With the final installment of the Star Wars series hitting theaters this May, you can expect a video game counterpart to George Lucas' upcoming sci-fi epic to be waiting in the wings as well. While the recently released Lego Star Wars does boast some Episode III content, the charming action game offers a lighter spin on the final entry in the Star Wars saga. For a deeper experience that's big on immersion, LucasArts and Southern California-based developer The Collective have teamed up to offer a third-person action game that drops you into the robes of the Jedi, the ill-fated mystic warriors who are doomed to have their worst day ever in Episode III. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith serves up an adventure that's big on epic battles, lightsaber fights, Force powers, and a solid dose of angst for the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox. We had the chance to get an exclusive look at a work-in-progress version of the upcoming game on both platforms to see if the Force is with it, or if we should brace for a disturbance.
For recently awakened coma victims, individuals who've been kicking it in hardcore isolation in secluded caves in some remote part of the world, and the generally uninformed, we'll bring you up to speed on Episode III's narrative. The movie is the final chapter in George Lucas' genre-defining and nerd-creating sci-fi epic, Star Wars. The movie tells the tale of how Jedi prodigy Anakin Skywalker winds up succumbing to the dark side of the Force and becomes the evil Darth Vader, the meanest cuss to roll with a cape. For Episode III, The Collective has set out to create a game that hits all the high points of the film that are sure to give fans goose bumps. You will also experience facets of the story that were only hinted at or briefly touched on in the film, adding to the overall epic adventure that is Star Wars.
The narrative will play out through the eyes of Anakin Skywalker and his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (you'll eventually come to control both of them). Who you control on a given level will be determined by where you are in the narrative. While both characters start at basically the same point, their paths will diverge as Anakin gets his evil on, offering you the chance to play for both the light and dark sides of the force, which both yield unique powers. One word of caution to Star Wars fanatics who feel faint around spoiler material on the upcoming film: plan on doing a lot of passing out if you play Episode III before the movie opens. The game will feature roughly 12 minutes of footage from the movie and will touch on most of the major plot points. But with that said...come on, everyone knows how this one's going to end.
We were able to try out a sampling of the game's two modes and the variations contained therein, and we dug what we saw. Episode III will feature two main modes: single-player and an unlockable multiplayer. The single-player mode will feature several different types of missions for you to take on, and these story missions will be the game's core. You will be sent through 16 levels that will follow the movie's narrative. Each level will present you with different objectives that you'll have to complete in order to proceed. In addition, you can unlock bonus missions that let you play as other characters. Some of the unlockable missions will include special two-player co-op support that will let you and a friend play as Anakin and Obi-Wan, respectively.
Once you unlock the multiplayer mode you'll be able to play two-player duels with a friend. You'll eventually find a roster of nine potential combatants after you've gone through the single-player content and unlocked them all. While we weren't able to see the full roster, the games we played had the following characters already open: Anakin, Obi-Wan, Count Dooku, General Grievous, Mace Windu, and two new characters, Cin Drallig and Serra Keto. Once you've decided on fighters, you'll find more than 15 different combat arenas to fight in, each based on a locale from the movie. (For Star Wars fanatics with a penchant for trivia, please note that Cin Drallig is actually Nick Gillard, the stunt coordinator for Episode III, who makes a Jedi-themed cameo in the game and movie.)
As for the game's mechanics, Episode III is rooted firmly in the third-person action genre and features an accessible control scheme that is easy to pick up. However, since you are playing Jedi (the Star Wars universe's equivalent to Shaft), The Collective has made sure you'll be able to kick a lot of butt and feel like a badass doing it. So besides the standard running, jumping, and two-button melee attack scheme, you'll be able to use a full complement of Force-fueled Jedi powers (in both light and dark varieties) that will grow as you get deeper into the game.
