The Force will be with you… sometimes…
Because the universe is a sick and unfair place, there are still more serviceable Star Wars games out there than Star Trek ones. That being said, the Battlefield and Battlefront games still retain enough of the “Episodes 4-6” grit and charm to offset the “Episodes 1-3” snore-and-hokum. Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron expands its PSP predecessor’s assets on several, um, battlefronts at once and cobbles them together with a handful of visual and mechanical flaws to create a veritable Millennium FrankenFalcon of a third-person shooter. It’s enjoyable but dumbed-down in a Boost-Mobile-target-market kind of way.
[image1]Renegade Squadron takes its name from the (as-yet-unheard-of) group of mercs slapped together by Han Solo, in the dark-but-eventually-glorious days of the Galactic Rebellion: Through nostalgic campaign cut-scenes, Squad leader Col Serra regales you with the stories of his squadron’s participation in great battles, both sung and unsung, on the ground and in the vacuum – Hoth, Endor, Korriban, Kashyyyk, the remains of Alderaan (ouch!) and more. The battles are a mix of territorial conquest, CTF-style challenges, and ship-to-ship clashes in space.
The good news is that Renegade Squadron offers much that was lacking in its PSP precursor. Say goodbye to challenge mode and say a hearty “Welcome Back!” to Galactic Conquest mode, which fuses turn-based strategy on a grand scale with real-time hectic assaults on a smaller scale. It’s often a toss-up here whether you want to take control of individual clashes or let them resolve automatically. Sure, you can jump in there and wail on the AI opponents in Conquest mode, but frankly, there’s not much there. You are not here for the innovative leaps in artificial intelligence – at least, I hope not.
However, if you are here for the multi-player, the light side of The Force is smiling on you, or at least giving you a bit of the eye. Ad-hoc supports up to eight players, double the limit in the previous installment, and the online/infrastructure supports up to sixteen. Once again, the juicy morsel in the Tauntaun guts is Conquest mode, where teams vie for control of various capture-points across the fifteen battle maps, both new and retooled. The most intense battles the game offers lay here, whether they involve on-foot combat, AT-ATs/STs, speeder bikes, and stupid-but-well-meaning AI bots (to round out whatever may be lacking in the current humanoid population of the game server).
[image2]However, Hero mode is the coolest of the capture-the-flag variants. Getting to control one of the powerful, big-kahuna Heroes from the Star Wars unverse is great. Of course, being the flag-bearer, every player on the other team will have a rocket, beam, explosive charge, blaster-bolt, or sniper round with your name on it.
In general, things have just loosened up. Rather than being limited to rigid classes, you can shell out credits to customize your character to suit your style of play or even your situation. Credits can purchase weapons, power-ups, explosive charges, jet packs, and other special items. If you’ve reached and captured an enemy spawn-point, you can swap your loadout there for another. You can also customize the look and faction (Imperial, Rebel, Confederacy, Republic) of your character. Pity there’s no difference in weapon packages whatever you choose.
Sound close to perfect up to this point, doesn’t it? It’s not. While the control is arguably superior to those of the previous game, there are some infrequent but hair-tearing snags. Targeting is still an issue, and strangely enough, the problems often come from it having been over-simplified. A no-brainer lock-on scheme for ground battles makes it easy to track any enemy at the expense of being able to look around with ease. Turning to confront a foe behind you is just slow enough to give you problems, but it’s as good an incentive as any to not let things get behind you if you can help it. It’s possible to revert to the older control scheme, but it’s a horrible idea if you’re playing online, where all your potential enemies will be using the auto-lock.
[image3]In space battles, it’s even more egregiously simplified. You can auto-pilot your X-Wing or TIE fighter or Y-Wing or what-have-you right to your target, turning a mission into a fire-button jamming fest. These games, though, have always really been more about the ground battles. There is something rewarding and epic about taking the controls of space vehicles – just don’t expect to find the bulk of the challenge here.
In the end, it’s the customized character loadouts and the chaos of a fully-manned (or fully-womanned, as unlikely as that may be) multiplayer game – not to mention the still-rousing Star Wars audioscape – that make Renegade Squadron. The single-player campaign is on the short side and the AI definitely isn’t the most tricked-out droid in the sandcrawler, but the medal-unlock challenges and multiplayer definitely give this shooter some space-legs.