Reviewed: June 12, 2003
Released: April 23, 2003
This is my 16th Star Wars game review (third review of this title) in the past five years that I have been writing game reviews. 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 your Xbox 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 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.
The multiplayer aspects of the game that support up to four players at the same time or up to eight with a system link. 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.
Of course the biggest feature of Clone Wars (and the reason Xbox owners had to wait five months to play it) is the Xbox Live support. Basically, anything you could do in multiplayer on the PS2 or GameCube can now be done online with up to eight players. Conquest mode really shines on Xbox Live, especially if you have a full compliment of eight players on hand. Also supported are voice chat and friends filtering as well as forthcoming new content; most likely new Conquest maps.
The Xbox easily rises to the top of the system wars with the best graphics, both in quality and framerate. The lighting effects are easily the best, outshining the PS2 and GameCube. Explosions seem bigger and better but maybe thats because the Xbox supports 16:9 widescreen and fills in those extra inches with plenty of Star Wars goodness.
The framerate problems are for the most part a thing of the past. The powerful Xbox is able to crank out all the visuals (with enhancements) that the other two systems strained to do. This not only make the game look better when in motion but also makes playing the game that much more fun.
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 geometry of the terrain is a bit simple and 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 just too much going on at any given moment.
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.
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 Dolby Digital surround mix blows the PS2 version away and manages to surpass the DPL2 mix on the GameCube.
The speech was perhaps the biggest improvement on the Xbox thanks to the Dolby Digital mix. The sound-alike actors all did a fine job, and I was finally able to understand them without the aid of subtitles during those heated 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 on a single system or going online.
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.
This is the ultimate version of Clone Wars you can play. Thankfully, the power of the Xbox has eliminated all of the serious problems and gameplay issues with the title and the Xbox Live is just icing on the cake. I suspect that this game was being used by Lucasarts as a "testing grounds" for their upcoming Xbox titles and if this is any indication of what's to come it's going to be a great year for Star Wars games.
May the Force Be With You...Always