Using the Force
Action RPG fans will likely experience a bit of déjà vu once they start to play Episode III, as Anakin and Obi-Wan will both gain experience over the course of the adventure that you can use to evolve their starting set of Jedi powers to new heights of power. You'll find two basic categories of abilities you can upgrade: Force powers and combat skills. The Force powers category will let you increase and evolve any of the five available powers: push, grasp, stun, lightsaber throw, and heal. As you feed points into certain abilities, you'll be able to see them evolve and become more useful. For example, Anakin's Force stun eventually becomes Force lightning once you log in the points. Combat skills aren't quite as flashy as their Force-powered cousins, but they offer you a chance to yield new combos as they're developed and to make your Jedi into the killing machine you always wanted to be.
The control is solid, and although the mechanics are inline with what we've seen in previous Star Wars games, there are a few new additions. For example, now the Jedi will be able to block incoming blaster fire with their lightsabers, a nice visceral twist that plays off the original control conventions. So, while you'll still be able to block shots with your lightsaber, you can now windmill your foes' lightsabers, which sends all the bolts right back at them. This action can be done by whipping the right analog stick around as you defend your character. The only catch is that this will only work when you're facing the enemies in question. It's still entirely possible to get shot in the back if you're not careful...so don't get cocky.
The graphics in the game benefit from The Collective's experience in working on such action titles as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb, and its unique action strategy title Wrath Unleashed. Episode III features sharp graphics that do an admirable job of staying true to the movie's visuals. You'll find yourself in many recognizable set pieces, as well as some that are expansions of areas you see in the film. The character models come pretty close to their film counterparts and feature some impressive sets of fighting animation. The animation in the game was given an extra bit of "oomph," thanks to the input of stunt coordinator Nick Gillard, who worked on crafting the movie's impressive battles, as well as Hayden Christensen (yes, friends and neighbors, Anakin himself), who managed to pop by and offer the team some pointers on bringing his character to life.
The environments are very sharp, due to the hefty amount of access the developers had to assets from the film. Most importantly, the environments feature a great level of interactivity that complements your array of Force powers quite nicely. So if you want to fling that pile of debris lying on the ground at your foes, odds are you can. As far as the specifics on each platform go, expect the Xbox version to look and run slightly better. At the same time, don't expect the PlayStation 2 version of the game to be a dog either. At this point in both platforms' lives, most developers are sharp at figuring out how to get the most out of them. The only blemishes on the incomplete versions of the games we saw were some odd camera angles, occasional inconsistencies in the frame rate, and a few instances of choppy animation. Thankfully, all of the above falls into the category of game elements that are typically tightened up before release, so we're hopeful those issues will be sorted before Episode III ships.
The audio shines, thanks to the hallmarks we've come to expect from Star Wars games these days: authentic sound effects, a rich soundtrack, and solid voice acting. You can expect to hear all the familiar sound effects that have become as recognizable as those heard in real life to many of us that grew up with Star Wars. At this point, the thrum of a lightsaber being activated is as familiar as the ticking of a clock to many. The music on the soundtrack draws on the familiar themes heard over the course of the five movies that have preceded Episode III. Unfortunately, you won't hear much of the movie's soundtrack in the game due to the difference in development cycles between the game and the film. Still, there's no mistaking Episode III for anything other than a Star Wars game because of its familiar tunes. Finally, even though the voice acting is not provided by the movie's cast, it is still sterling, thanks to the voices of the Cartoon Networks' Clone Wars that have brought the game's characters to life. Much like the outstanding work done on the cartoon, Episode III's voice work captures the flavor of the movie and sells you on all the action.
Based on what we played, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is shaping up to be a satisfying experience that should complement the film nicely. The ability to play as a Jedi is always a welcome one, and the cinematic flair given to both Obi-Wan and Anakin's moves, especially when they diverge on their light and dark paths, works well. The extra modes in the game are smartly implemented ways to expand on the core adventure. If you're a fan of Star Wars, if you've dutifully plowed through Lego Star Wars, and you're looking to build yourself into a frenzy, then Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith has your name written all over it. Despite the rough edges we've noted, which we hope are smoothed out in time for the game's release, there's a lot to like here. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is currently slated to ship this May for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. A Game Boy Advance game is slated to hit next month as well.