It seems like just yesterday when the arrival of a new Star Wars game from Lucas Arts would have been cause for celebration. But then came a string of duds and disappointments, second rate spin-offs released to cash in on the over-hyped new movie The Phantom Menace. And so today the arrival of a new Star Wars game is met with a mixture of dread and morbid curiosity.
Any Port In A Storm
The latest such release is Star Wars : Battle For Naboo. A fast-paced arcade-style shooter featuring seven vehicles to pilot, ranging from land speeders to star fighters, this is a Rogue Squadron for the Phantom Menace generation. As Lieutenant Gavyn Sykes of the Royal Naboo Security Forces you must battle your way through fifteen missions, freeing prisoners, escorting vehicles, defending Naboo farms from Trade Federation raiders and generally mopping up the mess left behind after Queen Amidala buggered off to Coruscant to plead for help from the Senate.
There's nothing particularly complex or subtle about the game. The controls are simple once you get used to them, particularly if you have a gamepad or joystick to hand, and most of the missions simply boil down to blasting the hell out of every red dot that pops up on your radar scope. There's even a handy orange triangle that shows you which direction your next objective is in, although in a couple of missions the developers seem to have forgotten to use this.
Alarm bells began to ring though when I realised this is essentially the same Battle For Naboo that was released on the N64 late last year. The menu system is designed for use with a gamepad, right down to the arcade-style wheel for selecting your three letter name, and sadly the rest of the game shows about as much effort in adapting it for the PC.
Battle for Naboo pushed Nintendo's antique console to the limits in terms of graphics, but compared to most modern PC games it is still unattractive. The terrain is expansive but not particularly detailed, and invisible barriers are used to keep you within the playing area in some missions. The vehicle models are reasonably good, but people and droids look more like cardboard cut-outs than characters - your pilot is made out of two flat sprites arranged at right angles to give an illusion of depth. Surface vehicles don't explode so much as gradually sink into the ground, and special effects in general are disappointing.
The only concession to the vastly increased horsepower which is available in our beige boxes seems to be an increase in the draw distance compared to the N64 version, although enemies frequently appear out of thin air and there is still scenery pop-up evident on a few of the larger levels. There isn't even any fogging to mask this problem - mountains simply appear on the horizon as you move towards them. On a five year old console this might be considered acceptable, but on a high spec PC it just looks plain silly. Add to this the hideous MIDI renditions of John Williams' orchestral score and poor voice acting, and you have a package which looks and sounds dated.
But the biggest problem that Battle For Naboo suffers from is that it is just too short. There are fifteen missions, but they only take five or ten minutes each to complete, and only a few offer any real challenge. I had reached the final mission within three hours, and the hardest part was actually hitting anything - you have to score a direct hit for a shot to register, and with everyone zipping around you at high speed this is trickier than it sounds, especially as your laser shots move rather slowly.
It's fun while it lasts, but sadly that isn't very long, and with a Ł30 price tag, no multiplayer support and little reason to go back and play through the campaign a second time, Battle For Naboo is terrible value for money. For the same price you can pick up the entire Star Wars trilogy on video - it lasts twice as long as this game and is more likely to get played again...