Some people just love Star Wars. I personally love Star Wars so much I spend every day at work contemplating deep questions such as whether hating Jar Jar Binks makes me an intergalactic racist or if Jawas had access to universal health care. Thanks to these truly deep questions I was excited for the opportunity to review LucasArts' Star Wars Battlefront Renegade Squadron for the PSP. The Battlefront series has made its way onto the Mac, PC, Xbox, PS2, and PSP in differing editions. I haven't played any of the previous versions of Battlefront and given that Renegade Squadron is exclusive to the PSP, I really looked at the game without contrasting it to previous editions.
The most exciting part of any new Star Wars game (for dorks like me anyways) is that a new game adds new experiences and storylines to the ever-expanding Star Wars universe. The first Star Wars game landed in the arcade back in 1983 with spectacular (for the time) wire-frame graphics. Since then there've been plenty of games pumped out under the Star Wars license from 2D side scrollers, to 3D adventures, and flight simulators. The current Battlefront series was created to allow players to play a comprehensive part in the various epic battles from the Star Wars movies. Renegade Squadron delves deeper into the history of Star Wars by focusing on a super secret Rebel force called the Renegade Squadron. This secret force has been under the command of Hans Solo and Col Serra. Through the campaign mode you'll learn about and play in their adventures.
Games like Battlefront are a necessary and welcome addition to the Star Wars mythology for die-hard fans. If left to their own devices, Star Wars fans will add to the mythology themselves in some pretty interesting ways (check out some of the craziness on YouTube). I personally have, due to the absence of new Star Wars games in my life, almost completed my nine volume set illustrating Ewok Kama Sutra.
From the main menu you have the choice of jumping into single player or multiplayer action, customizing your avatar, setting your in-game options, or taking advantage of the "learn to play" feature. The "learn to play" feature is a set of instructional movies that teach you how to play the various modes in the game. This is a great idea for people (me) who have an abysmal track record when it comes to reading the instruction manual cover to cover. In-depth games like Battlefront generally have a learning curve that takes a while to get the hang of. Although it takes a bit of an investment on the part of the gamer, it can pay dividends in the enjoyment and replay value of the title.
Players may be disappointed to find their favourite main characters (such Darth Vader, Hans Solo) missing from the customization menu. Renegade Squadron has a heroes feature which gives you the opportunity by asking you during gameplay if you'd like to play as one of the characters. You can play as a hero until a lightsaber meter that keeps track of your health and time runs out. The more players you kill the more time is put back on your lightsaber.
The single player and multiplayer modes are all based on conquest, space assault, or capture the flag modes. Conquest pits you against other players in an effort to capture offensive command posts while defending your own. Once you've captured all the command posts in the map you win. Depending on the map, you'll have the option of playing for the Rebel Alliance, the Empire, the CIS, or the Republic. A command post is used by your team as a reinforcement spawning point and a place where you can change weapons and/or gear for your avatar. One of the great things about the conquest game mode is that you can jump into various vehicles during the fight.
The controls in the game on-foot and in vehicles took awhile to get the hang of at first (learning to use the R shoulder button to lock onto enemies is a necessity). During space battles I found no matter which ship I chose it was a challenge to control.
Capture the flag is pretty close to conquest mode except that instead of command posts you're trying to dominate in either with one flag, two flags, or Hero modes. With one flag two teams battle for a flag placed in a neutral starting point. Two flag has each team going after the opposing team's flag. Hero allows you to pick up your own flag as a defensive move to keep it moving and out of harms way. Both of these game modes are played in third person format.
The screen layout has your health and stamina meter in the bottom left corner, your reinforcement meter (this tells you how many reinforcements you and your enemy has) at the top of the screen, directional arrows that appear all around the screen to direct you to objectives or enemies, your objectives information at the top of the screen, a mini-map at the top right, your primary and secondary weapon information to the bottom right and your target reticule which is used as your crosshairs.
The space assault mode is what I think most players will be looking forward to most. In this mode you have the choice of various ships for intergalactic space dogfights. The smaller ships on both sides try to damage each other in addition to the critical systems on the opposing larger ships. What's really cool about this mode (besides flying an X-wing like a total nutjob) is that in order to destroy some of the enemy systems on the larger ships you actually have to dock your ship into their bay and run around on their ship.
The single player game has three main modes: campaign, galactic conquest, and instant action. Instant action lets you chose (or set at random which is a nice feature) the various maps to play in conquest or capture the flag modes. The Conquest mode uses all three of the gaming modes of conquest, capture the flag, and space assault. The third single player mode is called galactic conquest which is kind of a Risk and/or Chess version of the various gaming modes. You place and reinforce troops and attempt to conquer other quadrants and planets.
The multiplayer the exact same as the single player's instant action option. Multiplayer is a blast because it's like joining an all-out war anytime you want. The game features player rankings to see how you compare to everyone else overall or directly after a match. It wasn't difficult to find a game with at least ten players on it and with support up to sixteen some of the battles are pretty wild. There is no communication between players during multiplayer which can make what is a team game feel like a free-for-all. I would've like to have seen the galactic conquest and space assault mode available on the multiplayer list and am a bit baffled by their absence.
When starting the multiplayer mode for the first time you need to enter or create a new Gamespy ID. It took a few minutes to enter with the PSP's notably bad text entry system but other than that it was straightforward. I was pleased that the game has the option to save your login information so that you don't have to enter it every time. I played quite a few online matches and didn't notice any lag time while hosting or joining various matches.
The graphics in Renegade Squadron by and large are pretty good. The environments in the conquest and capture the flag gaming modes have depth and texture that represent the Star Wars worlds quite well. The avatars themselves look like they came right off the screen from the movies and the vehicles in the gaming environment are detailed and scaled appropriately. The ships in the space assault gaming mode are bang on although the larger ships look rather bland. Unfortunately, it looks kind of lame when your ship explodes into awkward blocky pieces; it definitely could've been made to look better. Also, the campaign mode in the main Renegade Squadron storyline is told through really slick cut-scenes. Each cut-scene looks like a dynamic comic book page with just a few things moving to give it texture but enough static imagery to really show a clear picture
The sound in Rogue Squadron is completely consistent with the movies in both sound effects and music. Firing off shots from an X-wing is made all the more pleasant with that distinctive zapping sound. The music appears to be completely sampled from the feature films and fits in perfectly in the menus and gameplay. The sound is excellent and exactly what I'd expect from a LucasArts title.
Overall, Renegade Squadron is a solid title that brings great graphics and sound together with stealthy load times and seamless multiplayer. Renegade Squadron is a game that holds more value and novelty for Star Wars fans; others won't be as impressed by the detail and may see this as a short-lived battle sim.