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Re-Printed From SystemLogic.net
Star Wars Episode I: Battle For Naboo
Despite what I may have said in my review for LucasArts' "Escape from Monkey Island", Star Wars: Rogue Squadron wasn't a bad game. It just didn't feel like something I wanted to play for a long time, and that I could get excited about. Realistically speaking, my favorite feature of Rogue Squadron was to be able to play the game using Sam's police cruiser…Very cool.
Factor 5, a German development house that has given us both X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter and Rogue Squadron, now delivers upon us "Star Wars Episode I: Battle for Naboo". What amounts to be basically the Rogue Squadron game for Episode I turns out to be better in some points, and worse in others. Now, before anyone says otherwise, I liked every game in the X-Wing series, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter included, so I have nothing against Factor 5.
Let's not draw incorrect inclusions, of course. Battle for Naboo is a console port, specifically from the Nintendo 64. Battle for Naboo is designed to be an arcade game, and not an Episode I rendition of the X-Wing series. If you're looking for a space simulation akin to the extraordinary X-Wing series, then you're not going to want to spend too much longer reading this review. If you're looking for a good button-mashing shooter, though, then this will likely fit the bill.
With that in mind, does Battle for Naboo satisfy? Yes and no, unfortunately. Battle for Naboo chronicles the adventures of Captain Kael and the Naboo rookie Lieutenant Sykes as they fight for freedom against the Trade Federation. The plotline of the game basically covers what happens among the villagers and citizens on the front lines of the fight against the Trade Federation, and their efforts to repel the invasion.
You start the game out in a Flash Speeder zipping through the streets of Naboo's capital city as you attempt to flee and regroup the forces of Naboo after the Trade Federation has just taken control of the palace. Your orders are given to escape the city and defend the citizens as best as possible, but without picking fights. From there, you and Captain Kael start travelling across Naboo on STAP Fighters looking for support to assist in pushing back the Trade Federation's invasion, and later actually making tactical strikes against the Federation.
This was the general gist of the plot I received during the game. It was actually rather difficult to hear the voices during the cutscenes, even though I had the in-game's volume turned all the way up. Oddly enough, though, the voice clips shouted by the pilots during the action scenes of the game were much more audible. I found this to be a trifle annoying, as I had to adjust my audio volume on my headphones periodically through the game to manage the varying levels of sound.
The rest of the sound effects are rather authentic, of course. LucasArts always uses what it can from the films' sound libraries to make an experience that mirrors what you'd have if you were watching the movie right there. The sounds made by the droid STAP fighters and AAT tanks reminded me of those I heard during the movie, though the droid Starfighters made a rather odd whine as they were shot down. The music was decent, too. Unfortunately, in most of the Star Wars games I've played, the music's quality generally mirrored the quality of the game as a whole. In X-Wing or Dark Forces, for instance, the music is dramatic and appropriate without feeling like another orchestrated Star Wars piece. Those themes stand on their own merits. In Battle for Naboo, however, the music feels like it was from one of those "Inspired by" albums, as if these were the music themes that were intended to go in Episode I, but got cut because the other themes were better.
The graphics weren't quite as much of a mixed bag, unfortunately. There seemed to be a problem with the game's graphics engine where ever six or seven seconds the video would stutter for less than half a second. Initially I thought this might be because I was running the game in 1024x768, so I dropped the resolution to 800x600, and then 640x480, also dropping the color depth. The stuttering still seemed to continue, and at the same frequency too, which told me that the problem wasn't my hardware.
Bugs aside, the game's graphics didn't exactly push the edge. I wasn't necessarily expecting them to, but I was expecting to at least have a character with more than two polygons for a head. Yes, that's right. The character models for the Flash Speeders and the STAP fighters have two intersecting polygons for a head. I couldn't contain myself from laughing at Captain Kael's signpost-for-a-head…Similar graphic shortcomings presented themselves elsewhere, like the blue engine emissions from the N-1 Starfighter and the Police Cruiser being clipped sporadically, and just not looking very realistic (Speaking from the movie standpoint, anyway).
It's really a shame that such ugly people and vehicles populate this place, because the landscape of Naboo is very lush and well laid out. With the other problems I was having, I expected to also have a rather small field of view, with a nice 3D-card-protecting fog wall about fifty feet in front of me. Thankfully, this proved to be false. While there were popups in some places, particularly buildings, the landscape of Naboo certainly was nicely rolled out in front of me.
This is, of course, assuming that I can fly or drive where I want to, which wasn't the case here. I'm familiar with games having an artificial ceiling to prevent players from just goofing off and leaving the game behind, but in most cases, I found the boundaries to be way too restrictive. In the Comm Satellite mission in particular, I found myself hitting the ceiling and floor set in the game arena all too often. The most annoying aspect of this was that I frequently hit this boundary while I was chasing fighters! What kind of game is this where the enemies can run away and I can't follow them? I also had a problem trying to target proximity mines that were below the floor as well. I had to fly up a little bit, and then back down so that I could at least nose-down my starfighter and target the mines.
