The summer of 1982 seems like a long time ago for me. I was spending a week of summer with my grandparents in Shreveport, LA, as I would every summer for the next few years. My grandparents took me to the video store and asked me what I wanted to watch. I remember walking up and down the rows awed at everything, but I kept coming back to this one with a guy holding up a lighted stick, some spaceships on the side, and this big black mask. I must have walked past it a dozen times because I was really, really interested in it. I picked that one and I couldn’t wait to watch my movie.
By the end of that night, I’d watched “Star Wars” four times. Historians, purists, and LucasFilm may all address it as “Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope”, but for me it is and forever shall be just “Star Wars.”
Nothing, and I do mean nothing, can put an ear-to-ear smile on my face faster than that opening title music. “Star Wars” has been in my blood for over 20 years and still I can’t get enough of it. I drink it in as often as possible, I’ve worn out many tapes, it irritated me when the books began repeating the same storyline only doing so with less and less talented writers, and I play every “Star Wars” game I can get.
Which brings me to the latest offering from LucasArts, “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” Picking up where this summer’s “Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones” left off, “The Clone Wars” follows the exploits of Jedi Master Mace Windu, Jedi Knight Obi Wan Kenobi, and Jedi Padewan (Learner) Anakin Skywalker as they fight off hordes of enemy battle droids in an effort to save the crumbling Republic.
“The Clone Wars” is a decent amount of fun, but I’ve got many nits to pick with it. First, the good: When it’s fun, it’s an absolute blast to play through. On certain missions, you really get the feeling that you’ve been dropped into the middle of a war as clone troopers and battle droids square off all over the place. My favorite mission was protecting an outpost that the evil Techno-Union Army had recently attacked. You fly a heavy attack ship and have to pick up some engineers and get them back to the settlement post-haste, then quickly defend a convoy that’s way out in the middle of nowhere and safeguard their entry to the outpost. All this while fending off wave upon wave of droid battle fighters and ground forces with an assortment of missiles, standard lasers, and this really cool multi-target-hitting laser beam that just cuts through enemies like butter.
The bonus objectives you can pick up in each mission are also a mixed flavor. Most of them are easy enough (complete mission X in under 9 minutes, all convoy vehicles must survive, and so on) and can be completed on separate play through of the missions. Accumulate enough of these objectives and you can unlock additional multiplayer maps, look at the vehicle and character models from the game, watch a EPK-style behind-the-scenes video on the making of the game (which really doesn’t have any new information other than LucasArts was very involved and the vehicle models came straight from Industrial Light & Magic), and a couple of other nifty bonuses.
But then you start really looking at the game, and one thing becomes readily apparent. The “Star Wars” movies have always been about speed. Watch how fast Luke flies down the Death Star trench, or how rapidly Han barrels through the asteroid field, or how Lando is barely missing the superstructure as he flies into the heart of the second Death Star. Then try and play “The Clone Wars” and watch how the assault gunship you fly chugs over the landscape and can’t make a sharp turn at all. Check out how the hover tank you use in the ground missions (sort of the precursor to the snow speeder in “The Empire Strikes Back”) goes about 30 mph while enemy vehicles zip past it. The only time you really feel like speed is on your side are the all-too-brief maps where you’re thrown onto a speeder bike and have to catch a couple of enemy droids, or where you race through a Wookie forest trying to outrun something that will make the rest of your day very unpleasant.
If the feeling of going from a Ferrari to a Ford pick-up isn’t enough, then the average look to the graphics might get you down. High-quality graphics have never been a big selling point for me if the gameplay is solid. Heck, I still play “Final Fantasy 2 & 6” on my PS2 and love every second of it. But with “The Clone Wars” whether you’re on the battlefield in an assault tank or on foot (Note: you have the option to play via first or third person at any time, just hit the triangle but while on foot, you will not be able to tell what you’re hitting with your lightsaber, nor where things are) the graphics just look… shoddy.
