Review: Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron (Sony PSP)

swbfescoverStar Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron
Publisher: Lucasarts
Developer: Rebellion
Genre: Third Person Shooter
Release Date: 11/03/2009

I have a long history with the Battlefront franchise. While I’ve always been a fan of Star Wars, I usually don’t bother with the games. However, the first game in the series was cheap enough when I got my PS2 that I decided I might as well pick it up. After all, it wouldn’t be a system without a Star Wars game to play on it. It sat on my shelf for a while, but eventually I decided to give it a spin and was instantly addicted. I loved the idea of playing as a low ranking soldier who was merely a cog in the machine. I don’t know how many times I popped this bad boy in when I was bored or needed to kill time. It was a go-to game for me whenever I wanted to play something but didn’t know what to play.

In 2007, I was stoked when they announced Renegade Squadron as a PSP exclusive. The new customization options, coupled with online play, guaranteed that I was buying this game the second I had the chance. I can’t tell l you how much I enjoyed it. At one point I was sinking at least an hour a day into online matches and would even break the game out during moments where I really shouldn’t have. My friend’s didn’t take that too kindly.

Anyways, I was all for a sequel to one of the best buys for the PSP in 2007. Elite Squadron was being made by the same developers, cost ten dollars less, and still promised all of the fun and content the previous game gave me.

Then I turned it on.

Story/Modes:

Like in 2007, they’ve put in an actual campaign with a plot this time. However, you won’t be taking the role of a faceless member of an army this time. Instead you’ll play as X2. He and his brother, X1, are clones made from a Jedi who were used by the Kaminoans to train the clone army they built for the Republic. When Order 66 is given, X1 and X2 go separate ways. X1 turns to the dark side, while X2 joins the rebel alliance in hopes of redeeming himself.

If you’re reading that, you’re probably thinking it sounds like a pretty good time, although the names are a bit lax (Seriously, X1 and X2?). However, the story is downright bad. For one, the game jumps forward in time constantly and never reaches a flow in its storytelling. Also, the character motivations are just plain unclear. X1 seemed like the nicest big brother a guy could ask for, and we’re only supposed to take the word of the game that he’s bad to the core? Also, X2 is the one that murdered a Jedi on orders, yet he’s the good guy? Most of the big twists or cameos feel a bit too much like a “me too” kind of thing. It’s like “Look! That’s Col. Serra from Renegade Squadron! There’s General Kota from The Force Unleashed! These games are all connected!” It really tries too hard. Also, I don’t get why they decided that you had to become a Jedi and that X1 had to become an evil Sith Lord who, and I’m not joking, ends up looking like a cross between Palpatine and Vader. Not to mention you look suspiciously like Obi-Wan by the end as well. That’s right. As you become a Jedi, you’re beard grows and your clothes become dirtier. The “epic” battle the two had on Mustafarr was just another stupid plot device that felt cheap. Not to mention how X2 apparently had a role in every major battle in the Star Wars universe.

swbfes1What drives me crazy, however, is that instead of creating cut scenes to tell its stories, the game uses clips from the movies with some narration by X2. In almost every case, the action on screen has nothing to do with the clip they’re showing! He’s going on about how his brother betrayed him while Vader and Palpatine stroll about on the Death Star. Also, these narration bits are the only time that X2 speaks, meaning he never reacts to any of the crazy stuff that’s happening around him. People he supposedly cares about die right in front of him and there’s nothing. Not a tearful remembrance or even the traditional “NOOOOOOOOO!” It makes me sick. Although what really hurts is that there are a lot of people praising the game for its story. I question whether or not these people know what the word plot means.

Beyond the horrible plot, you’ve also got two other single player modes. Instant Action allows you to pick the location, era, and rules for any match up you want, as well as set up a list of battles to play through. It’s the same as last year, though it is still a great place to jump in. The other mode is Galactic Conquest. This is a strategy game where you take turns with an AI opponent spending resources to buy troops and upgrades while moving your forces across planets to try and capture the enemy’s main planet. You can chose to let the battles be automated or partake in them yourself. Either way, there’s almost always a certain point in the game where one person is clearly going to win and its just a matter of how long it will take them to mop up. At least this year they created a few specific challenges for this with varying difficulties.

