Ah, Star Wars Battlefront… what a history you have. After a successful run on the last generation of consoles, there have been rumors abound regarding the existence of Star Wars Battlefront III and IV. With all this excitement and buzz, it’s easy to forget about the portable renditions being released right under our noses. More specifically, Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron for the PSP. But just how well does this game capture the essence of what made its console predecessors so successful?
The story mode to this game puts you in the role of X2. And you, along with your brother X1, were cloned from the DNA of a Jedi Master to serve the Republic as sort of a “super clone trooper.”Â This is where the story stops getting interesting. Your role in the grand scheme of things is so minute that I doubt anyone would even attempt to fit these events into the Star Wars canon. Also, I’m not sure why the lead characters to this story have such uncreative names, but I have a theory of my own. You see, the Republic’s personnel department felt it would be far more efficient if they only had to create name tags for employees whose names only had two characters in it. So with this new policy in place, it’s only fitting that its two newest super soldiers would adopt the coolest letter in the alphabet along with a numerical digit. Oh, and Greedo shot first.
Much of X2’s tale is told by his character narrating a backdrop of scenes lifted from movies in both trilogies. As such, much of what X2 talks about has little to do with what’s going on onscreen. Which normally wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that outside of these pre-mission excerpts, X2 doesn’t really say anything at all. So what personality he had been building up telling his personal recounts of the events that were happening has now been lost once the gameplay resumes. Also, the story itself is so bland, that you’ll be glad that it won’t take you very long to get through it. Which is unfortunate, because I find these side stories that are carefully worked into the Star Wars universe to be quite fascinating. The tale woven in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was absolutely fantastic, and even the exploits of the unit in Star Wars Battlefront II provided a healthy dose of interesting storytelling.
Aside from the main campaign, you also have the option to do instant action, which is basically another way of saying quick play. You pick your faction, what maps you want to play on, and then you are dropped immediately into a game against the CPU. There’s also an option to do Galactic Conquest mode, which has undergone some significant changes since Star Wars Battlefront II. Instead of purchasing spaceships to navigate back and forth between various planets to conquer, you supply each of the planets under your control with reinforcements that can be purchased and shifted around at the beginning of each turn. This is done until you land on one of your opponent’s planets (or vice versa) and a battle begins for control over that planet. The number of reinforcements you have at your disposal for that battle is dictated by the amount you had sent to the planet, or already had on that planet when you were attacked. If you don’t feel like fighting out the battle yourself, you can also simulate the outcome and the CPU will determine the victor based on a number of variables. I find that option boring, personally, but to each his own.
Star Wars Battlefront would not be complete without multiplayer modes, and this game certainly delivers. You can play with up to 16 players via infrastructure mode (only six in ad hoc) in a variety of game modes including Conquest and Capture the Flag. One thing I noticed is that the number of available online matches that were joinable was depressingly small, but seeing as how this game is still fairly new, I’m confident that this may improve over time.
The coolest addition to the multiplayer mode in my opinion is the ability to customize the troops that you bring into battle. You can change the look, color, emblem, and weapon sets for your character in each faction. In previous games, your appearance and weapons were limited to what class you had selected. There still exist some presets for the character classes in previous games, such as weapon sets made specifically for snipers or pilots. But now there are three slots set aside for custom gear setups, which is a thrill for people like me who love to customize. For these slots, you are given a specific amount of points in which to spend on different equipment types such as rifles, sidearms, grenades, health packs, and speed boosts, thus further adding to the strategic element to the game.
Story/Modes Rating: Good
This is where the game truly shines. Despite being constricted to the PSP’s small screen, the graphics in Elite Squadron look almost as good as its console counterparts. Everything is beautifully rendered, and the best part is, it doesn’t come at the cost of performance. There will be many chaotic scenes in the game, be it outer space dogfights, or on-the-ground shootouts, where many enemies and gunfire will be onscreen at once. And at no point did I notice any hint of graphical hiccups or slowdown.
