Reviewed: July 3, 2002
Reviewed by: Mark Smith
Released: February 21, 2001
LucasArts made its grand debut on the PlayStation 2 last February when it released Star Wars Starfighter. Sure, our review is a bit late, but as George has proven many times before, his movies and his games are “timeless”, so hopefully this review will reach and influence a few people who may still be contemplating adding this space shooter to their PS2 library.
The first thing to point out is that if you have an Xbox then skip this review and the game and proceed immediately to our coverage of the more recently released Starfighter Special Edition for the Xbox. This version includes everything you are about to hear about plus many new additions that make that the version of choice.
Those of you firmly entrenched in Sony’s camp can relax. The original Starfighter is still an excellent game achieving high marks in every criteria – it just falls a bit short in the multiplayer category.
Starfighter follows a storyline that is loosely based on the events of Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace. You will see many familiar ships and locations, but none of the specific battles or characters from the movie are referenced.
Instead, you play the part of three new characters, each with their own ship and agenda. As you play the ongoing campaign missions you will cycle through these characters as the story dictates, often with our three heroes meeting in unforeseen and often highly volatile situations. Not only does this put a unique twist on the storytelling aspect of the game, you are also challenged with learning three unique ships and combat styles.
Those of you who have played any of the LucasArts PC sims know just how complicated you can make one of these games. The X-Wing series had all sorts of complicated commands for managing energy, shields, weapons, etc. Starfighter manages to offer some surprisingly good sim-like controls while keeping the command interface simple and well suited for a Dual Shock controller.
The buttons and command structure is really intuitive and controlling your ship has never been easier with the twin thumbsticks. There are some definite advantages to flying in space rather than skimming the surface of some alien planet, as there is no “up or down” in space. The three ships you get to pilot all come equipped with a variety of weapons that always seem to suit the mission you are about to undertake.
The campaign consists of 14 missions – admittedly, a bit on the short side, and while these missions are very linear in their presentation and objectives, you are presented with several bonus objectives that will reward you with medals and unlock additional bonus craft and a two-player mode. While these bonus objectives are purely optional, the rewards more than make up for the effort in obtaining them.
Missions come in two flavors; space and planetside. These are then broken up further into attack, defend, escort, etc. It’s nothing you haven’t seen or done in any other game of this type, but the fact that you are doing it in slick Star Wars ships set against a cool Star Wars story more than makes up for the lack of creativity.
The scale of Starfighter is impressive. Capital ships are massive, and the vastness of space is recreated with wondrous nebulas and star fields. At times there may be more ships, explosions, and debris flying around the screen than you can count. It all makes for a very epic quality to the title.
Another nice feature is the fact that you often have wingmen at your disposal. You can command them with the traditional cross-interface that easily allows you to issue orders with a single tap of the D-Pad; each direction representing a different command.
There is also a zoom view that is something I have been waiting for since my tour of duty with the Colony Wars games. This sniper view actually allows you to zoom in on targets that would otherwise be merely a few pixels with a crosshair around them. Now you can see an enemy ship and watch it explode into fiery debris as you pump it full of lasers.
The opening movie and in-game cutscenes are very nice pre-rendered CG movies. They feature the same vibrant colors and stunning texture detail to mesh perfectly with the gameplay graphics.
The gameplay graphics in Starfighter are excellent. The textures are colorful and detailed with excellent lighting effects. There is an abundance of rich vibrant special effects with colorful lasers, explosions, and space scenery that looks like NASA photography. The ships are well modeled and leave colorful rocket trails behind them. This is extremely useful when plotting an enemy’s course and trying to lead your target.
Planetside missions feature creative and colorful alien landscapes. The surface of Naboo is lush with green valleys and rocky canyons that will blur by as you race through them. This is an obvious lack in overall detail on these planets. Only buildings and landscape features pertinent to the mission are rendered with finished detail. Everything is there in lesser quality to merely support the main graphics.
The PS2 will start to chug during the larger space battles when you have multiple ships flying around and explosions filling the screen. This is only a minor drop in frame rate; nothing compared to the greater hit you will take on the planet missions. All of that detailed terrain comes at a price, and things can and will get choppy from time to time. While it is noticeable and often annoying, it never really affects the gameplay.
Mmmmmm...John Williams. What more could you ask for in a musical score. All of the classic Star Wars goodness is back with classic tunes we can all hum from memory along with newer music taken from Episode One. The music is always perfectly matched to the action on the screen taking its cues directly from the gameplay.
Sound effects are perfect, but what do you expect when you have access to Skywalker Ranch and a library of every sound effect used since the 70’s. Lasers sound like lasers, and ship engines all sound unique and realistic, while explosions will rock your game room.
The dialog is all delivered by professional sounding voice actors who bring our three heroes to life. All of the supporting cast dialog is as equally well scripted and acted out giving this game a very cinematic flair that we have come to expect from LucasArts.
Star Wars Starfighter is admittedly a short game when only taking into account the 14 primary missions, but once you start earning medals and unlocking all of those bonus missions and gameplay modes you will find a lot to keep you busy for weeks to come. You can probably finish this game in 8-12 hours, but it will take you a lot longer to “complete” this game.
The two-player game offers two modes of play; canyon race and capture the flag. This is barely enough to satisfy anyone’s multiplayer urges, but still better than nothing. The split-screen action doesn’t seem to suffer from frame rate problems as you might suspect – perhaps due to the reduced field of vision and subsequent reduction in rendered detail.
Even after a year, Star Wars Starfighter still holds up as one of the best space shooters you can play on your PlayStation 2. The recently released, Jedi Starfighter may have upped the ante a bit in both features and gameplay, but if you want to experience an exciting Star Wars story, three great characters, and more than a dozen intense missions, this is still a worthy addition to your game library.