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Star Wars Battlefront II

Reviewed November 2005 by Alex Lifschitz

Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: Savage Entertainment (PSP version) / Pandemic Studios
Release Date: November, 2005
ESRB Rating: "T" for Teen
Genre: Action/Shooter
Price: $49.99

The first iteration of Star Wars: Battlefront was a slam dunk by Pandemic studios and LucasArts, and the sequel has proven to be far greater than its predecessor. By adding a plethora of new features and options, the series has had new life breathed into it, yet has kept the core gameplay that made it such a hit intact. One of the more interesting decisions made by the publisher was to include a version of the game for the PSP, despite the obvious graphical and technological drawbacks of the system when compared to the consoles. Where does the portable version stand up? After many hours of playing, it can conclusively be said that while some sections of the game feel… Unnatural, the force is strong with this one.

Gameplay

The port of Battlefront II to the PSP has gone surprisingly smoothly. It still has the distinct flavor - The bouquet, if you will - of Star Wars Battlefront. The game engine and gameplay therein still feel remarkably similar to the console versions, despite the limitations of the hardware - Which brings me to my first complaint.

But before I digress, for those unfamiliar with the Battlefront combat system, or Battlefront itself, it goes like this: You and the enemy have a set amount of reinforcements and characters on the field at once. When one of your troops dies, reinforcement enters the fray, and it goes on until one side's reinforcements are depleted. There are also Command Posts along the field, which act as spawn points for your troops. These Command Posts are assigned to either side or start neutral. When a troop stands near a command point, it slowly changes allegiance, going from one color, to neutral, to the other color. This is effectively "capturing" a command post. That side's reinforcements can then spawn from those posts, gaining a strategic advantage. The game can also be won by capturing all the command posts and having them in your possession for twenty seconds. In Battlefront II, these command posts can also be used to switch your soldier's class, which varies between a ground troop, sniper, engineer, jetpack troop, commander, or other such unit, each with its own specific bonus. In previous installments of the game, one would have to re-spawn and squander a reinforcement to switch classes.

And now, the laundry list of complaints. The battles are simply no longer as epic as on the consoles because of hardware limitations. While the PSP is still a beautiful and powerful piece of technology, it cannot stand up to the home consoles. The levels still have the scale of the console games, but the action is watered down. At some times, your allies prove to be useful and versatile, but most of the time, they're sitting ducks who probably couldn't hit the side of a barn without your guidance. You will find yourself constantly running around, killing hordes of enemies by yourself, and capturing command posts like a one man army, while your fellow troops are concentrating on misfiring at opponents, having reaction time delayed by seconds, and running into your line of fire. It's not like you'll be very overwhelmed most of the time - Kiss 200+ player battles goodbye. There are only 20 units present on the map at any given time, with only about 75 troops on either side as reinforcements. As a result, battles are quicker and on a smaller scale, but lose that epic flavor that made the console games so satisfying.

Another notable loss is any kind of real story mode. The port is bare-bones, offering the satisfying-yet-repetitive Galactic conquest mode, a challenge mode, and instant action, and not much else. Galactic Conquest mode, which is arguably the meat of the game, allows you to play as the CIS Droid army, the Clones, the Empire, or the Rebels, though there is no mixing and matching between which side faces which - The matches are based on the time period of the Star Wars history (CIS vs. Clones, Empire vs. Rebels). In this mode, you move a ship along a chain of planets, conquering them as you go. You start off with only two kinds of troops, but you can buy more by accruing points by conquering planets and defending your own. You win this mode by conquering all of the planets. However, when your ship(s) collides with the enemy ship, you get to take part in one of the newest and most hyped features of Battlefront II - Space combat.

In the previous installation of Battlefront, aerial combat was restricted to a tiny space wherein there were no objectives and no aerial maneuvers could be performed. In Battlefront II, at least in the console versions, you can fight both on the enemy ship and through space as you board and defend. This, again, is where the PSP's limitations are apparent. In the PSP version, space combat is pretty much restricted to space. You only have two units available, the Pilot and Marine. However, due to the lack of on-foot combat in the space levels, the Marine is effectively negated in place of the Pilot. The most you can do in the way of attacking an enemy ship on the inside is piloting a landing craft in the enemy's hangar, which will then act as a spawn point for your troops, and hoping you can kill an enemy pilot before they enter a vehicle. However, this tactic is woefully ineffective, as the enemy will probably defeat you soundly before you cause any real damage. The easiest way to win a space battle is to hop in a ship and repeatedly strafe the different parts of the enemy command ship, destroying parts as you go, but this feels more like a chore than anything. I still dread whenever I come in contact with the enemy ship. If the space battles were any bit as good as they are on the consoles, it would be bliss. Also, the limitation as to how many units can be on the field at once means that there are no levels where you can fight on the ground or use a ship. The levels are either entirely ground-based or aerial, with no in-between.

