At the heart of every Star Wars movie lies a spectacular space battle filled with breathtaking special effects that convince us that the explosions and fast-paced action are real. This formula has been applied to LucasArts' most dramatic and visually impressive video games, from the PC's more simulation focused X-Wing and TIE Fighter titles to the more arcade focused action of the N64's Rogue Squadron. Star Wars Starfighter attempts to bridge the gap between both styles of LucasArts' past flight-based shooters, as well as add some elements that haven't been seen in any Star Wars game yet. The game boasts some of the best-looking graphics ever seen on a console shooter, and those graphics, combined with the tried-and-true Star Wars formula and the PS2's muscle, could make Starfighter the best Star Wars game yet.
Unlike Rogue Squadron, Starfighter focuses on the dramatic stories of each of the game's three original characters. The young and restless rookie Rhy Dallows, the mercenary Vana Sage, and the alien pirate Nym all have their own reasons for seeking revenge against the diabolical and corrupt Trade Federation, and their stories are woven together to form the game's overall story.
The game's three pilots all have their own ships, and each ship has its own distinguishing characteristics. Rhys flies the Naboo fighter, as seen in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. The craft is a great tactical fighter, loaded with weapons such as proton torpedoes and laser cannons. Vana Sage flies the Guardian, which is a fast, sleek, and stealthy vehicle that is also equipped with special items such as sensors and tracking devices. Nym flies the Havoc, which is the hulk of the three and is not unlike Rogue Squadron's Y-Wing. The Havoc can carry powerful bombs and boasts a rotating gun, powerful laser cannons, and heavy shielding, which allows it to perform low-altitude bombing runs. Starfighter will have more than 50 enemy vehicles for you to shoot at, from the well-known droid fighters, battle tanks, and Federation drop ships to newly introduced ships such as the Scarab, the Protector, and the Dagger.
We were recently able to play through three different levels of the pre-beta version of the game. The first is a training level, which consists of a canyon through which, as Rhys Dallows, you fly while trying to avoid the walls and other such obstructions. Additional mission objectives such as destroying mines, shooting down holographic fighters, and engaging in a mock dogfight with your wingman are added to your mission as you progress through it. The second level is a bombing run, which utilizes Nym's Havoc in an attempt to repel a steady stream of surface attacks from tanks and armored personal carriers, while the third is an action-packed space battle where you play as Vana.
All three of the levels demonstrate the different feel of the individual ships. The nimbleness of the Naboo Fighter is felt immediately in the canyon, and it has a distinct spaceship feeling. When cruising around corners, it becomes apparent that the ship floats, rather than relying on lift and speed to keep it aloft. Nym's Havoc feels like a flying tank as it flies through explosions and dust clouds with classic barnstorming style, comfortably absorbing damage that would send weaker ship flying into pieces. The Guardian is an interesting ship to fly in space because of its speed, agility, and beefed-up sensors, which help you keep a close eye on all sides of a whirling space battle.
If Star Wars Starfighter lives up to the promise we've seen so far, it will be a truly great game, possibly even the greatest flight action game to use to the Star Wars franchise.