A Retrospective of Star Wars Games
By Frank Hartnett on February 22nd, 2013 (10 comments)
With the upcoming release of Star Wars 1313, it came to my attention that we haven't really seen a good Star Wars game in a while. We saw more iterations of Lego Star Wars and the travesty that was Star Wars Kinect, but where did the Jedi Academy, Kotor, and Republic Commando style games disappear to? More importantly, what does it mean for the future of Star Wars games? I'm not going to go through and talk about every damn Star Wars game that's come out, but a look back on this past decade will still serve the same purpose. I should also note that this certainly isn't even all of the Star Wars game that came out in the past decade, just the major releases for the most part. So, without further ado, let's travel back in time for a spell.
Star Wars: Bounty Hunter
In 2002, Lucas Arts published a game known as Star Wars: Bounty Hunter for the Gamecube and PS2. This game generally stands out from others simply because you do not play as a Jedi. In fact, you play as none other than Jango Fett in a prequel to Attack of the Clones.This game gives insight into how Jango became roped into the events of the Clone Wars all while he chases a Dark Jedi across the galaxy to cash in on a bounty. This game handed the player complete control of all of Jango's weaponry including his flamethrower, missile launchers, and you could even fly around with his jet pack. This game was far from perfect, but the ability to play as a bounty hunter and actually hunt the scum and villainy of the galaxy through side missions as well as the main plot made this game one of a kind.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic/ Star Wars: Galaxies
In 2003, two monumental Star Wars games were released to help us get the bad taste of the prequels out of our mouths. By this point, Kotor should need no introduction as it is not only heralded as one of the best Star Wars games of all time, but also one of the best RPGs of all time. Galaxies was the first Star Wars MMO and was also a very well received Star Wars game. This was a truly sand box style Star Wars game: the worlds were massive, there was great character customization, and the game, for the time, was great to look at with classic Star Wars music playing constantly. Players would have to wait a year until they got the chance to actually own a starship and fly around the galaxy, but Galaxies further cemented Star Wars' relevancy in pop culture.
Star Wars: Battlefront
2004 saw the release of yet another widely loved Star Wars game. Battlefront was developed by Pandemic Studios and was an FPS/TPS that placed you in the role of generic soldier 6,274 as you played out all of the famous ground battles from the movies and the rest of the Rebellion era. This game came packaged with a variety of game modes such as Conquest which added a strategy element to the game, Instant Action allowed you to choose and queue up whichever battles you wanted, and there was always the campaign which had the player swapping factions several times throughout. On top of everything else, the PC/MAC versions of Battlefront could boast 64 player matches (the console version being capable of 32 player matches) making this a must have game for its time.
TOO MANY GAMES!!!
2005 was a big year for Star Wars games. In total, there were 5 releases: the Star Wars: Episode 3 movie tie-in game, Knights of the Old Republic 2, Republic Commando, Battlefront 2, and Lego Star Wars: The Video Game. I've already talked about the Episode 3 tie-in game in an earlier article, so I'll go ahead and avoid that one so I don't just regurgitate information. Battlefront 2 was the next step in this series and only sought to improve upon the previous game. The biggest addition this time around was space battles. In reality, these didn't add much depth to the game, but it was still tons of fun to fly around the enemy capital ship and destroy its systems with bombardment or by landing in the hangar bay and using sabotage. Aside from refining the mechanics of the previous game and bringing in some new maps, there were also new game modes added in such as Hunt which pits the indigenous species of different planets against each other or against soldiers. The most interesting part of Battlefront 2 was actually the campaign which, surprisingly, was an autobiography of a clone trooper that started from Geonosis and went all the way to the Battle of Hoth. With all these great improvements on an already fantastic game, it is a shame we will probably never see the continuation of this series in a Battlefront 3.
Kotor 2 was the direct sequel to Bioware's RPG; however, it was developed by Obsidian since Bioware was working on Jade Empire at the time. Despite the change in developers, Kotor 2 still turned out to be a fantastic game that retained all of the RPG elements of the previous title while adding some visual flare to the combat animations to keep the player's attention. The new cast of characters are, for the most part, very well written (Kreia especially) and the game even knew the right moments to throw in some comedy and 4th wall breaking. The game had its drawbacks with an agonizingly slow start and some areas from Bioware's title being cut down inexplicably, but Obsidian still managed to do a fantastic job at creating a new story while providing insight into the events of Kotor. The game may have been unfinished upon its initial release, but there is finally a mod that restores all of the cut content players missed out on back in 2005.
Republic Commando was an FPS that continued the trend of not using a Jedi to fill the lead role and; instead, chose to use a clone trooper who leads an elite squad of commandos. This was a tactical, squad based shooter that required the player to give commands to his squad mates and make use of their specialties for overcoming obstacles. The player and Delta Squad take part in several dangerous and covert sabotage missions in order to undermine the Separatist war effort. The narrative is largely forgettable and only a few levels really stand out and leave a lasting impression, but the game has several stand out small details such as your gun having interchangeable parts for various firing modes or oil being splattered onto your visor when you take down a droid at close range. This is, yet again, another example of a good game that could have used a sequel, but that project never made it past concept art. Perhaps, one day, we'll revisit Delta Squad and kick some Separatist ass once more.
Lego Star Wars is the final game we come to for the year 2005. As can be expected from the title, this game is based off of the Star Wars Lego toys and has players going through the prequels as their favorite(?) characters in the form of plastic toys. Since this is a Lego game, it is geared towards children and is filled with several bits of slapstick comedy to go alongside characters exploding into little bits whenever they are defeated. This game is also filled with unlockables, 56 playable characters, and a wide array of purchasable cheats that add to the silliness of it all. This game is simple, easy, and; really, what children first coming into Star Wars needed amongst all the teen rated and more violent games of the franchise.