There are some multiplayer options as well. You can still hook up with other PSPs locally to battle in 3 on 3 scenarios or take the game online for 16 player action. This pretty much functions exactly as it did last time. There’s a bunch of games going on at any time and you can join in to any game that isn’t full. This time around, there’s even a single PSP multiplayer mode as well. You can play Galactic Conquest with a friend. You won’t fight the battles, but you’ll each take turns trying to blow the other out of the galaxy. Overall, there’s plenty of content on the disc to fool around with.

If you’re playing this for the story, then you will be sorely disappointed. If you’re playing this for the online play, then you will walk out with a much better experience, though there are more people playing Renegade Squadron at this point and I’ve heard a great deal about people hacking this game to allow themselves to use Jedi online. As a single player game, Elite Squadron simply fails on a fundamental level. Just know that going into the game.

Graphics:

Two years ago, the graphics for Renegade Squadron were considered merely decent. There were clearly a lot of corners cut so the game could run smoothly during online play. We as fans were okay with that.

The problem now is that the graphics are pretty much the same for this game as well. In the past two years, games like God of War, Crisis Core, Resistance, Dissidia, and even Soul Calibur have shown that the PSP is capable of producing some fine looking games. The standard has been raised greatly and the fact this game only looks marginally better than its predecessor is downright horrible. The textures are blurred and vague. The character models are blocky, and the frame rate flat out dies consistently throughout the single player excursions.

The funny thing is that it runs smoothly during online play. My time spent battling others was the only time the game looked even marginally good. That just blows my mind.

To be fair, thanks to the solid designs and characters of the Star Wars universe, the game doesn’t look nearly as bad as it would were this an original IP. The charm of those designs still manage to seep through somehow, making the game at least palatable. Even still, there’s no excuse for the overall quality of the game’s graphics, other than the developers rushed it or were flat out lazy.

Audio:

I’ve said it before in a review for a Star Wars game, but I’ll say it again: John Williams’s score will never stop being awesome and it makes anything it touches better. The music for this game is just good.

That being said, the voice acting is a problem. Most of the voices themselves are pretty decent, though I’m still trying to figure out why the clones needed accents. The problem lies with how the audio was incorporated into the game. Unseen characters will berate you with your next objective and will constantly remind you of it every thirty seconds or so until it’s done. There was one point where I needed to clear out all of the enemies in location. Somehow, one got away and I couldn’t find him for about ten minutes. I personally think the game glitched out because when he finally showed up, all I saw was blaster fire before all of the sudden, I was done. The whole time I had this annoying woman repeating the same sentence over and over again about how I needed to move forward. If I could have found her, I would have shot her right there and then instead.

swbfes2Another thing that happens is the audio dips in its volume and quality frequently. Often you’ll see words on the screen that someone is supposed to be saying, but there isn’t a sound or the sound comes long after the words first showed up. Other times the voices will get really quiet all of the sudden and you’ll struggle to hear them. It’s really a function of poor design.

So while the sounds themselves are pretty good, they weren’t implemented in the game quite right, and it comes very close to ruining the entire aural experience. When the sounds shuts off every time you enter a hanger, you’ll see what I mean.

Gameplay:

Let’s just start with the controls, because they’re the thing that pisses me off the most about this game. Functionally, they are the same as Renegade Squadron. Your movement and the camera are controlled by the analog nub and you can lock on with the right shoulder button. The circle button is used to dodge roll, which will break a lock on, and the rest of the buttons are used for sprinting, jumping, shooting, and the like.

The real problem is the camera, though it’s not alone. It is so slow and cumbersome that making turns is an act of sheer will instead of second nature like it should be. If you are in small confines, the camera will swing around wildly and you’ll run into walls like a moron while merely trying to go out a door. At one point, the camera suddenly went so berserk it switched into a over the top view that focused my view on the ground directly in front of me. Seeing as I was surrounded by Storm Troopers, this was a tad bit inconvenient. Also, the controls are simply stiffer than a steel bar. The lock on button needs to be tinkered with constantly to work, and the touted melee attacks almost never hit when you want them to. There’s so much delay and bad design that the game is as close to unplayable as you can get without actually being unplayable.

