Review by DouglasFett

Reviewed: 07/18/11

Star Wars Battlefront: The Unofficial Ep. III game

After the enormous success of Pandemic's "Star Wars: Battlefront," a sequel was inevitable. As 2004 concluded and 2005 saw the release of "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith," in theaters, Pandemic took on the task of creating BF2 based on the last entry in the SW film saga. Enter Star Wars: Battlefront II, released in late 2005. As of now, it is the last released Star Wars shooter. By the way, I titled this review as such because, besides the fact the game is based mostly on Ep 3, the real OFFICIAL Ep 3 game Anyway...enjoy.

1. Graphics/Sound 9/10: Impressive enough on its own, but there is something to be said about how the game looks and sounds next to Pandemic's previously released shooters, Mercenaries and Battlefront I. While those two had a certain "glossy" look to the graphics, BF2 shed away that gloss and went with a harder, grittier look. Honestly, I preferred the glossy look of BF1. Sound wise, the game has the usual SW sound bites. Blasters, Imperials, Rebels, Droids, explosions, etc etc. The problem is found with a new feature in the game that grants the player bonuses [more on that below] during combat. While these bonuses are active, they emit a constant beeping sound, which was irritating for a time. These same bonuses, while active, not only emit a constant beeping sound, but also form a visible red aura around your character. Which generally isn't a problem. But when you play as the sniper class on any faction, the aura actually shows on your crosshairs. Also annoying. Otherwise, despite the small "upgrade" to the graphics, the game looks and sounds fine.

2. Story 10/10: While the first BF had two campaigns, set in the Prequel Trilogy [PT] and Original Trilogy [OT] eras that let you play as all four factions, BF2 takes its cue directly from Episode well as fandom. The campaign allows players to take on the role of a member of an elite unit of Clone Troopers known as the 501st, also known as "Vader's Fist." These Clone Troopers are tasked by Palpatine, and shortly thereafter as Vader, to take on special assignments both during the Clone Wars and after, well into the Galactic Civil War. Some backstory here...the 501st was initially a real life group of Star Wars cosplay fans who were [are] known as the 501st legion. They dress up as Clone Troopers and Storm Troopers, mainly. The creation of the 501st into official Star Wars canon is a tribute to those fans. In any case, the 501st campaign begins in the last chapter of the Clone Wars, right before the execution of Order 66. Players will find themselves fighting alongside well known Jedi, such as Ki-Adi Mundi on Mygeeto, Aayla Secura on Felucia, Obi-Wan Kenobi on Utapau, Yoda on Kashyyyk...and Darth Vader, as he leads the 501st to the Jedi Temple for "Operation Knightfall." From there, the Clone Troopers [now Storm Troopers, serving the Empire] embark on missions [like some of the campaign missions from BF1, wholly original battles are a main staple to BF2's story mode] to eliminate enemies of the Empire on Mustafar, Naboo, and Kamino. In the final chapters of the campaign, players will eventually take on the growing Rebel Alliance, and participate in the battles seen in "A New Hope" and "The Empire Strikes Back."

There is a lot to be said about the story mode...the most unique aspect about it is that its narrated entirely from the point of view of the Clones [specifically, one Clone in particular, who goes unnamed throughout the whole campaign], voiced by Temeura Morrison. This is a major addition to Star Wars canon, when many stories in SW are Jedi/Sith-centric. This is a plus not only for stories about Clones and regular guys and Mandos, but for Mando/Clone fan groups as well. The only small thing I have to point out is that while the narration is all well and good and the gameplay is a nice diversion [you have specific objectives to complete, instead of just capturing control points and killing the bad guys], there is a certain "common sense" issue here. Regarding Order 66. *STAR WARS NERD MODE...ENGAGED!* Order 66 is one of many military contingency orders the G.A.R. has control over. Like maybe Order 37 declares something to the extent of "In case your commanding officer goes M.I.A..." or Order 98 goes "If the Atzerri System is lost..." In that, Order 66, while unique in and of itself for what it commands ["The Jedi have betrayed the Republic, eliminate them with discretion"], is not unique when put into the context of it being one of many contingency orders. While Palpatine certainly put significant effort into its addition to G.A.R. order manuals, no Clone Trooper would have expected it. Its just an order, business as usual. In that regard, the devs screwed up - the narration by said unnamed Clone Trooper is cynically and wholly aware of what's about to befall the Jedi he's serving - Ki Adi Mundi, Aayla Secura, etc. Point is, he shouldn't know. All he and his comrades know are that they are not under the direct command of any one Jedi General, but from Palpatine himself. That's all. From a security point of view, Palpatine would never have leaked his ultimate plans to the Clones. A large scale military operation that requires the whole annihilation of an army's top commanders is too fragile for its "brain" to let slip any one secret. That said, the nature of the narration is odd and incorrect. But anyway...