Lego Star Wars 2/ Empire at War
2006 brought on the sequel to the largely successful Lego Star Wars game. This sequel was far more successful than its predecessor, really, just because it was based on the original trilogy. This game basically just took the original and put it in a different setting with different characters while only tweaking a few mechanics. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, just means I don't have much to comment on. If anything, this just shows how popular the original trilogy still is to this day and people will still flock to anything related to it.
A game I can comment on; however, is Star Wars: Empire at War, an RTS developed by Petroglyph Games. This game takes place during the original trilogy and allows the player to control either the Rebellion or the Empire as both factions fight for control of the galaxy. The central game modes start the player off with an overview of the galaxy that displays all of the planets involved in the conflict. While here, players can build up their forces and bases on the planets they control, research new technologies, and spy on the enemy all in real time. Once the two sides collide, the game zooms in and the player now takes direct control of either their ships for space battles, or their troops/tanks for ground battles. Admittedly, this game really did nothing to revolutionize the RTS genre, but one feature that always stood out for me is the ability for the players/AI to drop in their ships from their build queue to anywhere on the map wherever there is no fog of war during a space battle. This means a skirmish with only a few ships can quickly become a chaotic mess as both sides just constantly build and drop in ships to see who will run dry of resources first. The game suffers from balance issues (which the expansion makes worse) and the game is pretty ugly, but it was a fun distraction at the time and, hey, we don't get many Star Wars strategy games to begin with.
The Force Unleashed
2007 was when the Star Wars games started to quiet down. There was yet another Lego Star Wars game, a PSP Battlefront, and a game+expansion package for Empire at War. 2008, was marked with only a single major release for Star Wars games and that was The Force Unleashed. This game follows the surprisingly well written story of Darth Vader's secret apprentice, Starkiller, as he is ordered to hunt down and kill the Rebellion's figure heads and, ultimately, take down the Emperor. While the game has a pretty good story and entertaining physics engine, the hack and slash gameplay can get repetitive and you never really feel like the ultimate bad ass that the game advertised. The game constantly throws in new and more powerful enemies that leave the impression Starkiller is like any other Jedi/Sith out there who just got lucky the one time he tried to pull down a Star Destroyer. While this game certainly wasn't bad, it did herald in the decline of Star Wars games that we have seen these past 4 years.
The Force Unleashed 2
2009 was another dull year for Star Wars games marked with a terrible tie in game to The Clone Wars and another portable Battlefront game; the last we would ever see of that series. 2010 had only a single major Star Wars release and that was The Force Unleashed 2. While the first game was hit or miss with critics, it was still the fastest selling Star Wars game of all time and the fastest selling game Lucas Arts ever published; a sequel was inevitable. This time around, the player controls a clone of Starkiller as he carves a swathe through Imperial troops in search of his true identity. While the sequel refined the mechanics of the previous game and tried to add variety, it also suffered from a lackluster story and a rushed development cycle that resulted in a short campaign and questionable design choices. While the first game was a commercial success, the critical and commercial failure of the sequel all but ensured that Starkiller's tale was over.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
Two Star Wars games were released during 2011: yet another Lego Star Wars game (nothing new to add there) and The Old Republic. In a surprising move by Bioware, the long awaited sequel to the Kotor series would come in the form of a “story driven MMO”. This game set out to try and make story telling an essential part of the MMO genre and certainly did deliver good stories and voice acting. The problems started to show when this game was far more boxed in, so to speak, than Galaxies was and Bioware's promise to use as many individual voice actors as possible resulted in this becoming the most expensive video game ever developed. Critically, this game was a success and SWTOR had the biggest MMO launch up until that point with 1.3 million registered players within its first week. Sadly, this “story driven MMO” never saw additional story content post launch, presumably due to the game's already staggering budget, and the lack of any real content updates drove players away at an increasing rate. SWTOR has since gone free to play and is, finally, getting ready to release its first major story update. To me, all this means is that the tales of Revan and the Exile may never get the resolution they deserve. If nothing else, this shows you cannot sustain a game in the long term on the Star Wars name alone.
Oh God, What Was Lucas Arts Thinking
2012 had Angry Birds Star Wars and Star Wars Kinect. NEED I SAY MORE?!
Our Last Hope
As far as we are aware, 2013 will only feature one major Star Wars title and that is 1313. Not much is known about this project except that you play as a bounty hunter on Coruscant and that it may have gameplay similar to Uncharted. I want this game to be good; it needs to be good. It has been a long damn time since we've seen a universally loved Star Wars game. Even something on the level of Force Unleashed would be a welcome change of pace from the countless Lego Star Wars'and that, ugh, Kinect game. Not only that, but 1313 could very well determine the future of Star Wars games altogether. When Disney bought Lucas Films, Lucas Arts went with it and, frankly, Disney's gaming ventures haven't exactly been very successful. As such, Disney is apparently scaling back their games to reside solely within iOS or mobile devices. If 1313 crashes and burns come release day, who's to say Lucas Arts won't suffer the same cut backs? I don't know about the rest of you, but I could not live in a world where Star Wars games resided solely on handhelds and phones. This is just my interpretation of the situation, but I'm still putting a lot of faith in 1313; hoping that it can return us to the days of good Star Wars games.
Frank (Seisan) is a blog contributor and chat moderator over at 4Player. He specializes in analyzing the story telling, immersion, and consistency aspects of video games and also enjoys writing Fiction in his spare time. His favorite genres are RPGs, MMOs, and RTS'. Frank also specializes in having a chat name no one can pronounce correctly; nicknamed Seesaw as a result.
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