There’s been a substantial change in how the battles play out. Previously, you’d fight to control command posts while whittling the enemy forces down. If you controlled all of the bases, it was pretty much a guaranteed victory in a few seconds. Here, you’re instead trying to reach a certain amount of points. Points are earned by killing enemies, destroying vehicles, capturing bases, and destroying the enemy capital ship. That’s right, for the first time in the series, the space battles happen simultaneously with the ground battles, and you can switch between them by using a ship or an escape pod. This might sound like a good idea, but really it’s not.

The problem is that the space battles are still extremely boring. You merely need to lock onto an enemy far away and tap the fire button until their blip disappears. Rarely do you even need to try and follow an enemy, as they need to be close to get away. There’s no sense of speed, and unlike battles fought on the ground, there’s no bases to capture, so it just gets boring. Eventually, you can lower the shields of the enemy capital ship in order to land in the hangar and attempt to destroy the ship’s core. This is the only time the space battles are all that important, but even then they’re only important because you’re trying to get to the on-foot action on the ship. And even those sections are bad because of the endless maze like corridors that give your camera a seizure while you play.

The on-foot action has also seen some major problems added to it. In order to feel like the ground battle has an impact on the space arena, one of the command posts on the ground is the ion cannon. The game loves these. Once you capture the ion cannon, you need to stand at the console for about a minute and a half while you wait for it to charge. Then you merely hold down the x button until a meter is in the blue and the ion cannon fires at the enemy capital ship. This is how you lower the shields, as you can’t destroy the ship this way. This is perhaps the most boring thing in the game, yet you’re required to do it pretty much every battle. I couldn’t stand it.

Now, look. I’m not even trying to saying that the previous game had good controls. However, that was two years ago and we were able to put up with more because the PSP was notorious for control issues. This is two years later, and the same developer, so why was there not only no improvement, but the controls actually got worse? There’s no excuse. This, coupled with the fact that the flow of the battles has been shot because they tried to make the experience grander makes this a less than appealing game from top to bottom.

Oh yeah, and you have to unlock all of the customization options by playing the god awful story mode. This is really icing on the moldy cake if you ask me.

Replayability:

This is the one, and the only, section of the game that shines.

swbfes3The campaign will take you a few hours, and you’ve got some multiple difficulties to try out as well. Once you’re done with that, you can get some serious time in the other single player modes. If you’re looking to just kill some time, the instant action mode is a great place to do so. There are also medals you can earn for various accomplishments. Most of these can be earned simply by playing the game, but there are some elusive ones that will take time and effort to acquire.

Then there’s the multiplayer. Now far be it from me to bitch about how everyone is using a sniper online now, but it’s true. Even still, playing with other people is somehow the smoothest playing aspect of the game. The levels seem more wide open, so the camera issues are less of a factor, the space battles are actually mildly intriguing with another human pilot to contend with, and the challenge is more satisfying. My only real gripe is that since the new point system was implemented, the battles can go on a bit longer than they used to. This basically means that if one team is dominating, it takes longer for the inevitable to occur and the flow of play is a bit broken.

Even still, at thirty dollars, this game comes with a pretty good amount of content on the UMD.

Balance:

The AI in this game is still completely moronic. The only way the game manages to compete with you is through sheer numbers. I mean, there are a LOT of enemies to deal with. At any given moment during the story mode, you could be surrounded by ten or so enemies and not have any cover. The could chip away at your health quite easily if they wanted to. Fortunately, they’re stupid, so you could throw a grenade without worry of them running away from it, huddle next to a healing droid without worry that they would target it, or even run right up to them for that oh-so-badly implemented melee attack without worry of them fighting back. Even still, its so easy to die that I was cursing the game over and over again.

One problem with the story mode is that there are checkpoints now, instead of command posts. Also, since you play a main character, dying is an instant game over. This drastically changes how you handle situations, because you’re less likely to make kamikaze moves for the greater good. Also, the checkpoint system is flawed. It will save the amount of health you have, meaning if you stumbled upon a boss fight with little to no health, you’re pretty much screwed.