The movies that play in between missions look great too, even though they obviously weren’t made just for this game. Just seeing those made me want to watch both trilogies all over again simply because they were so gorgeous on the small screen. I was a little less impressed with the quality of the in-game cutscenes which made me realize why they went with the movie clips in the first place. The movements of the characters seem so stiff, and even small touches, such as X2’s death animation made the character seem less human than he already was. When you meet your defeat in battle, he doesn’t even fall over. He sort of drops to one knee, like he was a kick returner in football or something.
Graphics Rating: Great
I haven’t played a Star Wars game that hasn’t had an epic soundtrack, and this game is no exception. As you would expect, some of the classic John Williams pieces are present as well as some new ones that fit right in within the context of the Star Wars universe. And of course, all the “pew pew”Â sounds of your favorite Star Wars weaponry is present as well.
The weakest element of the game’s sound is the voices. Not only is the narration delivered in such a boring and uninspired manner that I feel like the story is being told to me by Ben Stein, but the other characters do little to improve upon this. On top of all of that, I don’t think I’ve ever been yelled at by a video game so much as this one. Get used to being told you either need to hurry up, come this way, or destroy something right now. There was one point in the game where I had just finished removing the shield on a star destroyer and before I had a chance to leave the cannon I was controlling, I was drilled as to why I haven’t boarded the star destroyer yet. If I wanted to get scolded for trivial things, I’m sure I could find other people in my life that could perform that task far better than a video game!
The situation is alleviated slightly when you are playing instant action or multiplayer, where the only voices are your commander telling you where the the enemies are attacking or what checkpoint has just been captured. However, if your spawn points are changing hands constantly, be prepared to get really annoyed by this.
Sound Rating: Good
The bulk of the game is played from behind your character’s shoulder with crosshairs at the center of the screen, and unlike the console versions of Star Wars Battlefront, there is no option to switch to first person. This design choice makes sense though, since you really don’t have the ability to aim anyways, so a first person view wouldn’t offer any kind of benefit.
The controls were the biggest obstacle for me to overcome in this game, and I think that stemmed more from the button layout of the system than it did the design choices of the developers. Since the PSP only has one thumbstick, both movement and aiming are delegated to this and it’s very cumbersome. It’s nice that they allow you to lock onto your target with the right shoulder button and strafe around your enemy, but if you’re fighting more than one, you’ll have to let go of the thumbstick and hit down on the control pad to change targets. The controls have alternate configurations, but I found that the default setting worked out the best for me.
The opposite seemed to be true of the flight controls, which I felt handled much better than the console versions of Star Wars: Battlefront. The ships handled very smoothly, and the ability to lock onto your enemies is present here just like if you were on foot, which makes shooting down other ships much, much easier. Similar to the ground controls, your view is restricted to being fixed behind the ship that you are flying, but since I could lock onto my enemies I didn’t feel at a disadvantage for not having a first person view. They also made landing a ton easier too since in most cases when you are docking a ship, a cutscene plays that shows you entering the ship and lands it for you. You can also seamlessly transition between space combat and ground fighting at the touch of a button which is an awesome addition to the franchise, especially in multiplayer. No longer are you restricted to one of the other, you can play to your strengths.
Control/Gameplay Rating: Good
The main campaign is quite short and can be finished in less than ten hours depending on the difficulty and how frequent you need to reload checkpoints. The harder the difficulty you play on, the more guns and customization options you unlock for the other gameplay modes, so there is as least some incentive for subsequent playthroughs.
If you have access to a Wi-Fi network, multiplayer is where much of the replay value of this game is going to come from. Going up against the knucklehead CPU is nowhere near as exciting as taking on human opponents. And since you’ll be having the same control issues, you know you’ll be on equal ground with the people you are playing with. The space battles that you will be having in this mode are unparalleled in their awesomeness and you will likely spend more time taking to the skies than you will battling it out on the ground.
If you’re tired of your buddy or sibling constantly looking over your shoulder as you play, you can offer to play Galactic Conquest with them. Yep, you heard me right. Two players on the same PSP. However, all it really consists of is both players strategically placing their forces on the various planets in the solar system and then simulating battles taking place between them. I didn’t find this mode to be very intriguing, personally. But if you’re into the more strategic element of these games, you may get a kick out of it.
