JEDI... IN... SPACE...
The bell is getting ready to ring for Round Two of the Star Wars saga. The release of Attack of the Clones is fast approaching and it's about time for some more hype. We've already got a taste for teasers and trailers, but how about something a little better? LucasArts answers this question with Jedi Starfighter, the next step in the Star Wars Starfighter series.
When last we met, a young pilot from the Naboo fighter corps named Rhys Dallows teamed up with the mercenary Vana Sage and a Feeorin pirate called Nym to take down the Trade Federation blockade of Naboo. This time around, the focus shifts to Nym and his unlikely alliance with a Jedi Master named Adi Gallia. The Trade Federation is still about as trustworthy as a drunken Gran in a game of sabacc, so you can bet that they're concocting another evil scheme. [Yub yub, G-Wok, you fuzzy little nerd, you. - Ed.]
Naturally, the events of Jedi Starfighter coincide with the events of Episode II, so you'll get a sneaky peak at some of the new starfighters and a hint at some of the events that will be going on in the upcoming movie. The centerpiece of it all is the ability to fly the prototype Jedi starfighter that is seen in the trailers for Episode II. You'll also get to check out the awesome Sabaoth fighter, a new type of craft that looks like a much cooler version of the Klingon Bird of Prey.
I must admit that these new ship designs are much more appealing than the bright yellow, geeky looking N1's that were showcased in The Phantom Menace. In any case, hardcore Star Wars freaks will want to check out this game for these little previews alone.
The bulk of the gameplay in Jedi Starfighter is similar to that of the original. You fly, you shoot, you save the day. The game's fifteen main missions take place both planetside and in space and there are still plenty of bonus goodies to unlock.
Jedi Starfighter does introduce one unique concept - the Force powers that can be used when playing the Adi Gallia missions. Since the Jedi's prototype fighter does not carry any secondary weapons, Adi reaches out to the Force for a handful of useful tricks. There's the Force Shield, which will create a Force powered barrier around the small craft for a limited amount of time. Next up is Force Lightning, which can rip through groups of enemy fighters. There's also Force Reflex, which slows down motion around you so you can pop off even more shots. Lastly, there's Force Shock Wave, which sends out a powerful ripple to damage any nearby enemies.
Almost as interesting as the Force powers is the skill it takes to use them effectively. Unlike normal 'fire and forget' secondary weapons, these powers must be charged up. When executed at the proper time, they'll unleash even more damage or have a longer effect. Mastering this skill is especially useful since it takes some time for you to gather up enough energy to use the Force again.
Jedi Starfighter also features a significantly beefed-up multiplayer game. Not only can you go through 2-player specific missions, but you can also play through main story missions in a cooperative split-screened mode. In this situation, the second player is assigned to an alternate character such as Reti, the Toydarian, or Jinkins, Nym's right hand Bith. These characters also feature their own ships such as the Zoomer or Freefall. This is certainly a big step up from the bare-bones multiplayer of the original.
The bonus unlockables are no slouch, either. Completing the bonus objective for each mission usually yields some extra single or multiplayer mission. There are also plenty of other unlockable fighters as well as bonus artwork, video previews and the amusing "outtakes" video.
If you manage to complete all of the hidden objectives (there's one for each mission), you'll gain the developer's commentary and even unlock another familiar craft that's usually not playable in a Star Wars game. I'll keep that one a secret. Let's just say it isn't this.
Despite its advances in gameplay, the game's visuals are kind of a letdown as there really isn't a noticeable change from the original, which was released about a year ago. Don't get me wrong - it doesn't look bad, it just looks rather bland compared to the graphical advances that we've seen with recent next-generation titles.
Audio quality retains that high Lucasarts standard with plenty of familiar sounding tracks as well as a few brand new ones. Sound effects are also exactly what you'd expect.
But even though Jedi Starfighter is a solid game, it still doesn't feel like it goes the distance to become a great game. Again, like the original, this incarnation lacks a dynamic storyline or even level structure. I know that you can't mess with the timeline of the universe, but it would have been nice to see a little more freedom within the layout of the game.
Nevertheless, Jedi Starfighter is yet another feather in the ever-growing cap of LucasArts' recent successes. It's always a pleasure to further explore the galaxy far, far away and this time we get cool new ships and some Force powers to play with. A Jedi's work is never done.