Midi-chlorians have taken over the Xbox.
It's back to a galaxy far, far away in LucasArts' Xbox release of Star Wars: Starfighter. Dubbed the "Special Edition," this release of Starfighter has a slightly improved multiplayer game as well as a few extra bonus missions. It's still a solid game, but after about a year since the game's original release on the PS2, the Force seems to have weakened a bit in this one.
Star Wars: Starfighter takes place around the time of The Phantom Menace, with a new group of unlikely comrades joining together to battle the evil Trade Federation. There's Rhys Dallows, a 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.
Each of the Starfighter heroes brings with them a specific type 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 its 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 only difference between this version and the PS2 version is the big Xbox controller, which might just make your hands hurt after a round of intense dogfighting.
The missions in Starfighter break down exactly like any other space combat game: attack, defend, and escort. Each of the game's 14 missions has multiple objectives along with bonus goals that will eventually unlock an additional number of extra missions and extra ships.
For the Special Edition, two new bonus missions have been added as well as a small host of multiplayer ones. This multiplayer game takes a much bigger step than the original with five types of play, including Dogfight, Capture the Flag, Tag, Hunter, and Detonator Drop. These additions are fine, though the fun depends heavily on what map you play. And at any rate, playing with only two players just isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Also new is the ability to unlock the Zoomer and Scarab fighters. Opening up all of these 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 and there isn't much that will slow you 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 severe disorientation, sometimes leading to a nosedive during planet-based missions. Even Wedge Antilles would have a problem getting bumped around like this.
When the original Starfighter was released a year ago, it was one of the coolest looking games available at the time. But now - especially after seeing games like Rogue Leader - the graphics are just okay. Minor details have been added to the Special Edition, but for the most part it looks the same as the original.
The sound gets a thumbs-up with musical scores and sound effects all ringing 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 onscreen 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.
Star Wars Starfighter: Special Edition is a classic example of space combat fun. The Xbox port is still a solid game with a few extras thrown in for good measure. Despite its arcade style of play and limited depth, this is one game that can be enjoyed by most everyone throughout the galaxy. Yub, yub.