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GamesFirst! Magazine

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by LucasArts

nabooship-01.jpg (2365 bytes)Al Pacino said it best in The Godfather III: "Just when you think you’re out they pull you back in." Pacino was of course talking about the Mafia, but he could have just as easily been talking about George Lucas and the Star Wars Universe. A few months back, after reviewing three Star Wars games almost back to back, I washed my hands of the franchise. It seemed that the folks at Lucasarts were taking a quantity rather than quality approach to their video games and it was adversely affecting my fondness for all things Star Wars. I didn’t like the idea of having something that I held so dear be corrupted by a greed that would equal the evil trade federation. So, I said goodbye to Star Wars stuff and hoped that I would be able to get excited about Episode II. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to keep my resolve due to the paltry selection of quality games on the PS2. I needed to play something other than SSX, and Starfighter was the only title that even marginally interested me. Obviously I didn’t go into the game with high expectations. I hoped for a passable space shooter with nice graphics. What I got was a fantastic space shooter with amazing graphics. With Starfighter LucasArts has effectively doubled the number of must play games available for the PS2 (SSX being the only other game worth spending time on).

sf12-01.jpg (3308 bytes)The plot deals with your basic sordid bunch of characters who band together to become the most unlikely of heroes. Not the most original thing you’ll ever see, but you never go to a Star Wars movie for originality (to quote Rick: "How many times can you blow up the Death Star?"). The game takes place as a kind of side story to the events of Episode I and it will satisfy most fans.

sf6-01.jpg (3277 bytes)The graphics are really impressive. The modeling looks good and the textures are pretty impressive, but where the game really shines is in the shear amount of things that are going on on the screen at one time. Some of the dogfights in space are so packed with enemy fighters that no matter where you turn you always have something to shoot at. The game puts you in the thick of massive space melees and just doesn’t let up. The ground levels are also pretty impressive. I would have liked a higher ceiling, but the levels are so spread out that you don’t even really notice. The snowspeeder levels on Shadows of the Empire feel like elementary school playgrounds compared to the stadium football-sized fields of Starfighter. I particularly love the textures of the canyon walls on one of the levels. There is a level of detail that wasn’t necessary but really helped to heighten the effect. The sound is also first rate. However, I’m still waiting for a PS2 game to take advantage of 5.1 sound. I really feel that they missed a great opportunity to incorporate Dolby Digital into the game. I have a very nice stereo with an optical connection and I want someone to exploit that.

sf22-01.jpg (3534 bytes)You can find lots of faults with Episode I, the movie—wooden performances, cliched plot, lackluster dialogue—but you cannot fault the film when it comes to its sense of style and design. Everything from Amidala’s wardrobe to the cityscapes of Coruscant had an awe-inspiring effect on me as a viewer. I remember the first time I saw the Naboo fighter in the trailer and how struck I was by its gracefulness. There were no hard edges and its sheen was pristine. I knew that I wanted to fly one from the moment I saw it. I loved being able to get in the cockpit in Starfighter and give it a try.

sf23-01.jpg (2714 bytes)One of the biggest omissions in Episode I was the lack of variety with starships. Essentially you had the droid fighters and the Naboo fighters. Not a lot to choose from when shopping for toys. The game makes up for this by introducing a couple of other starships to pilot through the missions. The design work on them is actually quite nice. Instead of using the same ship throughout all of the mission, you get to play as one of three characters: Ryhs Dallows, a rookie pilot out to prove his worth; Vana Sage, a mercenary for hire whose decency can’t be bought; and Nym, the space pirate with a heart of gold. Each of the ships has their own characteristics which adds to the variety of the gameplay. I really enjoyed Nym’s bomber on the surface missions, and a great thing about Vana’s ship was its ability to hover in one place and pick off ships from a distance, which really puts the sniper zoom to good use.

sf3-01.jpg (3665 bytes)The controls for the game took a little getting used to, but once you play a couple of levels nothing could feel more natural. It must be really difficult for game developers to find a good use for the right analog stick. Starfighter uses the left stick to steer the nose of your ship and the right stick to control roll and pressing down on the right stick will automatically level you. The other buttons are fairly standard. This is an arcade shooter, so you don’t have to worry about fuel levels or ammunition (there is a limit to the missiles on the Naboo fighter, but everything else in unlimited). Space shooters are mainly about aiming and pressing the fire button as quickly as possible. On this level Starfighter satisfies immensely.

sf32-01.jpg (3167 bytes)There are fourteen missions in all and you will probably play through the game fairly quickly. But just because you’ve finished the game doesn’t mean that you’ll be done with it. On top of the primary goals for each level, you have a number of bonus goals that will garner you medals. Earn the right medals and you can unlock a host of missions, ships and other features. You will be playing this game for weeks trying to get every little thing out of it that you can. There are also some cool two player modes that only open up after you’ve played through it and gotten the right medals.

sf4-01.jpg (2685 bytes)This is a game that really shines in its details. The graphics and level design are so impressive because so much care has been taken. I found a lot of little joys in this game, like when I was getting the hang of the controls on an early level I would accidentally hit the royal starship. After a few hits I got a warning from one of my wingmen, which I disregarded. I continued to fire with abandon and after hitting my comrades a few more times, I heard "We have a traitor. Take him out." Then they hunted me down and blew me out of the game. It’s the little things like that that make it all worth it.

sf53-01.jpg (4126 bytes)This is an incredibly entertaining game. I know it’s a good game when my wife has to hide my controllers to keep me from playing all hours of the day. Starfighter did more than provide a few hours of pleasant entertainment. It reminded me why Star Wars held such a special place in my life. Starfighter restored my faith in a fallen franchise and for that I thank the folks at LucasArts. If LucasArts can maintain this level of quality there might be hope for Super Bombad racing even if it does have a big-headed Jar Jar.

Jason Frank


Ups: Great graphics; enjoyable control; density of battles; good replay value.

Downs: A bit short.

System Reqs:
Sony PlayStation 2.


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