Jango Fett is unquestionably the coolest Star Wars baddy ever. He looks like the sci-fi equivalent of King Arthur, packs more weaponry than Saddam's so-called palaces and knows all the tricks of the trade - and his trade is bounty hunting, which is, like the man himself, staggeringly cool. By way of a comparison, Darth Vader was a chamber pot-wearing bin liner with a glowstick.
LucasArts is clearly aware of this, because one of the first Episode II games to be announced in the aftermath of the film's release was none other than Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, a third person adventure promising to exploit every aspect of Fett's arsenal and answer a few of the many questions we had about his past. How did he come to be the template for an entire army, how did his involvement with Count Dooku come about, and why does he attach so much importance to siring an heir?
The good news is that Bounty Hunter does utilise Fett's expansive arsenal to its fullest, and does answer many of these questions. The bad news is that Lucas has one again married the familiar places, faces and production values of his infrequent CG cartoons with the basic, uninspired gameplay of your typical third person action template.
The Hunt Begins
Set just after Episode One's climactic Battle of Naboo, Bounty Hunter begins with Jango racing, jet pack-less through a space station in search of a vicarious victim, and spans six chapters comprising 18 reasonable length levels of basic third person action, set in locations ranging from Coruscant to Tattooine. This one charts Darth Tyranus (Count Dooku)'s hiring of various bounty hunters to take out the leader of a dodgy faction called the Bando Gora. And, unbeknownst to the hunters, the successful applicant will be used as a template for the Republic clone army, which Darth Sideous is hatching as part of his ongoing plan for intergalactic domination.
However, despite aiming to serve up a seedy slice of the Republic's underbelly, Bounty Hunter rarely escapes the shiny and smooth yet forcedly gritty environments evident in Episode II.
The graphics are generally quite drab - textures and world design change from chapter to chapter, but merely range from meshes of dark greys and browns to light greys and unblemished whites, which wouldn't look out of place in a sparkling Star Trek adventure. Enemies are typically ornate alien species, but as with all such creatures have been crammed into tight, angular polygon jackets to questionable effect for the purposes of the game. Jango himself looks splendid, mind, with his shiny helmet and explosive peripherals, and the way his arms track enemies as he runs around blasting - Twin Caliber developers Rage should take note, this is how you avoid 'Village People syndrome' in tracking multiple targets...
Admittedly, we can't vouch for the game's appearance in progressive scan mode (which is available, despite the absence of 60Hz, widescreen or surround sound options), but we doubt it makes much difference beyond ironing out a few of the jaggies, and we doubt very many of you will ever use it anyway.
Jango versus Bando
Jango is up against all manner of criminal scum on his trek to find the leader of the Bando Gora, spanning many alien races and even including rival bounty hunters (whose ruthlessness is highlighted in inter-mission cut scenes). But the potential depth of Jango's character has been all but ignored, with the actual bounty hunting and any semblance of adventure virtually superfluous to your mission objectives.
There's still some fun to be had though. Our shiny anti-hero is tooled up to the nines with everything you've seen in the film; the twin blasters (which lock onto individual targets at the touch of a button), the dart and tether gun (which caused Obi-Wan some trouble), the gauntlet-mounted flamethrower (which Mace Windu had to dodge) and thermal grenades (which are just plain unpleasant). Jango even picks up heavier blasters, a grenade launcher and a sniper rifle during the course of the game.
Then of course there's the Mandalorian Warrior's famous jet pack, which he regains several levels into the game. You can't fly continuously, because the battery cells lose charge after a few seconds, forcing you to land and leave them to replenish themselves, but swooping through the skies whilst simultaneously firing blasters every which-way is the reason we paid our entrance fee - Bounty Hunter certainly does let you do all the things the screenshots suggested.
When you examine the control system though it's obvious why - virtually everything has been over-simplified. Basic movement and orientation is left to the sticks, left for movement and right for camera, while the shoulder buttons let you auto-target one or two enemies (R1), manually target things like explosive barrels which somehow take out forcefields (R2) and use the jet pack (L1). You can turn in midair using the left stick or let go to rise straight up - it's a bit quirky to begin with but quickly becomes second nature.
Sadly though, the effortless combat dynamic can't save you from the tedious level design. Nor can the actual 'bounty hunting' of the title, which fills out your secondary objectives list.
Each level is packed with as many as 15 secondary bounties (in addition to the main 'follow random plot device 1' or 'find person 2' objective). The idea is to grab as many bounties as you can by exploring every nook and cranny, and the more you find, the more hidden extras you can unlock (like a Jango Fett comic book).
But the problem is that to ensnare a bounty, you have to perform one of the silliest routines ever, and something which is almost the polar opposite of the game's otherwise intuitive control system. It works something like this: when you enter a room (e.g. a bar where lots of people are milling about), you can press up on the D pad to equip your scanner. This brings up a greened scanning view, and by pressing a button to lock on, and turning yourself gradually around, the scanner homes in on people and flashes up details when it finds a registered bounty. You then push another button to mark the bounty, switch to your dart gun using the D pad again and then walk up and press another button to fire. Finally, you can saunter up to the tightly bound, no doubt whimpering bounty and press triangle to reap the rewards. It's like trying to make a cup of tea with a nuclear arms programme.
After a couple of levels, you just won't bother. The rewards for doing so are too slight and the trouble of doing it is too great. It does add a bit of replay value to the game - diving back in to try and unearth all the bounties can be fun, but the levels are arduous for the most part, and we certainly can't imagine ourselves wanting to find all 10 bounties on the agonising multi-conveyor belt level, for example.
Coup de Fett
And so, with the Bando Gora threat extinguished, it's clear that LucasArts has made another pretty and stylish foray into their galaxy far, far away, encompassing virtually all of Jango's myriad exciting abilities just as it said it would. Meanwhile, production values are on a par with the likes of Jedi Starfighter and The Clone Wars, but ultimately the familiarity of the Star Wars characters, the injection of John Williams' ubiquitous score and the addition of quirks like secondary bounty hunting can't mask the shallow, unexciting gameplay from view. This is a very simple, very brainless third person shooter for people who want to be Jango Fett - it won't challenge for a spot on your Christmas list, but it won't have you crossing anybody off yours if it finds its way into your stocking.