One of the most popular Star Wars characters has always been Boba Fett, the soft-spoken yet ruthless bounty hunter seen in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Though true Star Wars geeks are quick to cite that Boba first appeared not in Empire but as a cartoon character in the embarrassing 1978 TV production The Star Wars Holiday Special, we got a surprising glimpse at the bounty hunter as a young boy in this year's Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. There we also learned of where Boba Fett apparently mastered the tricks of the trade: from his father, Jango. Attack of the Clones met with mixed reactions--it featured plenty of impressive special effects along with plenty of awkward romantic sequences, but the scenes featuring Jango and son stood out among the highlights. Now Boba Fett's predecessor is the star of his very own video game in Star Wars Bounty Hunter, a third-person action game that allows you to do most all of the cool moves that Jango did in the film. Unfortunately, the game has some pretty glaring shortcomings all around, and while the design might have looked solid on paper, it just didn't make for a fun, engaging, or good-looking game.
If you've seen Attack of the Clones, then you know that Jango, shall we say, loses his head near the conclusion of the film. Fortunately, the events of Star Wars Bounty Hunter take place well before that moment. The story of Bounty Hunter is probably the best aspect of the game and is told through well-done 3D cutscenes using good voice-over--Jango himself is voiced by Temuera Morrison, the same actor who plays him in the movie. In Episode II, we learn that Jango is the template for the Republic's mysterious clone army, and Star Wars Bounty Hunter explains how Jango came to be chosen for this important role. At the beginning of the game, Darth Sidious--later Emperor Palpatine--is shown speaking to his apprentice, Darth Tyrannus (also known as Count Dooku, the character played by Christopher Lee in the film), whom he orders to seek out the most skilled, most efficient bounty hunter in the galaxy. Thus, even though Jango Fett himself might not realize it, during the course of Star Wars Bounty Hunter you'll know you're really just helping set up an evil trap. That's actually pretty interesting, and if you're a big Star Wars fan, you'll enjoy seeing new events from the story told from the bad guys' perspective. That approach is not unlike what LucasArts did with its classic bad-guy-focused space combat sim, TIE Fighter. It's too bad that the only comparison to be drawn between TIE Fighter and Bounty Hunter is that they both let you play as Star Wars bad guys, since beyond that, Bounty Hunter doesn't exactly rank up there as one of the better Star Wars games.
It's not that the basic mechanics of the game aren't interesting, because they are. Jango Fett has access to numerous acrobatic maneuvers, weapons, and special moves. He can run quickly, use his dual blasters to pick off multiple targets simultaneously, climb, use evasive rolls, and crawl through tight spaces, and he can use numerous other weapons and gadgets such as a flamethrower and a welding torch to knock down thin walls. Jango can even take out foes using just his bare hands, and of course, he'll have a trusty jetpack throughout most of his adventure, which lets him fly far and fast, but only in brief durations. Some aspects of the controls work well. The game's autotargeting feature makes aiming at multiple foes too easy, if anything, and Jango does a fine job of grabbing hold of ledges if you fall short of a jump. The jetpack also sets up some pretty good sequences.
However, Bounty Hunter suffers from an array of technical problems that have plagued other third-person action games. You can move the camera perspective using the right analog stick, but the camera will still cause you some major headaches when in tight corridors or when trying to draw a bead on a specific enemy. Often it'll automatically swivel to point you in entirely the wrong direction. Clipping and collision-detection issues also abound. Jango can frequently be seen sticking right through parts of the environment, which really cheapens the game's presentation and makes the characters and levels seem hollow. The game's frame rate is occasionally smooth but generally just inconsistent. It'll slow down terribly in some of the game's larger environments, especially when enemies abound, and this together with the camera problems will certainly frustrate you at times.
The level design can be bewildering, as well. You'll be given vague mission objectives and will set off in expansive environments that are simple enough to where one part tends to look pretty much like any other part. Even from the get-go, you'll invariably end up wandering around, inadvertently backtracking, just searching for where you're supposed to go next. You'll eventually find the rust-colored door you're supposed to open, the small pit you're supposed to jump into, the little control panel you're supposed to use, or what have you. The exploration and puzzle-solving elements do serve to pad the length of the game, but they're not exactly glamorous or entertaining. Don't expect the life of a bounty hunter to be filled with nonstop danger and excitement.
Other problems like rather bad loading times and poor enemy artificial intelligence make the experience of playing Bounty Hunter less than satisfying. An awkward save system means that your progress is saved between each big level, and you get five "continues" in each one in case you die, but if you use them all up, you're forced to start that level over. Death in Bounty Hunter usually comes from falling or from some other environmental hazard, since most enemies are easy pickings. Body counts in most levels are extremely high, and civilian casualties are pretty irrelevant, making Jango seem more like a mass murderer than a trained assassin.
The game has numerous extras that can be unlocked if you score well enough in the 18 different levels, and while earning high scores by collecting on bounties seems like a cool idea, in practice not even the bounty-hunting aspect of Bounty Hunter works well. You first need to use the directional pad to switch to a first-person targeting view, during which you can't attack. Here you can scan any character in the vicinity, and some of them will have bounties posted. Then you need to mark your target, kill or incapacitate it, and then walk up and "collect" it. The victim then magically vanishes, and that's how Jango earns his keep. Problem is, switching to the first-person view while in the middle of a firefight isn't exactly a desirable tactical maneuver. There is of course meant to be a challenge associated with this aspect of the game, but there's no obvious reason for why the targeting view wasn't just mapped to one of the controller buttons, rather than treated as one of Jango's different "weapons." You'll feel silly standing perfectly still, getting shot, all while just trying to find viable bounties. Sometimes it's possible to mark your bounty without the victim's knowing you're there, but not often.
The game's color palette looks washed out, the level architecture is pretty boring, and the clipping and frame rate issues do much to make the game look ugly rather than good. There's even a strange fish-eye effect on the camera, causing everything to look warped around the edges. The audio in Bounty Hunter is largely what you'd expect--there's that predominant Star Wars blaster sound, along with some John Williams music--but even this aspect of the game isn't impressive. The way some of the sounds are oversampled or undersampled serves to get in the way of the presentation. You'll hear a lot of the same ambient noises and dialogue repeated much too often, and overall, Bounty Hunter doesn't end up sounding much better than it looks, despite the good voice acting during the cutscenes.
Maybe it's always been this way, but now more than ever, Star Wars games can't get by just on the strength of their license--they need to be good games in their own right. Star Wars Bounty Hunter may have all the basic ingredients needed for a solid third-person action game, but it falls flat in the execution and is far too often cumbersome, confusing, or in some other way un-fun to be recommendable on its own merits. Serious Star Wars aficionados should enjoy the game's story, but they'll be forced to slog through a lot of tedious action to see how it pans out.