NEWS FLASH - Skywalker Ranch, June 1, 1999
Note: To those who have not seen the movie, there are many Spoilers in this review. Be forewarned.
At an emergency press conference, George Lucas issued the following statement:
"I feel that I have done a great injustice to all the fans and worshippers of Star Wars. The Episode playing in theatres right now is not my true vision of the beginning of the saga. One of several errors that I hope to rectify is the recovery of the screenplay's missing last page. In the last page, Boss Nass lifts the Gungan energy ball above his head as a sign of peace between the Gungans and the outlanders. Then he brings it to a "jarring" crash on Jar Jar Binks' head, rendering the amphibious creature lifeless. When ticket sales for Episode 1 surpasses that of Titanic,Star Wars: Episode 1 - Special Edition, will be released. In addition to the aforementioned screenplay fix, Jake Lloyd will be replaced by a competent digital actor, and I promise you - MORE JABBA!"
While we can't go back and change the movie - even if we had a time machine, access to George Lucas, and some heavy wooden sticks - we can relive the antics and adventures of The Phantom Menace in a different way. Star Wars: Episode 1 the action game is above average, but has a few quirks and flaws that accurately captures both the highs and lows of the first episode of the Star Wars epic.
The game follows the movie scene by scene, allowing you to play as different characters: including Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, Captain Panaka, and Queen Amidala. Each can use different guns and bombs, but the Jedi Knights also have their standard issue light saber, force push, and a double jump.
Basically, you shoot and hack up the bad guys, go through the occasional block pushing puzzle, talk to the locals, and follow the premise of the film. Thankfully, the game also expounds on insignificant details of the movie. For instance, there's a pod racer that gets about 2 seconds of screen time, but in the game you find out he's a burping drunk that's also a fan of Anakin. Do you remember Willow in the movie? (Yeah, but where's Mad Mardigan? - Ed.). Well, not only do you get to meet him in the game, but you get to bribe him with alcoholic beverages. Fun, fun, fun!
As the Jedi, you are given other weapons besides the light saber, but most seem somewhat useless. Since the light saber can deflect and return laser blaster shots, you end up taking less damage. There is no exact way to deflect the shots either; sometimes holding the block button down will do it, sometimes it's better to tap.
The gameplay follows the "advance a little, save, and then try to advance a little more" formula. While this promises long hours of gameplay, I would have liked to keep playing straight through without worrying about having to save so often.
Control is finely tuned, yet for some reason all of the characters can strafe except for the Jedi. Instead of a strafe, the Jedi have a slow roll. Some of the level designs require complex jumping, but thankfully, it never reaches a frustrating point.
The third-person overhead view of the game is fine, but often times too limiting. What would have really helped the game is an option to switch between the normal perspective and a first-person point of view (which is only available as a cheat).
The artistic beauty of the graphics is just a few notches behind that of the movie. It can be seen in all the little details, such as the dust that flies up when you walk in the desert or the water effects throughout the game. The visual impact of the movie is also retained through small video clips and captured stills displayed during the load times. In contrast are the blocky characters. At a distance they look less obtrusive, but on zoom-ins, the facial mappings and body movements could have used more work.
The music has been snatched right out of John Williams' sweaty hands, and it sounds magnificent. Like in the films, music is used to match the changes in the mood and atmosphere of the story. Voice acting is done very well. Though the actual actors weren't used for most of the roles, the parts are still done with the right feeling and intonation. Unfortunately, that means Anakin (voiced by the movie's Jake Lloyd), still sounds like an annoying little punk with no idea how to act. Where's Gary Coleman when you need him (whatchoo talkin' about, Jedi?)...
Many times, you must lead or follow other characters around in order to finish the stage (i.e. follow Jar Jar to get through the swamps of Naboo, or lead Queen Amidala out of the Theed Palace). While normally I'd love to have Natalie Portman follow me around, the digital version is, well, plain stupid. She and other characters that you must lead get stuck behind corners, walk into things, get shot at, and you keep having to go back to make get them un-stuck. Makes me wish I could use some of the more 'unforgiving' Jedi powers.
The problem behind having to play follow the leader so much in the game lies in the scripting. Every part of the game has set contingencies in order for the next part to follow. Diverge from the game's scripting, and you get problems. For example, you leave the Queen in a safe spot, but if you wander outside of the set bounds, the Queen automatically dies. Yet if you have her follow you, she'll get nailed by a gut load of laser blasts or walk onto a mine, to which she replies, "I'm okay. It only brushed my shoulder." Some enemies have severely limited AI; I was able to maneuver one boss to get stuck in a cage behind someone I was supposed to protect. Then I blasted the both of them, and eventually the boss died, while the alien I was "protecting" came out unscathed. Of course, there are parts where scripting does work, but in general this gets frustrating.
All in all, The Phantom Menace successfully captures the movie, both good and bad. Jar Jar is annoying in the movie - Jar Jar is annoying in the game. Pacing isn't always perfect in the movie - pacing isn't always perfect in the game. But while it has its snafus, the game can still be a lot of fun. This is a good recommendation for those without the highest standards looking for a good long action game or ardent fans of the movie. The force is strong within this game... why? Because it's filled with "mido-chlorian" goodness. Sheesh.