Reviewed: February 11, 2003
Released: November 1, 2002
This is my 14th Star Wars game review in the past four years that I have been writing game reviews. Frankly, I'm running out of ideas for witty opening paragraphs, and closing my reviews with “May the Force Be With You” is even starting to feel trite. Normally, this far into a franchise (assuming any franchise has ever made it this far) the games have become boring and my enthusiasm has dwindled to a small flicker. Thankfully, with source material as rich and inspiring as George Lucas’ Star Wars Universe, LucasArts has managed to re-energize the franchise using material from the latest movie, Episode II: (don’t make me say it) Attack of the Clones.
As everyone who has seen the movie will agree (and if you haven’t seen the movie – shame on you. What are you doing reading this?) some of the most thrilling scenes were during the epic battle sequences during the climatic finale of the film. Pushing digital technology to the very limits, ILM delivered one of the biggest futuristic battles to ever hit the big screen.
The Clone Wars has ground and air combat, with all sorts of vehicles and missiles, and smoke and explosions, and dust and…and…well you get the idea. Now all of this action is delivered right into that tiny cube sitting in front of your TV with LucasArts latest release, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. (Now why couldn’t they have used that name for the movie?)
The Clone Wars picks up during the finishing moments of the movie and carries through into events that we were left to imagine, as we left the theater. You are put in charge of the Jedi forces in a game that is primarily focused in vehicle combat whether it be in the air or on the ground. On a few rare occasions you get to leave the relative safety of your craft and wander the levels as Anakin, Obi-Wan, and even Jedi Master, Mace Windu. Here, you get to wield your light saber and use a few Force powers. This part of the game mimics the gameplay found in Jedi Outcast, but is nowhere near as complex or refined. It is still a nice diversion from what would otherwise be described as Starfighter on the Ground.
The Clone Wars has some similarities with previous Star Wars games rooted in ground combat; namely, Battle for Naboo, Rogue Leader, and even the Starfighter games to a limited degree. You participate in an epic battle that spans 16 missions across six unique planets that offer their own challenges. You are placed in a predetermined craft and given a laundry list of objectives, including three bonus objectives, and possibly a wingman or even an entire squadron.
Much like the Starfighter games, the more you do and the faster you do it the better your ranking and the more goodies you unlock from the rewards menu. Also taken from the Starfighter games is the command cross that allows you limited but useful control over any units available for you to command. You can order your men to attack, defend, break, and regroup, and doing all of this at just the right time is often the difference between mission success and failure.
All of the craft you pilot have unique controls, weapons, and capabilities, giving the game a fresh feeling with each new mission or vehicle change. The control scheme is fairly intuitive with the A button firing lasers and the B button firing any secondary ordnance on just about everything you drive or fly while the triggers handling the strafing of the ground craft, the acceleration of the gunships, or the rotation of the walkers. The Y button uses any special abilities that vary with each craft, the X button toggles between first and third person views and the Z button zooms. The C-stick rotates the camera while the main stick handles the movement of all craft including the acceleration of the ground ships.
The missions can become quite complex and lengthy and take place in fabulous worlds that Star Wars fans will instantly recognize. Battle evil on Geonosis then take the fight to far off planets like Raxus Prime, Rhen Var, and Kashyyyk Moon. All of these locations are created with ample polygons and painted with convincing textures then filled with plenty of war torn wreckage you would expect to find in a battlefield. Things start to get heated when enemies start to fill the screen and you have to balance all sorts of objectives while trying to stay alive. It’s all very intense and even if you fail a few objects you will be compelled to replay the mission to better your ranking.
You can pick one of three skill levels for each mission, so if you find the game getting too difficult you can back it down to Padawan or kick it up to Jedi Master for the ultimate challenge. The Jedi Knight (default) skill offers a worthy challenge for even the most skilled gamer. The gameplay is perfectly balanced with a heavy emphasis on action. You can unleash devastating firepower with an almost careless abandon, safe in the knowledge that your limited ammo will be replenished with a strategically placed power-up. Power-ups will repair your craft, restock your missiles, and offer extra boosts like super-lasers or temporary invulnerability. There is a fixed amount of these power-ups, so knowing when to use them and when to skip them for use later in the mission becomes a strategic factor in gameplay.
