Although the games for Episodes I and II are just as good as the games based on the original trilogy, I find that I enjoy the originals even more. As I played through Clone Wars, I was enjoying myself thoroughly, but I didn't feel the sense of urgency or excitement that I felt when I played through Rogue Leader last year. I knew that I had to make it to the final Death Star level in Rogue Leader; in Clone Wars, finishing the game never seemed as important. Ironically, in many ways Clone Wars is a more impressive game. The scale is much grander and I like the controls even better, but the game just didn't speak to me in the same way. It's amazing how one's sense of nostalgia has the power to color virtually anything-especially the games that we play.
I thought my little Gamecube's powers were limitless. Until today, I had never seen a game that the system couldn't handle with ease. I don't know if they needed a little more time with the game to tailor it to the Gamecube's strengths, or if the little guy is starting to show its limits. In the thick of massive battles, there are some real drops in framerate, which almost seemed to affect gameplay. That's not to say that it's a failure by any stretch of the imagination. It's just that I'm not used to such a low framerate. At points in the game, there were so many enemies and explosions stuttering around the screen that I didn't know where to aim or what weapon to shoot. I actually kind of enjoyed the chaos. It made the game more immersive.
There are moments in Clone Wars that will simply take your breath away. Regardless of how you might feel about Episode II, there can be no contesting its visual appeal. As I watched the movie again on DVD the other day, I found myself wishing that I could just turn off the sound; no that's not true, the score and sound effects were wonderful, I just wanted to turn off the dialogue and enjoy the movie on it's most basic level. Lucas has composed each shot with an incredible attention to detail and has been able to create a film whose scale seems almost limitless. He just can't write dialogue to save his life. Some of the most impressive moments in the film came at the end where Lucas unleashed hordes of clone troopers, battle droids, and limitless tanks and gunships. The first time I saw the movie, the ending sequence felt like the best game that I had absolutely no control over. Clone Wars for the Gamecube gives you the opportunity to relive that experience with a controller.
Clone Wars uses Episode II's final battle as a starting point. You take on the roles of Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Mace Windu throughout the course of the game. I found that I actually enjoyed the attempts to further the narrative of Episode II rather than developing an inconsequential side story. You get a real sense of the Republic's breakdown and how overwhelming it is for the Jedi. For those of you that can't possibly wait for Episode III, Clone wars will give you a little bit of narrative to help you along the way. It's not badly written and the voice acting is actually pretty good.
The levels are vast, and there are plenty of goals to keep things interesting. I really enjoy the evolving nature of the game's goals. It adds a little suspense to the game when you don't know exactly everything that you're going to have to accomplish. The pacing of the game is incredibly fast. There won't be much time to stop and smell the beautifully rendered roses, no matter how much you'll want to.
The graphics are outstanding for the most part. Aside from the drops in framerate, everything from the massive number of ground troops to explosions look fantastic. It really puts you in the thick of things. The Dolby Pro Logic II is also used to good effect. You are in the thick of things both visually and aurally. The game's controls are intuitive and very tight. The more I play with the Gamecube controller, the more convinced I am that this is the best controller ever. The analog joystick moves you around and the A and B buttons work for primary and secondary weapons. The use of the left and right shoulder buttons for strafing was also a nice touch. I really felt in control of my vehicle no matter what the situation.
LucasArts has taken the tried and true formula that was established with the original Rogue Squadron on the N64 and shifted the focus to more land based vehicles. It felt a little like Star Wars Demolition at times, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, the multi-player aspect of the game felt just like Demolition only with better controls and no pop-up. Clone Wars multi-player mode is the icing on a very delicious cake. It gives the player many reasons for returning to the game once it's been beaten. There's nothing particularly innovative about the multi-player set-up; it's just very well done with enough options to keep everyone happy. King of the hill mode is my personal favorite.
Most developers would have been content with just focusing the game on vehicular combat, but LucasArts was a little more ambitious than that this time. There are a few chase sequences where you've either got to catch someone or escape from something. I have to admit that I enjoyed the break these levels provided, but they felt so narrow and constraining compared to battle sequences that I wasn't terribly impressed. Clone Wars has also incorporated a hack and slash section in the game that might make you yearn for Jedi Power Battles. You want to give credit to LucasArts for adding a little bit of variety in the gameplay, but its inclusion feels so much like an afterthought that it's almost a chore to play. You have two moves: swing your lightsaber or throw your lightsaber. And although it's kind of fun to slice your way through thousands of Genoshans, it soon feels repetitive and tiresome. It was a nice thought to add a little variety, but I would have preferred to have seen a little more attention paid to the game itself.
If this game has faults, it is in aspiring to be more than it possibly could. The developers had a vision that needed more time to realize and probably a system with a little more power behind it. Often in today's gaming environment, developers are too afraid to push the envelope. They content themselves with the mediocre. Clone Wars is a game that has problems, but it tries so hard that you'll have a hard time holding those faults against it.
Jason Frank (12/01/2002)