Still, Galactic Conquest is somewhat entertaining for a while, but there's really not much drive beyond conquering planets. There are a few nice touches, though, such as being able to purchase upgrades that you can use in battle, like an extra garrison of troops, or increased blaster strength. But while these are nice tidbits, they become quite necessary, as when your men suddenly take a turn for the dumber, they'll need a little extra assistance.

If galactic conquest isn't your thing, there are new modes that offer a little variety, namely, the Challenges. These modes pit you in a special series of challenges, such as using an assassin soldier to kill only certain enemy commanders, or using one troop to commit genocide against a certain species of alien within a given timeframe, which is more entertaining than it sounds. The variety is appreciated, but with only three of these modes, it will leave you wanting more.

 

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The biggest gripe of all about the game is the multiplayer, or the lack thereof. The Battlefront series' main feature has been the incredible multiplayer action it provides, but this has been overlooked in the PSP's case. Whether it is because of technological limitations or just human error, this game lacks any Infrastructure multiplayer whatsoever. Unlike Socom 3, which has online multiplayer, the game is limited to 4-player ad-hoc mode. The inclusion of infrastructure would make this game a must-buy for multiplayer fans, but this crippling blow to the game means that it has very little replay value after conquering the different modes, which takes very little time to complete. Even the ad-hoc is somewhat watered down thanks to the smaller scale of the battles. The game does offer variety in multiplayer game modes, such as the shooter mainstay Capture The Flag, but it isn't enough to save it from the loss of infrastructure (though Capture the Flag is quite fun in single player).

But this isn't saying the game isn't fun. Despite the inherent AI problems, and smaller scale of the battles, there's still plenty of fun to be had. The game is no longer as grand as its console counterpart, true, but this works rather well on a portable system, meant to be played in small nuggets. The AI isn't really too much of a problem, given that the enemies aren't too bright, but there's still a lot of room for improvement. It's a little hard to describe, but through all these imperfections, the game is still rather fun to play. It absorbs you into the battles, if only for the pure joy of the mindless rampages you can go on, and the bit of strategy that is blended in with the action vis-à-vis the command posts and new modes of play.

The fan service is also a plus, mostly involving the new Jedi characters. If you activate a Jedi bonus you purchased in Galactic Conquest, or in any of the other modes, you can turn into a Star Wars protagonist with super-powerful abilities and weapons. Along with a longer life bar, Jedi can use force powers such as the force jump and lightsaber toss, while non-Jedi's have beefed-up defensive and offensive capabilities. The selection is mind-boggling - If they were in Star Wars, you can probably play as them. Yes, even Han Solo, Chewbacca, Boba Fett and Princess Leia. In Assault Mode, you can even have a mode where nearly every special character can duke it out at once, which is so fun it almost justifies the purchase of the game alone. If it weren't for the bad AI, tedious space battles, and lack of online multiplayer, this game would be, hands-down, the best shooter on the PSP, but certain limitations simply hold it back in this respect.

Controls

The controls work surprisingly well on the PSP, despite the lack of a second analog stick. Movement is primary accomplished with the analog stick, serving to move your character forward, back, and strafing left and right, with the face buttons letting you look in different directions. Pressing up on the d-pad allows you to board or exit a vehicle. Left brings you to a behind-the-shoulder or scope view for accurate aiming, right cycles through weapons, and down activates the auto-aim. The auto-aim works like a dream, and more than compensates for the loss of a second analog stick. It targets enemies effectively, but also requires you to keep the enemy in your sites instead of letting you just hit the auto-aim and fire away. Still, you may have some trouble targeting the enemy you want, as it tends to target based on the center of the screen, and usually at the enemy furthest away if two are in a line, but it is quickly correctable. However, a different control scheme must be used to perform maneuvers such as the crouch and the roll, but these moves aren't too useful in the PSP version of the game in case you don't want to wean yourself off of the standard control scheme. Ship controls now allow you to use the square button to perform aerial maneuvers, and the circle button allows you to tilt your ship. You can also perform aerial loops, and skill will allow you to perform complicated maneuvers such as immelmans. The precision of the controls allow you to enjoy your experience, rather than detract from the overall experience by forcing you to compensate for any shortcomings.