3. Gameplay 9/10: Let's get to it.

- Combat: Like BF1, BF2 is primarily a third person shooter [FPS optional] with plenty of vehicles to pilot. Every map has control points each team are to occupy if they hope to win. Each team has "tickets" [lives] players can use to respawn after getting killed. Tickets are lost not only from deaths, but from loss of control points. That is, if a map has six control points and each team starts with three, if one team has less than the default, the number of available tickets will steadily decline, even if that team isn't losing soldiers in battle. This play style was first seen in the "Battlefield" series that Battlefront is based on, and its worked beautifully so far. It gives players objectives, with killing enemy characters secondary. At the same time, this play style also allows for quite a lot of replay value, as players have multiple ways they can play. Maybe a player wants to hang back and snipe. Maybe they'd like to grab a tank, go in and camp the enemy spawn point. Maybe they'll want to try going after one control point instead of the other they usually go after. With the numerous classes and strategies available, the possibilities are nearly endless. Lastly, character classes. Available to every faction are the basic classes - sniper, engineer, soldier, and demolitions. Every faction also has two unique classes: An "Officer" class [that can grant special auras to nearby allies], and an overall unique unit that can be played as a "let's f**k them up!" unit. The Rebels have Bothan Spies, and Wookies; the Imperials have Imperial Officers and Dark Troopers; the Clones have Clone Commanders and Jetpack Troopers; and the Droids have Magnaguards and Droidekas.

Almost forgot: Jedi characters. While the first BF had it so that Jedi/Sith characters could only be controlled by the AI, in BF2 players can PLAY as their favorite characters! Boba Fett, Han Solo, Darth Maul, Luke Skywalker, Count Dooku, Princess Leia, Jango Fett, etc etc. These characters are unlocked in a map as you reach a certain number of points. Unlike regular classes however, to stay alive as a hero/villain you must keep killing. The character's health bar gradually decreases, so to stay alive players must keep killing the enemy team. Strategically, on a team they are to be fielded as killers, so other team members should stay out of their way so they won't die. Every character has different weapons and abilities. Boba Fett has his signature EE-3 blaster rifle and a detonation pack, while his "father" Jango has signature Westar-34 blaster pistol [having two pistols would probably push the game engine. I wouldn't say its unfair, considering the Jedi/Sith have lightsabers]. The Jedi/Sith all have their respective lightsabers, along with the ability to Force jump, force push/pull, force choke, and force lightning. Several of the heroes/villains can be played in the story mode, while the rest are playable on select maps during conquest/instant action [see below] maps.

- Maps: As the game is based mostly off of Episode III, many of the maps are taken straight from the film. Mustafar, Mygeeto, Felucia, Kashyyyk [based off of what was seen in the film. The BF1 map - Kashyyyk Docks - was a teaser for what would be seen later on], Polis Massa, Coruscant [the Jedi Temple, that is], Dagobah [ok, ok, Ep V and VI], and Utapau. Other new maps include the Death Star and the Rebel Blockade Runner [from Ep IV], along with Jabba's Palace [which was DLC for BF1]. The rest of the maps - Geonosis, Naboo, Endor, Yavin, Hoth, and Tatooine are reworked from the first Battlefront, with either a new graphical finish or a complete overhaul from the original map. Most maps have vehicles, while some are strictly for CQB. Unfortunately, the maps, while fun, are also lacking. That is, a lot of maps from BF1 are notoriously absent here - Yavin Arena, both Bespin maps, both Rhen Var maps, Naboo Plains, and the Tatooine Dune Sea. Also notoriously absent from the maps are aircraft [save for Hoth, with Rebel Air Speeders]. The original Geonosis map from BF1 allowed players to pilot a gunship, but no more. In lieu of this however is one of the game's selling features:

- Space Battles: Teams start out in their faction's Capital Ship, and can play as either a Pilot or a Marine. Ships available are bombers, fighters, interceptors, or shuttles [which act as mobile spawn points, just like the AT-AT and AT-TE on certain land maps]. While Pilots instantly repair vehicles they're in, Marines are armed for assault. While there are no control points to conquer, players still have many ways to play space battles. As a Pilot, your main task is to commandeer a fighter or bomber and destroy certain key structures on the enemy capital ship - the bridge, the engines, radar array, etc - while fighting off other enemy ships. Marines are best for boarding the enemy capital ship and destroying aforementioned key structures from within, whilst also killing enemy Marines and Pilots inside. Like the land battles, there are many strategies to choose from. As a Pilot, you could take a shuttle and ferry allied troops through space to land inside the enemy hangar, leave the shuttle there for allied troops to spawn at, then steal an enemy ship and go back out into space to fight. As a Marine, you could take a bomber, do some damage in space and on the enemy Capital ship, then land in their hangar and spawn camp enemy pilots and marines before they can take off. Plenty of ways to play.

- Bonuses: Taking a cue from other shooters, Pandemic allowed players to not only save their battle statistics [kills, deaths, captures, etc], but to earn bonuses as well. Quite a few options here. In general, every player has a rank, which can go up as you play more, and earn more overall points. The higher your rank, the more AI team mates you can call to your side during battle [BF1 allowed players to direct AI members with simple commands via the D-pad. BF2 streamlined the commands to make them more noticeable - if you order AI units to come with you, they won't just follow along randomly, they'll stick right next to your side.]. The real rewards for playing however come in the form of awarded elite weapons and abilities. By making a certain number of kills in one life with a certain weapon, you can earn an elite version of that weapon. Other bonuses include automatic vehicle repair, stamina regen [for sprinting, running, and using Force powers], damage reduction, and damage increase. To be able to have these abilities and weapons permanently, one must earn these medals numerous times, and rise to the top rank. Players know their status by the rank on any one ability: green, veteran, elite, and legendary.

- Game modes: Besides the aforementioned story mode, BF2 offers basic instant action [pick a map, change some options - # of tickets, heroes/villains on or off, capture the flag, hunt, and even Heroes v. Villains, and then play], or Galactic Conquest. The latter is brilliantly overhauled from BF1's conquest, which, while neat, needed a more creative edge for the sequel. In GC, you play as one of the four factions against that faction's foe, and fight on both land and in space to conquer the galaxy. While in BF1 the planets were just arranged in two rows on top of each other, in BF2 the interface literally has the galaxy on screen. Planets are located on the galaxy map [about as close as to where they are in official SW canon], and you as the player start off with a small handful of planets and one Capital Ship. GC plays as turn based [in contrast to the other big SW game to come out around 05/06, Empire at War], and offers players the chance to take the galaxy any way they see fit. Hold off attacking for a couple turns, head straight in to enemy space, circle around to the backdoor, etc etc. A neat feature here is the actual economy of conquest itself - by conquering planets, you earn more credits [Star Wars money] to buy bonuses for use in battle - playable heroes/villains, extra ammo, health regen, etc etc. Some planets have higher rewards than others, and players can even earn credits by defending their planets. IE, space battles don't generate a lot of money, so why place a fleet over Kamino when you can defend it and earn thousands of credits every time the Confederacy attacks?

The next best thing about BF2 is that four players can play on one screen [and even more players over system link]. BF1 allowed only two players on one screen. That means you and three friends can team up to play the 501st campaign together, or even go 2v2 or 3v1 on instant action or Galactic Conquest. Additionally, when the original Xbox Live was still running, it was one of the big MP titles for years [until the old XBL was shut down in 2010]. And the previously mentioned, space craft were removed from land battles. Some of the best maps from BF1 were removed altogether, as the game's main focus was on Ep III, not the entire series. Granted, DLC released in 2006 offered the Rhen Var maps and Bespin, but even so. Kind of a let down. There are also some complaints about the AI not being up to snuff...which is somewhat true. As a sniper, I've watched from ledges high above, as enemy AI just stand there. OR, they'll only target me, even though my AI team mates are right down there. But really, that's not enough to say the game is horrible. This game, like its predecessor, is amazing. This game is great for single-player, multi-player, and once again offers numerous ways to play. Its hard to get bored playing this with so much to do and try out. If you're looking to buy, better to stick with the PC version, which probably still has an active online community. No regrets with this game, not one bit.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Star Wars: Battlefront II (US, 11/01/05)

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