The behavior of these boundaries is also most peculiar at times. During the Borvo Rescue mission, Borvo's barge is travelling in a ravine. Apparently it's not a good idea to get too close to his barge, because your ship will blow up if it gets too close. Similarly, I've fallen off hillsides that were too steep and encountered other odd obstacles that caused me to plummet to my death. Strangely enough, though, in the Comm Satellite mission, when I got shot down, I really did get shot down, and my fighter decided to fall down to Naboo to blow up instead of being blown up in space, even when I ran right into the satellite itself!
The AI is, unfortunately, relatively non-existent on both sides. While your co-pilots are constantly calling you to cover them, they never do the same for you. I stopped listening to them eventually as they would scream "Where's my cover?!?" while I'm actually gunning down the droid fighter tailing them, but not actually firing weapons…Probably because they're saving their energy for when I get in their sights. I've never seen a team member get shot down. Probably because the droids are almost always after me, regardless of what my team members are doing. I've won a couple of missions without even lifting a finger - I just kept the droid fighters busy while the other Naboo were accomplishing whatever objectives they had.
There seems to be a rather effective tactic that the droid Starfighters use frequently as well. They don't bother going after you. They just fly around in a circle while in formation. They never really pursue you unless you get in their way, at which point they fire with reckless abandon. Fortunately, the same is true whenever you get in behind one of the groups - You can easily take down several of them by flying in formation with them, as long as you watch your back. So, is it poorly programmed AI, or did the droid pilots need a firmware upgrade?
Even with those shortcomings in mind, the game is still unexpectedly hard. It's not necessarily because of the above problems, though. There are some mechanics issues involved as well. For instance, in the Comm Satellite mission, your task is to destroy three shield generator probes before actually taking on the satellite itself. Your fighter only starts with ten proton torpedoes, however, and it takes seven or eight to destroy one of these generators alone. Furthermore, the satellite is armed with missile launchers, making the task even more difficult. The game becomes less of an issue of talented flying and more an issue of resource allocation. In other words, when you run out of torpedoes, then you kill yourself so you can restock and continue. I thought this seemed like a silly idea, and maybe my flying is just off, but in checking various walkthroughs and FAQs on the Internet, it's actually a common recommendation.
I finally got stuck in the ninth mission and couldn't proceed any further. This mission involves saving refugees from attacking droids. At my best count, though, it's one Starfighter (you) against fifty-plus AATs and droid Starfighters. I gave it about twenty attempts before I finally gave up. It turns out that in this mission, most people don't survive unless they're using bonus items which can be recovered in previous missions. I found one of these items by myself, but some of them seem to be long shots in a random discovery. I would hate to be the gamer that's trying to finish this game without knowing there were secret items to be found.
I'd also like to take a moment to comment on the lack of a shield-strength indicator. In the game, they use a colored aura around your ship to represent the strength. Why can't I be given a fixed value for my shield strength? That makes a lot more sense to me than trying to see how fast my shields are flashing to know just how badly damaged they are. I know that LucasArts is going for the arcade feeling in this game, but the Star Wars Trilogy Arcade games have a shield percentage indicator, so that makes no sense at all. On top of all that, the coloring difference between yellow and green on the HUD is not much different, so I have a hard time telling the difference in shield strength. Also, in some cases, I would get hit by a laser blast, and the only way I'd know I got hit is because the ship icon briefly flashes. But the difference in the shield color wouldn't be enough for me to know if I got hit or not. This means that if I didn't immediately look at the HUD to confirm damage, I wouldn't ever know if I actually took a hit or not.
The game isn't a bad one. It could have been really fun. I like arcade games where you can go back to previous levels and attempt new challenges to beat your old records, like the medals system in this game awards you. Similar systems were offered in Rogue Squadron, and the challenge points in Shadows of the Empire. I really just felt though that the game was unrefined. Considering that it's a console port, I could give it some of the benefit of doubt, but this was just a good idea that didn't get the loving care it needed. If more attention had been given to the game mechanics, then this could've been a stellar example of how to put your everyday gamer in the cockpit of a Naboo fighter. Some of the levels were excellent in quality, particularly the nighttime invasion of the Trade Federation outpost using the gunboat. It was easy to pilot, the nighttime scenery was beautiful, and they were well scripted. This level in particular more than made up for the effort I made in destroying Comm5 in Naboo's orbit. Unfortunately, it was followed up by the mission that made me give up the game in utter frustration.
LucasArts previously made a statement saying that Obi-Wan was cancelled due to what they felt was a drop in the quality of Star Wars-license products. They said they were going to regroup and address these concerns to bring back LucasArts as one of the pedigree publishing houses. With this in mind, I don't wonder how Battle for Naboo escaped the axe, but I wish this gem had been better-polished.
Rating: 6.5/10 SystemLogistics
Re-Printed From SLCentral