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November 15, 2005

LucasArts delivers in full Force with Battlefront II

Do you remember Dark Forces? That awesome Star Wars game that everyone had the demo disk for back in 1998? That game was awesome. It had straightforward action with a plot that was compelling, but didn’t overly interfere with gameplay. That was one of the first really good LucasArts games. Unfortunately, it was also one of the last. From the mediocre Jedi Outcast to the totally unplayable Force Commander, LucasArts seemed to think that it could release half-baked games that would sell simply from the sheer force of the Star Wars label (no pun intended).

But in the past year or so, LucasArts has finally started to get its stuff together. First there was Knights of the Old Republic, and then Star Wars: Battlefront. Both games were immensely enjoyable, but going into Star Wars: Battlefront II, I was wary. Would this be a step backwards for LucasArts? Had the horrible prequels hopelessly infested all of the Star Wars products? Would this be just another sequel where lazy developers add on a few more levels and expect you to pay an additional $50 for what is essentially the same crap, only stacked higher?

The gods be praised, it was most definitely not. Star Wars: Battlefront II succeeds in keeping all the good things about the original, while adding a whole host of new features to create a game that is far above the first Battlefront.

But let’s start with the important stuff: You get to play a Jedi. From Darth Vader to General Grievous, Battlefront II allows the player to do what every Star Wars fan everywhere has always wanted to do, go totally Charles-Manson-insane with a light saber. And this isn’t just decapitating a handful of enemies like in the Episode III game. You get to play Luke Skywalker at the Battle of Hoth or Count Dooku at the Battle of Geonosis. You’re able to fight legions of opponents and change the course of legendary battles in the Star Wars universe. And it’s not just Jedi; you can play pretty much every hero you can think of from Boba Fett to Princess Leia. And yes, you can play Yoda.

Usually, once a team earns a certain amount of points, the option of playing that map’s hero is awarded to the player currently in the lead. The heroes have health bars that diminish with time and are replenished by killing enemies. But rarely do the heroes die because they run out of time. With a host of special powers at their command, including favorites such as Force Lightning and Force Choke, the heroes are killing machines on the battlefield.

With all this power, I was initially afraid that the heroes would unbalance battles, allowing the team that earned them first to completely dominate the field. And honestly, who wants to play Princess Leia and go toe-to-toe with Darth Vader? Thankfully, the heroes seem to do what all the new features in Battlefront II do: add depth and fun to the game without throwing its mechanics out of whack. A talented and clever trooper can take down a hero with a little help from his teammates. And Princess Leia can, surprisingly, hold her ground quite well against the Dark Lord.

In addition to the heroes, there are a couple more subtle additions to Battlefront II. First, the game’s creators obviously spent a great deal of time fine-tuning the different classes of characters the player can choose from. Whereas in the original Battlefront, nearly everyone would gravitate to a couple key classes because they ended up just being more powerful than the others, in Battlefront II, every class is worth playing. Instead of just seeing a bunch of rocket-launcher-toting characters, in Battlefront II you see Wookie bowcasters, blaster rifles, and the intriguing laser shotgun dotting the battlefield. This makes the game extraordinarily enjoyable because you don’t know what’s going to jump out at you from the dark corners of Mos Eisley. It could be a Jawa, a Storm Trooper, or Obi-Wan “sweet Mother of God he’s going to cut me in half!” Kenobi.

So imagine all these awesome new features. Now imagine the game’s creators thinking, “You know what, this isn’t enough. Let’s create what will essentially be a whole other game to play in addition to the ground battles.” And that, my friends, is what the space battles are. Now, instead of just duking it out in the jungles of Yavin 4 or on the icy plains of Hoth, you can battle in the space above them. With the Rebel X-Wings or Republic Starfighters, you can shoot enemies out of the sky, or board the opposing capital ship and tear it apart from the inside.

For the two of you who will be buying this game without the intention of playing it online, you’re in for a treat. The single player campaign is a lot of fun and surprisingly engaging, but ultimately Battlefront II is a multiplayer game. Human players will always surprise you and keep you guessing, giving this game an unbelievable replay value.

So, LucasArts has indeed succeeded in creating a worthy sequel to the entertaining Battlefront, and has thus kept my faith in the video game producer. Hopefully this will spill over into any future movies, but I’m not holding my breath.