Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a vehicular combat action game based on the well-known but never-shown conflict from the history of the Star Wars series. The Clone Wars have been familiar to all Star Wars fans since their first mention in A New Hope, but they've never been described in great detail until now. George Lucas gave us a taste of the Clone Wars at the end of Attack of the Clones with the massive land battle that started the conflict, but fans were left wondering about the subsequent skirmishes that made up the war. LucasArts and Pandemic Studios are now filling in the details with The Clone Wars, which chronicles a series of battles that take place in the period of time after Episode II. Already released for the PlayStation 2 and the PlayStation 2 , The Clone Wars is now on its way to the Xbox. Though the game is largely the same, the Xbox version has been enhanced in a couple of key areas.
The Clone Wars' combat places you in the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and Mace Windu, depending on the mission, and your Jedi have access to a wide variety of vehicles in their battle against the separatists. The gunship seen at the end of Episode II is included, as are a variety of vehicles that will be familiar to Star Wars fans. Some missions let you control the AT-XT, a two-legged walker that closely resembles the AT-STs of earlier films. You can also pilot a hovertank, a speeder bike, and the flying STAP platforms ridden by battle droids in the prequel films. You can even ride a giant beast called a maru on the Wookiees' homeworld of Kashyyyk. The vehicles in The Clone Wars all control pretty well, and the action is fast and furious, making the combat quite intense overall. Each vehicle has multiple weapons to fight the enemy hordes with, including standard lasers, concussion missiles, energy grenades, and so on. The game features an auto-targeting system that vastly eases and improves the flow of combat. When you move your crosshairs near a targetable enemy, it will automatically lock on to the enemy and stay locked as long as you keep it within the enemy's general vicinity.
In addition to the lengthy and varied single-player campaign, The Clone Wars features a pretty thickly featured multiplayer mode. It includes four games: duel, control zone, conquest, and academy. Duel is a pretty standard deathmatch mode that gives you access to the game's main vehicles (and a few more in addition) and lets you loose on a battlefield to pick up power-ups and fight other players. Control zone is a little more complex, as it rewards you for holding your own for a length of time in a designated area of the map. Conquest is a pretty unique team-based game mode that lets two teams fight over various control points on the map. The longer a control point is held by a team, the more defenses and drone units it produces to fight for that team. Finally, academy is a cooperative mode that pits you and your allies against endless waves of enemy units.
The Xbox version of The Clone Wars makes a couple of fairly significant improvements on the previous incarnations of the game. Predictably, the game's visuals have been enhanced quite a bit. The resolution seems to have increased, and everything has a cleaner and sharper look overall. Also, the frame rate is a bit smoother than it was on the PS2 and GameCube, and it doesn't bog down as much in busy firefights. The preview build we played had a strange stuttering problem that would rear its head occasionally, but once that issue is smoothed out, this should definitely be the best looking of the three versions of the game. The Clone Wars also has a feature that's becoming more common in new Xbox games lately: Xbox Live support. Unfortunately, the Live feature was unavailable in our preview build, but it will work with all four of the game's multiplayer modes, so you can duke it out against other players from the comfort of your own couch. This ought to give fans of the game a lot of extra replay value.
If you're a fan of Episode II and vehicle combat, The Clone Wars is a game you should enjoy. If you've already played one of the previous versions extensively, the forthcoming Xbox version doesn't contain a whole lot of changes to warrant another purchase, but if you liked the multiplayer, you'll definitely want to try the Xbox Live support, as it will increase the number of available opponents considerably. The Xbox version of The Clone Wars is shaping up to be the best version of the game, and it should be on shelves around the end of March.