Bolt from the blue
There used to be a time when a LucasArts game meant a high level of entertainment and ingenuity, but these days the company is guilty of feeding the corporate mouth rather than honouring its fans, and Obi-Wan is a perfect example of this. Starting in the depths of Coruscant on a scouting mission, the game's star comes face to face with a bold new enemy, the Jin'ha, and it quickly becomes clear that they are allied with the greedy, malevolent Trade Federation. Ultimately though this richly woven tapestry of Star Wars is soiled by foul visuals, slowdowns, shoddy AI and boring level design. It all feels like it was designed in a hurry. Presentation wise Obi-Wan is often as slick as its console brethren, and on a system as powerful as the Xbox you would expect that, but the game slips up in several areas. In this galaxy far, far away the scrolling text star screen looks hideous, and the characters in the in-engine cutscenes have no facial animation whatsoever. Voice acting, used throughout these short scenes and during gameplay is not bad, but the mimicry of Ewan McGregor is a bit too actively Scottish to be his Obi-Wan, and the rest of the cast is equally unconvincing. Obi-Wan's chief weapon is the ubiquitous lightsaber, although throwaway sniper rifles and other toys are strewn across some of the levels. The right analogue stick controls the lightsaber regardless of the direction you move Obi-Wan with the left analogue stick, and a double-tap of the right stick in any direction will perform a different two-stage attack. Unfortunately this cunning saberplay is overly simplistic and leads to random thrashing of the right analogue stick in combat. During use of the right stick, you also lose the ability to deflect shots from blasters. That said, the technique for doing so is a bit chaotic…
I knew things were starting out badly when the training level got the better of me. Apart from moving at a snail's pace it becomes excruciatingly difficult when learning the technique of 'Active Blocking', or deflecting blaster fire back to the sender. I'm not quite sure what I was missing here, but it seemed nigh on impossible to complete this seemingly mundane task. The frustration of trying this over and over again carried into the first level of the single player game, which plumbs the depths of adequacy, featuring a series of connected ramps suspended in the air, packed with unrecognisable aliens dressed in bright red wielding a mixture of batons and blasters. Missions vary in length, from the very short to the tediously drawn out. All of the areas are packed with bad guys, and defeating them takes an eternity, especially when it emerges that the Jin'ha are using Force-repelling armour. Between the start of the game and the boarding of the Trade Federation ship as mediators - in other words the starting point for the film - Obi-Wan's missions involve defeating ceaseless hordes of enemies and finding his way through idiotic puzzles. Often these consist of jumping down from ledge to ledge and not falling to certain death, a task made agonizing by the blurry low-resolution textures all over the huge passageways and tunnels. Elsewhere, players team up with an AI-controlled Qui-Gon Jinn, whose antics with the lightsaber are merry, but whose pathfinding I honestly think I could have done a better job of programming. Wandering through a swamp with vaguely reflective water (nothing we haven't seen done better elsewhere), the so-called Jedi Master runs off to slice every enemy into pieces, but fails to run up a small hill, instead bouncing off the edge until he manages to get onto it. And if Obi-Wan finds himself in Qui-Gon's way, the idiot stops still and doesn't go around. Lazy, sloppy, shoddy. And I didn't even touch on the Turok-esque fog used throughout that level presumably to shield the lousy draw distance from view.
One of the more interesting elements of the game is the Force. By holding down the left trigger players can enter Force mode, and then press any of the buttons on the pad to execute Force manoeuvres. Enhanced jumping, Force push, Force pull, Force throw, Force view and lightsaber throw are the basic ones, with a stronger force lightsaber attack available to the Jedi with a full power bar. Using a mixture of the Force powers and standard lightsaber attacks it is possible to take a fairly varied approach to combat, tossing blocks at a Droid's head before shoving another off the top of a stanchion and slicing his mate in half… Sadly though the game is let down by its terrible visuals. Partly because I know LucasArts can do better, and partly because this game has absolutely no excuse for looking this bad on this hardware; I'm really quite appalled. Character models are lit with pre-rendered shadows but the harsh angled outlines of the low-poly models and the complete lack of lighting in the levels - giving it all a Dark Forces vibe - leaves the game's main protagonist and his entourage looking slightly out of place and almost cel shaded. The lightsaber combat animations are good, and not as predefined as you might expect, but apart from other Jedi Council members and the occasional nefarious Sith type, lightsaber combat is a dull affair. The drone-packed levels make tedious work, and if you try to run away you often end up with about twenty bad guys following you, at which point you reach the final scene of the level. Now, at this stage what often seems to happen is that Obi-Wan is overcome by his pursuers, dies horribly, and then the player takes one of his five retries, of which a couple may be remaining. Upon respawning fairly close to his point of death, Obi-Wan finds most of his enemies absent, because having been dragged like an impromptu conga through various corridors and poorly textured mining facilities they don't stick around once he's dead, instead returning to their posts - d'oh! Even more annoyingly, if you gather more than a handful of bad guys anywhere in the game the framerate slows to a crawl.
Interspersing the longer, more tedious levels of the game (the first half is consistently disengaging) are a series of fights with leading Jedi Council members as part of your ongoing training. Pass these tests and you can unlock bonus encounters with other Council members, and those you have defeated are then accessible through the two player Jedi Battles mode which is available from the main menu. Although you can't use the Jedi Battles mode as a lone player, the sparring sessions in the main campaign are much the same. These take place in a circular training hall, with each of your mentors using different areas of the Force to press their advantage. Defeating them comes easily after a while though, and often the trick is simply to go at them full pelt and try to lure them into the open where they aren't so tempted to use their Force powers. The overall picture of Obi-Wan then is a poor one. The fifteen-stage single player adventure is tedious, and as most of it follows the plot of The Phantom Menace there's little for even hardened Star Wars followers to look forward to uncovering. The enemies and environments are bland, although the Trade Federation ship, the subsequent trip to Tatooine and the game's climax are fairly true to their big screen inspiration. But that doesn't really matter, because the game's designers didn't see fit to try too hard with the level design anyway. Sprawling they may be, and often time-consuming, but the bottom line is that this game is no fun to play for a variety of reasons. This is not so much a missed opportunity as one cast aside in favour of cashing in before the release of Episode II, which will obviously render Obi-Wan's storyline somewhat outdated. However desperate you may be for some Star Wars adventuring, do not spend Ł40 on this.