Obi-Wan Updated Preview
Is the force with Obi-Wan's Xbox adventure?
Obi-Wan's development cycle has seen its fair share of twists and turns since the game was first announced for the PC in 1999. Featuring an extremely ambitious feature set, the game looked quite promising. However, following a review of the project by developer LucasArts, the game was cancelled for the PC and eventually announced for the Xbox. Now, a little over two years since it was first announced, the game is nearing release on Microsoft's fledgling system. We managed to spend some time with a previewable build of the game and put it through its paces to see how the game has fared.
Obi-Wan's original story is set slightly before the start of the events in Episode I and will follow his adventures while he trains to become a Jedi. The story will unfold over five main chapters that are broken up into multiple levels. In addition, you'll be able to unlock bonus missions that, when completed, will unlock other features in Obi-Wan. Over the course of the game, the plot of the movie and the game will intertwine, and you'll find yourself participating in events that occurred offscreen. The main plot finds Obi-Wan encountering a new enemy created specifically for the game, the Jin'ha, who possess an ore that is resistant to both lightsabers and the force. As he investigates this new foe and travels to different worlds, Obi-Wan discovers a threat to the Old Republic and the Jedi. The characters and locations you'll encounter will offer a mix of old and new. You'll recognize most of the game's cast, as all the Jedi from Episode I make an appearance. Familiar locales such as Coruscant and Tatooine are featured, as are original locations such as the Jin'ha's secret base.
The gameplay in Obi-Wan is laid out in the standard third-person adventure game mold, with a few Star Wars-centric twists. You'll be given objectives at the start of each level and make your way through to complete them. You'll control Obi-Wan's movement with the left analog stick and wield his lightsaber with the right stick. The right trigger will allow you to lock on to an enemy in battle, and repeatedly pressing it allows you to cycle through targets when surrounded. The left trigger will allow you to trigger Obi-Wan's various force powers when used in conjunction with Xbox's face buttons. For example, holding down the trigger and pressing X will allow you to perform a force pull that can be used to disarm your enemy. Obi-Wan will also be able to perform a force push to shove back enemies, a force jump to reach higher areas, a force throw that tosses nearby objects into enemies and force focus, a Matrix-style effect that slows down time briefly. You'll also be able to throw your lightsaber at enemies by holding down the left trigger and pushing the right analog stick in. In addition, by holding down the left trigger and using the right stick to attack with your lightsaber, you'll be able to perform a special attack augmented by the force that causes much more damage than a normal attack. When not being used in conjunction with the left trigger for force powers, the Xbox controller's face buttons offer a basic set of functions. The X button crouches; the Y button is a multipurpose "use" button, allowing you to talk to characters, trigger switches, and open doors; and the white button triggers the free-look function when held down. The A button jumps, and the B button serves as an action modifier that allows Obi-Wan to perform a variety of acrobatic moves when used in conjunction with the left stick. Finally, the black button performs a 180-degree quick turn. The D-pad is used to cycle through and use your inventory--such as your lightsaber and binoculars. Although a bit awkward at first, the dual stick control works quite well in combat, and getting around in the game isn't much of a problem. The force powers actually give you a certain amount of flexibility in how you get through a given level, which keeps things interesting.
While Obi-Wan's control and gameplay have remained solid in spite of the game's change in platforms, the game's graphics reflect the travails of the switch with an uneven look. At present, the game doesn't appear to have completely shaken off its PC "look" when coming to the Xbox, resulting in blockier characters, noticeably bitmapped backgrounds, and stiff animation which will hopefully be smoothed out by the game's release. This makes for an uneven overall presentation as there are some very nice graphical features on display such as reflective water, self-shadowing on Obi-Wan, and light sourcing. However, to the game's credit, the environments are extremely large and expansive and the frame rate remains fairly high.
Once we got over the rough graphics, there was some fun to be had in the game thanks to the gameplay. Going through the levels, knocking enemies to one side with our lightsaber and force powers, was pretty cool. The Jedi battle mode, which is essentially a one-on-one lightsaber fight between you and a friend, also provided a nice diversion. Completing the bonus missions in the main game unlocked new selectable characters in Jedi battle mode, giving you access to most of the Jedi Council--although Yoda appears to be absent. So far, Obi-Wan is shaping up to be a solid game in spite of some graphical hitches. Potential Jedi can look for the game this December.