For once, I don't have a bad feeling about this.
Episode PS2: Starfighter
The galaxy is on the brink of war. On the Playstation 2, the Trade Federation is up to no good and it's up to a small team of brave pilots to stop them. The mighty forces of LucasArts have come together for this battle to create one of the most exciting space combat games yet seen on a console. With more action than you can shake a lightsaber at and a few jedi mind tricks to boot, this game is certainly skilled in the ways of the force.
Our group of heroes consists of Rhys Dallows (rookie pilot in Naboo's starfighter core), Vana Sage (a mercenary for hire) and Nym (a Robin Hood pirate captain). Vaguely reminiscent of the original trio of heroes (Luke, Leia, and Han), our Starfighter friends are just the beginning of a classic formula that works wonders.
The Starfighter heroes bring with them three types of fighter craft that will be used to combat the Trade Federation. While flying as Rhys, you'll take control of the geeky N-1 Starfighter that was highlighted in Episode 1. It's big, it's yellow, and it's got some sort of strange tail sticking out of it's rear end.
Fortunately, not all of the ships in the game are as corny as the N-1. LucasArts actually came up with some fresh designs that look almost as cool as the classic X-wing and TIE fighters. Vana pilots the Guardian Mantis, which looks like a cross between a B-wing and an upside down Imperial Shuttle and Nym flies the Havoc, which seems to be a mating of the Millennium Falcon and an A-wing. New enemy ships will also be seen, including the Interceptor-like Dagger.
Handling these babies is a snap thanks to Starfighter's simple and efficient control scheme. One stick controls the direction and the other handles rolls. The D-pad issues wingman commands when available and one of the triggers offers a sniping mode for long distance shots. The rest of the buttons are used for targeting and shooting, rounding out an easy-to-digest set of controls. Don't like the way it sounds? Then change it, thanks to the control setup option.
The missions in Starfighter break down exactly like any other space combat game: attack, defend, and escort. Each of the game's 14 missions have multiple objectives along with bonus goals that will eventually unlock an additional number of extra levels, including a Multiplayer race and Capture the Flag game. You'll also earn the right to use any of the main fighters on any level.
Unlocking all of the additional goodies will definitely be a challenge since there's plenty of fast and furious action going around. Players can toggle between a first and third person perspective to keep up with the madness. Generally speaking, Starfighter keeps up to speed very well, with only the occasional hiccup to slow things down.
Though the missions may boil down to classic objectives, the cool level designs turn them into something a little more special than your average space shooter. First off, you're not always in space. Flying between narrow canyons, through a waterfall, and along a river blasting Scarab fighters will take all the skills you can muster. Only one who is strong in the Force will be able to negotiate these obstacles.
One of the game's downers, though is the inability to go outside the level's invisible boundaries. Even in space, you are confined to a certain area. Attempt to travel outside these boundaries and you'll be met with a force barrier that will "bump" you back into the field of play. This can unfortunately cause some disorientation, sometimes leading to a nosedive during planet-based missions. Even Wedge Antilles would have a problem getting bumped around like this.
Graphically, Starfighter offers grade-A, top of the line goods. All of the visual details that you could expect are here. Each unit bears all the signs of use and stray shots will even have an impact on the landscape. The only thing missing here is some damage modeling for the fighters. But with sweet textures and nifty lighting, it's easily one of the best-looking PS2 titles to date.
Sound also gets a thumbs up. Musical scores and sound effects all ring true to the Star Wars universe. The voice acting is also pretty good, giving more life to our small band of heroes.
One of the only real flaws of Starfighter is its targeting system. While it is easy to lock on to an enemy that is on screen without a radar, locating a specific target offscreen can be a nightmare. Take one of the early missions; for example, escorting the Queen's ship. Dogfighting with the mercenaries is no problem, but if you lose track of the Queen's ship, it may be difficult to locate again. It's even worse on levels where the sheer number of enemies is staggering. All you can do is mash the targeting button for a while, wasting many precious seconds trying to locate your intended target.
While Starfighter is without a doubt a solid game, I can't help but wish for a more dynamic storyline or level structure. The ability to progress in the game without complete success would definitely boost the depth by leaps and bounds. Life after Colony Wars is tough.
Starfighter is a classic example of space combat fun. Just about every aspect is done right and some challenges are thrown into the mix as well. Even with its arcade style of play and limited depth, this is one game that can be enjoyed by everyone throughout the galaxy. Yub, yub.