots, leaping and slicing. But the in game cinemas are horrible, with dreary backgrounds, sputtering effects, and pixilated light sources. The sound is great, for the most part, with a terrific soundtrack and the usual array of effects, although the sounds of spacecraft engines are conspicuously dull. Once again, check out Rogue Leader and see how the roar of a Tie Fighter gives you chills as it passes by. Overall, there are plenty of performance issues as well, with constant slow down and jitters throughout the game, and unmercifully long load times which are unforgivable on a system with a hard drive.
Although Star Wars Jedi Starfighter is fun, with some must play levels and a great cooperative mode, it is a step backward from the string of great Star Wars games that LucasArts has given us lately. Watered-down, over-milked-pick your favorite negative beverage descriptive and Jedi Starfighter probably suffers from it. If you love games like this, as I do, then you can certainly get $50 worth of enjoyment out of it. Several of the missions as well as the multiplayer mode add a lot of replay value. However, I would recommend a rental to anyone who isn't a hardcore fan. Even then, Rogue Leader (if you have a Gamecube) and Starfighter (especially on the PS2) should be your first choices. Myself, I am going to go back and play the Poison Skies mission again. There is just something about flying into a barrage of powerful missiles, on purpose, that is incredibly cool...
Jeremy Kauffman (06/28/2002)