Ecologically diverse environments have never been a “Star Wars” forte but dear Lord, these environments are bereft of anything resembling personality. Only two or maybe three maps actually stand out in my mind as immersive environments (rocketing through the forests of Kashyyyk on a speeder bike, for example). The rest are just sort of there for things to come at you or for you to attack. Or both.
There are also some random bugs I encountered. On a mission to protect a Wookie village, once my troops landed one of my wingmen rammed into me and kept pushing me backwards toward the village. I tried to move but was unable to. My wingman then pushed me into a corner from which I could not escape, and then took off. I’d say that he was trying to take all the glory for himself, but since your wingmen can’t shoot any better than a stormtrooper, fat chance of that. Another mission I was trying to pickup some stranded engineers at an outpost. I cleared the area around the outpost and then my ship set down on the landing platform. No engineers showed. Not one. Thinking they may have a) already been wiped out in which case less work for me, or b) caught another transport, I tried to lift off. Nope. I was stuck there until I reset my PS2.
One last gripe: The multiplayer. In an 8 on 8 scenario, some of those maps would be great deathmatch fun. As it stands, two players on a massive map trying to kill each other repeatedly in under five minutes when it can take you almost a minute and a half to reach each other is extremely awkward. Besides, it’s not even fun. One inventive thing that’s added to the mix is called Conquest, where you and the other player race to structures throughout the map. You sit in that structure until it’s built four guard towers, then it will produce one unit. Your main goal is to destroy the center ziggurat in the other player’s base. This is quite fun for a while, but once you and your opponent become good at it, then it gets boring as you just destroy and rebuild guard towers ad nauseum without ever gaining the edge.
Why have I kept playing this game over and over? I’ve asked myself the same question throughout the last two weeks and I think I have the answer. Bottom line: It’s fun. Sure it’s got its quirks (that wingman thing still hacks me off, by the way), the multiplayer is weak, and the graphics can’t touch “Morrowind”, but overall this is actually a good deal of fun. Some of the bonus missions are darned devious too, and that’s just grand. Hunting for three missing druids while dodging missiles, blowing stuff up, and trying to protect an outpost, all while listening to John Williams’ legendary score, is just beyond cool.
Despite my picking many nits I can actually say I’ve enjoyed myself. Despite the so-horrible-it’s-grand vocal work and the aforementioned problems, “The Clone Wars” is a good deal of fun for a solid twitch game. I won’t say it’s a great game, but it is a fun one, and isn’t that what it’s all about?As I’ve already stated, the graphics range from passable to eh. There is nothing gorgeous to see here and plenty of ugly on certain maps, but only rarely did I get confused on where I was or where to go. The graphics may not be the brightest crayon in the box, but they get the job done without inadvertently making the game more difficult than it should be. I feel like a kid whenever I hear the “Star Wars” music and that’s probably how I’ll feel when I’m 100. The various John Williams compositions are elegantly woven into the background of each stage so they enhance rather than overwhelm. As for the sound effects, they really could have used more oomph. Maybe it was just my TV set that lacked a full-blown home theater setup, but the laser blasts sounded weak and the noises each vehicle made were lame. Since Pandemic had full access to the ILM “Star Wars” database, I would have thought the effects would be top-notch. As it stands, they’re merely ho-hum. The control scheme never really bothered me and you can change a few of the buttons, but the default scheme actually works best. It’s not awkward or uncomfortable, and when I was in the middle of a fight I never forgot which button did what. Why does this score rate higher than the others for a game I’ve described as “Average”? Mainly because when it’s fun, it’s a pure joy. There are several missions where it’s just an utter blast to be causing havoc on the battlefield and unlock bonuses and such. Sadly, those missions are balanced out by some where you have to wonder at the designers. For example, trying to catch three druids while racing on a speeder bike through a trash planet means you have to separate 15 shades of brown from each other in about .05 seconds if you hope to catch them all. This is not a $50 value game, but if it were $20 or so then it would be worth buying. It’s a definite renter as it can be beaten in a weekend of serious playing. It’s also fun to unlock bonuses, but that may just be me trying to be a completist.