Also available on: DS
Developer: Rebellion Developments
Genre: Third-Person Shooter
Star Wars has a rich history in the world of video games. From the early '90s PC hits X-Wing and Rebel Assault to BioWare's phenomenally popular RPG Knights Of The Old Republic, fans have had ample opportunity to tap into the franchise's expanded universe since the original trilogy's rise to prominence. PSP owners are the latest crowd to be treated to this privilege, with Rebellion's Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron roaring onto the platform with the momentum of a speeding X-Wing. But does it accomplish its mission, or go down under a barrage of Tie Fighter fire?
For anyone not well versed in the history of Battlefront, the series recreates the fiercest battles the Star Wars universe has to offer, transporting players directly to the front line. Campaigns are packed to the rafters with base defending, vehicle commandeering and a whole lot of phaser action. Elite Squadron is the second game in the series to arrive on the PSP, and like its predecessor Renegade Squadron, it draws it influence from both trilogies.
The opening campaign takes us back to the beginning of the Clone Wars and places the player in the boots of X2, a trooper cloned from Jedi DNA. Its storyline involving the character's twin brother X1, who takes a darker path, has the feel of a subplot that was picked up off the cutting room floor during the production of the film series.
Missions are in keeping with the saga's continuity, for example you'll take part in the rebellion's raid to retrieve the plans to the Death Star, and defend the base on Hoth from the Empire's devastating attack; although from as early on as the first stage, you find yourself yearning to play as Han Solo or at least a character with a modicum of individuality instead of this genetically engineered unknown.
Once you have got over the disappointment of not being able to control your heroes in single-player mode, the game does offer some intense campaigns. One minute you will be warding off Imperial Stormtrooper attacks on the ground, the next you will be hurtling into outer space in an X-Wing. Previous entries in the series have confined the action to a single stage, but Elite Squadron breaks the mould and the result is a breath of fresh air... at least at first.
It soon transpires that each campaign follows roughly the same script, combining ground skirmishes with space combat and enemy vessel infiltration. After a handful of missions, the game feels formulaic and the surging adrenaline slowly gives way to a sense of monotony. You'd think that the option to choose between five customisable weapons settings, comprising primary and secondary firepower, might help alleviate the boredom. Instead, it adds to it, as there appears to be little to distinguish one from another.
Control issues and camera quirks do nothing for the game's redemption. Many of these problems are the result of the series being scaled down for the PSP. The system's nub controller, which is used for character movement, has not been well utilised and the player has no say in which angle the action is viewed from. X2's movements feel stiff and awkward. Making an about turn takes an eternity, leaving you at the mercy of your phaser-toting foes. Obstinate camera angles often make it difficult to aim accurately, so you find yourself relying on the lock-on system a lot. However, this mechanic can be temperamental, often defying the direction of your crosshairs and latching onto a random foe.
Extensive multiplayer options help the game save some face. Supporting up to 16 players at once, there are a number of modes on offer, including three variations of capture the flag, Galactic Conquest and Heroes and Villains. Conquest adds some strategic components to the mix, while Heroes actually allows you to play as some of the saga's recognisable characters. Controlling the likes of Luke Skywalker, Darth Vadar and Mace Windu provides some short-lived enjoyment; though the game's biggest multiplayer innovation is arguably Galactic Conquest.
Reminiscent of a turn-based strategy title, Galactic Conquest has players competing in a race to 1,000 points or five base captures. You earn points based on how much conquering you have done, and these in turn can be used to purchased weapons upgrades for further invasions or defensive purposes. This emphasis on tactics is a nice addition to the Battlefront formula, and perhaps should have been put to greater use. In any case, it will be interesting to see if Rebellion expands on the concept in future entries in the series.
Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron has a handful of ideas, particularly in the multiplayer stakes, but the number of problems that have arisen during the game's transit to handheld platforms are a serious disadvantage. None of the camera or control issues from Renegade Squadron have been addressed and the repetitive nature of single-player campaigns doesn't help matters. While it's more fun than watching The Phantom Menace, the Force is hardly strong in this one.
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