In other modes, there are certain setups that end up being better than others. Snipers have plenty of high points to exploit and guided missiles are still the bane of any foot soldiers. The idea behind the game is that the customization would bring balance in and of itself, but that’s simply not the case. I will give them credit for offering more options though.

Overall, the game is too easy, but still manages to feel like its cheap most of the time as well. The challenge isn’t in how skilled you are. It’s in how well you can exploit the game’s mechanics.

Originality:

The only thing even remotely original about this game is the integration of the space and land battles. If done better, and maybe even on another system, this could have been a genre defining change for the series. Even on the PSP, it manages to make the experience feel fresh, though it comes at the cost of the overall quality of that experience.

The game’s story might be technically new, but it is a complete mish-mash of various other story elements ripped from other Star Wars media. The battle on Mustafarr, the reveal that you’ve got Jedi abilities, the seduction of the dark side, and so many other plot points just feel tired and like a bit of a cop out. I would have liked to have seen something interesting for once, but Rebellion just won’t deliver I suppose.

Addictiveness:

swbfes4The awful controls make this a game that you just don’t want to play. That would be the end of the story, if not also for the monotony of the battles themselves. The gameplay turned into a never ending pattern of start in space, land on ground, take over the ion cannon, destroy the shields, land on the ship, blow up the reactor, and then goof off until points total catches up with the action. Every single battle turned into this without fail. It just wasn’t any fun.

The online action is the most addicting thing about the game, but there are better uses of the PSP’s online functionality and soon Ad Hoc Party will make it possible to play better games with people across the country. There’s no need to waste your money on this.

Appeal Factor:

The reason that this is the third Battlefront game on the PSP is pretty evident. The series has done exceptionally well on the hand held. I think a lot of that has to do with the online play, which isn’t something a lot of PSP games offered two years ago… and even today, to be honest. That, and the game’s ten dollar less than average price is a great selling point for the game.

However, this game cannot meet the expectations. For one, there’s no hiding how poorly this game was made. There wasn’t the same kind of push as there was for Renegade Squadron, and players like me who’ve been enjoying the series for years are speaking out against how much this game sucks.

Also, no one is buying PSP games anymore. I love it that Sony is trying, but either no one is using the systems for games, or everyone is simply acquiring the software through other means. It makes me sad really.

Overall, this game just doesn’t have the appeal that it would have even last year. The PSP has been getting a higher quantity of quality titles these past few months and this game that hasn’t seen any improvement from two years ago just can’t compete.

Miscellaneous:

File Rebellion under the folder for developers that I no longer have respect for. These guys have made plenty of games for the PSP and there is simply no excuse for how messed up this game is. I gave them some slack for the horrors that were Aliens Versus Predator: Requiem and Gun Showdown, but this is a sequel to a game that put them on the map and they just didn’t deliver.

I think the thing that bothers me the most is how this game just didn’t get what made the previous game a hit. The fun of Battlefront is that you’re playing as a cog in the machine rather than a major hero. Also, for a game like this to spend so much time in confined areas seems an oversight unmatched. There are going to be control problems for third person games as long as the PSP has only one analog stick. When making games for the system you need to address that problem. Instead, they catered to that problem and exacerbated it.

Two years ago we let Renegade Squadron slide on a lot of things. That was two years ago. Now we expect more, and this game just didn’t deliver.

The Scores:

Story/Modes: Below Average
Graphics: Bad
Audio: Decent
Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Good
Balance: Poor
Originality: Below Average
Addictiveness: Bad
Appeal Factor: Below Average
Miscellaneous: Very Bad
Final Score: Poor Game!

Short Attention Span Summary:

diehardjackI may be calling this game “poor” for its official score, but there are few games that pissed me off as much as this. To be a follow up to a game I got so much enjoyment out of and to fail miserably on so many levels is something I just can’t forgive. Congratulations Rebellion, you’ve just turned a solid fan away from the entire franchise. It is going to take a miracle for me to ever play another Battlefront game on any handheld console again.

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