Graphics

LucasArts and Pandemic were able to recreate the detailed battlefields of the console game with remarkable precision. The levels are just as immense as in the console games, and not a lot of detail was lost. Each character, ship, and weapon is also modeled accurately, down to the ribs on the Storm Troopers' armor plating. There are a few lo-res textures here and there, usually on walls and floors, but occasionally on the character models themselves. Color blending is minimal while looking directly at the screen, but it is definitely noticeable when watching someone else play the game. There are occasional bits of choppiness and slowdown, but these are highly infrequent, and the graphics, for the most part, are quite smooth. The miniaturization of the console game is remarkable, and the graphical quality only reinforces that notion. Even with these large and complex levels, loading times are short, usually lasting about 30 seconds between battles. However, battery life is on the short side as well. When playing at 2/3 brightness and half volume, the game lasted for about four hours before I had to recharge my PSP. While this is longer than some games, it's still pretty short.

Sound

John Williams' grand orchestral score is beautifully recreated in the PSP version of the game. The sound quality is absolutely stunning. Each familiar piece of the Star Wars fanfare is played in its full glory, with no loss of sound quality at all. The sound effects, thankfully, are also well done and crisp. Each blast of a rifle or swing of a lightsaber is fully audible, even down to small touches like the screams of soldiers or the ghastly wheezing of Darth Vader. You would never guess that such lush, gorgeous sound quality could be pumped out of the two tiny speakers on the PSP. This is probably the high point of the entire game, and rightly so - Who wants a Star Wars game where you can't sing along with Luke's theme?

Conclusion

The shortcomings of this game lie primarily in the limitations of the hardware. The not so bright AI and tedious space battles, as well as the lack of any real story or online multiplayer, is absent only in the PSP installation of Battlefront II. Despite these inherent shortcomings, the game is still rather fun to play. The exquisite sound quality and spot-on controls, as well as the forgiving auto-aim and faithfully-recreated graphics and levels, all draw you into the game and evoke a style of gameplay that could only be Star Wars Battlefront. The bottom line? If you just want to play Battlefront II, pass this game up and buy the console version. But if you want to play Battlefront on the go, or simply want a fun, mindless shooter for your PSP, Battlefront II is your kind of game. Besides, what kind of Star Wars fan could resist playing as Boba Fett?

Playing Hints and Tips

- Space battles are easily won by taking any fighter plane and repeatedly strafing the different parts of the enemy ship with bombs.
- The first thing to concentrate on is capturing command posts. Killing the enemy forces takes a backseat to securing a foothold on the battlefield.
- Be sure to know when becoming a Jedi is useful. Sometimes, your current position can do more damage than a Jedi could.
- While in single player mode, pause the game and enter these codes for their desired effect:
- Unlimited Ammo: Up, Down, Left, Down, Down, Left, Down, Down, Left, Down, Down, Down Left, Right
- God Mode - Up, Up, Up, Left, Down, Down, Down, Left, Up, Up, Up, Left, Right

Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics

The levels are recreated beautifully, and the character models are spot-on, but some blurry texturing jobs keep this score from a perfect 5.

Sound

The high point of the game, the sound quality is brilliant, and each Star Wars symphony comes out crystal clear. Absolutely beautiful.

Fun Meter

While mindless killing is pretty fun for a while, the lack of lasting effects from the game or any real drive sap the replay value beyond replaying the same battles over and over. Good as a mindless shooter with a dash of strategy thanks to command posts and new modes of play.

Addictivity

Space battles are a chore, and there's no infrastructure multiplayer, but this game's inherent mechanics make each battle new and interesting, though the dumb ally AI may force you to compensate for what could only be the "special" forces. Mindless shooting is still pretty fun, though, and trying out all the different classes and strategies on each level, as well as the fan service, give the game a decent replay life.

Total Score= 4 Dragons, 80%



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