The missions themselves offer a bit of challenge in figuring out the best approach. One of the earlier missions has you escorting a convoy through a canyon flanked with enemy gun turrets. While it’s easy to rush ahead and destroy the turrets enemy ground troops will sneak attack your convoy if you get too far ahead. Situations like this are always lurking around the next corner, and they will have you managing your time and distance much more closely than your ammo.
What the enemy lacks in strategic AI, it more than makes up for in sheer numbers and firepower. Even so, the enemy is predictable to a fault and you will quickly learn when and where the enemy will appear and what weapons or power-up to have at the ready. This is particularly evident in the Jedi missions where you can lead the enemy into clusters and toss your lightsaber at them for a quick and easy victory.
Of final note are the multiplayer aspects of the game that support up to four players at the same time. There is a Duel mode that is your traditional Deathmatch game and a Control Zone game where you kill your opponent then occupy their territory to earn points. Conquest is a team game where you try to destroy the other team’s base that is protected by a group of turrets. The Jedi Academy is the final mode and one of the coolest. Taken right from the movie, you play as one of four possible Jedi standing in an arena as wave after wave of enemies come at you. Just picture the same scene from the movie and you get a good idea of what to expect.
The graphics are good, but not quite up the standards set by more recent GameCube releases or even Star Wars Bounty Hunter, which released just a month after this title. There are some noticeable framerate issues that will rear their ugly head when the action heats up. Even at its best the game only runs at 30fps, which isn’t bad, but far from the 60fps most next-gen games aspire to. There were only a few places where the framerate actually hampered the gameplay and that was when I was flying into a heavy combat area.
All of the ships are modeled quite well and painted with convincing textures. Subtle effects like dust trails as you streak across a desert, fire, smoke, explosions, glowing force shields, cargo containers, etc. all look great. There are plenty of particle effects and a convincing shaking camera motion during the larger explosions that put you in the game.
The only big technical glitch I saw in the graphics had to do with shadows on vertical faces. This becomes evident in the very first mission where Mace has to do a little personal combat. As he makes his way through the large flat areas his shadow as well as the shadows of the numerous enemy robots will be mistakenly cast on vertical surfaces very far away. Before I realized this was a glitch I literally believed shadowy spider enemies were crawling around the walls and even tried to attack them.
I did notice some repetition in the landscape textures but only because I was looking for it. You will seldom have time to appreciate the scenery let alone look for flaws. There is also a bit of unnatural fogging that is obviously trying to increase the framerate or hide some pop-up.
The Clone Wars rocks the house with some of the best battle sounds short of seeing the movie in a THX certified theater. Every laser blast, missile, explosions, and engine hum is perfectly recreated from the Lucas sound archives. The spatial goodness of Dolby Pro Logic II really separates and surrounds you in the vastness of the levels and the intensity of these battles.
The music is the typical John Williams score that borrows all the familiar tunes from the movies and blends them with plenty of good action music that drives and enhances the epic battles. You’ve heard it all before, but you are still going to love it.
Unfortunately, the dialog is the weakest part of the sound presentation. The acting is topnotch as always but the quality of the speech was very substandard. Obviously compressed to the smallest acceptable size, it was often hard to understand some of the dialog without reading the subtitles, especially in the battle sequences where there were multiple layers of sound pouring out of my speakers.
Despite the apparent length of this game a seasoned Jedi can battle their way through the campaign in 10-12 hours. Adjusting the skill level will certainly alter this estimate and if you plan on getting all the bonus objectives you will be spending weeks and months perfecting your combat tactics. None of these estimates include the infinite amount of fun you will have playing the multiplayer modes of this game.
There are plenty of unlockable goodies like bonus ships, multiplayer maps, game modes, and plenty of excellent artwork and movies from the Lucas archives including an informative movie that takes you behind the scenes of how the game was made. If you lack the skill or patience to earn all these goodies you can use the handy password entry screen to cheat your way into the archives.
There are a few technical flaws, but once you get past the poorly sampled voices and the minor graphical glitches you will be left with a great action-combat game that lets you fill in a lot of the story between the second and third movies in the Star Wars saga.
The Clone Wars is an excellent game for Star Wars fans or anyone looking for an intense combat shooter. The selection of vehicles, structured missions objectives, and rewarding bonus system will make this a favorite for anyone who plays it.