Replayability Rating: Good
Much like its predecessors, the A.I. in Elite Squadron is quite pitiful. Your computer controlled teammates are really only there to absorb bullets, and your enemies lack any sort of tactical ability. However, what the computer lacks in smarts it makes up for in sheer numbers. Unfortunately, since you only play as X2 in the story mode, if you should fail, you have to restart at your last checkpoint. Expect to die… a lot. Perhaps even so much that you will have to restart an entire chapter so that you can better equip yourself for the task at hand. I literally had to replay a segment a couple dozen times because at the beginning of the checkpoint, my health was low and both the repair bot and supplies device were out of my reach due to the room flooding with enemies at the beginning.
The game does set up waypoints for you to follow that lead you to your next goal, but they are vague and really not all that helpful. They will aim in the direction of your destination, much like a compass, but they don’t tell you exactly how to get there. Also, despite getting yelled at constantly by the characters in the game over having your next objective completed, they really don’t make it very clear on how to make that happen. The most frustrating example of this was being told by the Jedi leading my group that I needed to remove some debris from the front of the gate in order to advance. However, the only thing he gave me was a fusion cutter. I don’t know what the fusion cutter was supposed to do to the rocks, but for me, it didn’t do anything. So instead, I found a rocket launcher and removed the debris that way. I still don’t know what that fusion cutter was for…
Balance Rating: Above Average
This is now the third Star Wars Battlefront game on the PSP, though I have not played the other two so I cannot comment on how well this game compares to them. However, it does seem like the market has become quite saturated with these kinds of games. This one in particular is quite similar to the versions released on the Xbox, PS2, and PC, so if you have played those, you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect. If you have never played a Battlefront game before, think of it as a Battlefield game reskinned with Star Wars characters.
Originality Rating: Mediocre
Despite how much I disliked the plot to the story mode, once I started the game, I still found it hard to put down. Even without a good narrative driving it, the gameplay is good enough on its own merits to see it through to the very end. One thing to be cautious of is that every mission in the campaign seems to follow the same pattern of fighting your way to a cannon on the ground and firing it at the enemy before transitioning into space (or vice versa). However, I enjoyed this mission structure enough that I really didn’t care. This game made space battles fun for me which was a feature I dreaded in previous Battlefront games.
Addictiveness Rating: Great
It goes without saying that Star Wars nerds everywhere looking for a good portable game to play will definitely dig this. Even fans of the Battlefront franchise will find that while this game is a step back in some areas of the gameplay, it definitely improves upon others. Anybody who is on the fence should just download the demo and see for themselves if this game is right for them or not. The majority of what you can expect to find in this game you will find in the demo version. Also, it’s available in both UMD and download format for only $29.99, so it’s $10 cheaper than most PSP new releases.
Appeal Rating: Great
When you load up the game for the first time, you are treated to an impressive display of spaceships zooming across the screen and blowing each other up. This was very exciting to me when I started the game for the first time, but after subsequent startups, it became a nuisance to have to sit through that whole scene just to load my profile. It didn’t occur to me right away that I could just hit the start button and load my profile while all of this madness was going on in the background. I wish there would have been a prompt telling me I could do this.
Also, getting signed up with Gamespy for the first time just to try out multiplayer was an unnecessary hassle that I wasn’t expecting the first time I tried to log in. I keep telling myself that this isn’t Xbox Live and also that I’m not even paying for the service, but it would still be nice for PSP games to share a uniform network that I could log into for all of my titles.
Miscellaneous Rating: Mediocre
Balance: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Great
Final Score: Good Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron plays just like any of the other games in the series except that it improves on some areas of the gameplay and falters in others, namely the controls. The story to this game is very weak, and the majority of the value that comes from owning this title will be from playing multiplayer. If you don’t like Star Wars or don’t have access to a Wi-Fi connection, then I would pass on this game. Otherwise, I would highly recommend this game to Battlefront veterans or Star Wars fans that need a good portable multiplayer title for their PSP.