Great Shot, Kid!
Starfighter was one of the PS2's early success stories, and it also stands out as one of the only positive things to come out of the Episode I movie, apart from double-ended lightsabers. With Episode II debuting next month, the inevitable sequel Jedi Starfighter has now been released, consisting largely of the same gameplay dynamic that made the first game so rewarding, coupled with improved visuals, plot, voice acting, cut scenes, and the added benefit of Force powers. The bizarrely tentacled space pirate Nym returns with his ship the Havoc, and this time is joined by Adi Gallia, the Jedi Master at the controls of the prototype Jedi Starfighter, whose orders come directly from Mace Windu, one of Episode II's chief protagonists. After demoing the Jedi Starfighter in a comfortable set of training levels, Adi turns her attention to the Trade Federation's activities in the Karthak system and meets up with Nym and his companions, whose trust she earns in a couple of early missions, dogfighting both in space and on the surface of one of the planets. Before long they're fighting the Trade Federation and the threat of Count Dooku's underling Cavik Toth, the game's lead bad guy. His plan to use banned Hex weapons against civilisation must be put to a stop, and your daring duo set out to do so over the course of fifteen increasingly difficult levels, showcasing an impressive array of units, many of them lifted from the two Star Wars prequels. The Jedi Starfighter and the Havoc enjoy an equal share of the levels, with the former's agility and Force-endowed pilot useful for ship-to-ship combat, whilst the latter is more suited to blowing big things up with an array of missiles.
That's No Moon
One of the heaviest criticisms levelled at the original Starfighter was the incessant slowdown witnessed on the surface levels, despite its less than impressive visuals. Jedi Starfighter has a stab at improving this state of affairs, but unfortunately the slowdown returns, particularly on the surface levels. And you can forget any hopes you had for a smooth split-screen mode. Jedi Starfighter is a lot better looking than its predecessor, but the team seems incapable of handling minutiae beyond hulking spaceships packed with turrets and the ships controlled by the two main characters and their entourage. For example, midway through the game Adi has to chaperone Nym and his demolition crew as they work their way between shield generators on the ground, and this involves picking off a lot of Droids and AATs which spew forth from nearby bunkers. I was a bit concerned that Droids might be hard to spot against the scenery, but fortunately the ground and building textures are so poorly detailed that I had no difficulty. Explosions are also a bit lacklustre; in the event of a big ship blowing up the screen flashes white, and if you're watching you'll get to see a nice lightshow, but it's not even on the same page as the Death Star explosion in the remastered Star Wars. On the whole the game looks nice, but a little more variety wouldn't have gone amiss. Aurally the game is much easier to enjoy. John Williams writes a good score and it's nice to see LucasArts using his work to great effect. In terms of sound effects Jedi Starfighter hits the mark too, right down to the sound of Adi's lightsaber deflecting laser blasts in one of the cutscenes. The voice acting is also exceptional; Nym's voice is more growl than anything, but fits very well, while Adi sounds like a school teacher, which is exactly how she's played. Even characters from the films such as Yoda are mimicked superbly.
Use The Force
The interface remains virtually unchanged from Starfighter. In the bottom right of the screen lurks your targeting panel, with on-screen arrows to highlight your target as well as friendly ships and objectives. In the bottom left of the screen is your basic array of weapons, which in Nym's case is projectiles, while Adi uses it to access her Force powers. Giving pilots control of the Force works surprisingly well, with the four different powers revealed gradually throughout the game. Force Shield protects your ship (creating a somewhat comical bubble around the whole thing if you use the external view), while Force Lightning can be used to electrify enemy ships, Sideous style. This can be handy if a ship flies over your shoulder after taking a couple of hits, and the lightning also jumps between craft within range, making it perfect for striking packs of bad guys before they've even come into blaster range. Force Shockwave is slightly more hit and miss, but devastating during the game's surface missions. The best of the lot though is Force Reflex, or Force Bullet Time as it's known around here. As with Obi-Wan on the Xbox and Jedi Knight 2 on the PC, players can slow down the world around them, giving you all the time in the world to line up shots and take out those irritating plasma turrets.
One of the most endearing things about Jedi Starfighter is its entertaining if cliché ridden narrative - the reluctant hero meets an authority figure and they bond and grow to appreciate each other throughout the game. The storyline is peppered with the usual tripe justifying your latest trip through an asteroid belt, but it all gels together nicely in the end and Cavik Toth is a suitably unpleasant fellow. Unfortunately the game does seem to reveal quite a few details about the forthcoming Episode II in the third act, so beware of potential spoilers. Missions usually involve blowing stuff up, but sometimes include keeping specific units safe and other standard tasks. As in Starfighter there are also bonus and hidden objectives to complete on every level, and doing so unlocks various bonuses from the main menu, including a Star Wars Bounty Hunter trailer (starring Jango Fett) and a cute and surprisingly funny anime-inspired "day in the life of" cartoon featuring a LucasArts employee named Amy, set to a jazzy performance of a popular Star Wars tune. Other extras include the ability to use X-Wings and TIE Fighters on any level, and some handy dogfighting levels for two players. Speaking of which, the multiplayer side of the game is fairly expansive too. You can play any mission in the single player game co-operatively, with player two taking up the reigns of an AI controlled character such as Reti. Although this suffers from annoying levels of slowdown, it's still eminently enjoyable and adds a lot to the overall package. In terms of longevity, Jedi Starfighter may be over in a week or it may not be over in a month, it all depends on how much of a perfectionist you are.
For the most part the graphics, sound, gameplay and narrative come together to form one of the most enjoyable Star Wars games in recent history. There are a few loose ends, like the skyline glitches on the penultimate level and the fairly rudimentary menu system, but on the bright side you can fire a planetary cannon and take an X-Wing into combat against a Sabaoth Destroyer. Honestly, how many games let you do that convincingly? The best Star Wars space combat game since TIE Fighter, and more focused and accessible than Rogue Leader. Need I say more?