Star Wars: Episode I Obi-Wan Preview - Part 1

In the first of our two-part preview of Episode I Obi-Wan, we take a look at the action game's weapons, force powers, and gameplay mechanics.


Star Wars: Obi-Wan

Obi-Wan Preview - Part 1

Over the years, LucasArts games have become instant classics upon their release. These games have typically been associated with either the company's X-Wing or adventure series, and consistently pushed new gameplay ideas and highlighted their main characters through believable, familiar plots and great game design. Whether creating unique characters like Guybrush Threepwood and LeChuck or expanding the scope of Hollywood's creations like Indiana Jones, LucasArts has developed a knack for making games rich in both gameplay and personality.

In more recent memory, the company created yet another memorable character in Kyle Katarn, the hero of the Dark Forces series of action games. Kyle is a brooding mercenary-turned-Jedi who must choose between the dark and light paths of the force in the second Dark Forces game, Jedi Knight. When it first released in 1995, Dark Forces was a new direction for LucasArts, and more than a few raised doubts about whether the company would be able to compete with first-person shooter veterans like 3D Realms and id Software. But while other shooters came up short with their plots, Dark Forces (and later Jedi Knight) delivered solid storylines and precise play control.

Now LucasArts is looking to build on the first two Dark Forces games with a third addition, Episode I Obi-Wan. While the game is being considered as the official follow-up to Jedi Knight, Obi-Wan isn't a sequel. Instead of focusing on Kyle Katarn, Episode I Obi-Wan will let players assume the role of none other than young Obi-Wan Kenobi from last year's Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace movie. Unlike the isometric Episode I action/adventure title released last year to coincide with the film's release, Episode I Obi-Wan will feature an original story that merely uses the movie's plot to suggest the events in the game. Obi-Wan will not simply rehash the sequences that transpired on the silver screen. That is, certain missions in the game will follow the time line of the movie, while others will branch off to depict events that happened "offscreen." This intertwining of plots lets the movie provide the necessary contextual background for Obi-Wan, while simultaneously enabling players to explore places they've never seen before.

Weapons of the Jedi

The first Dark Forces game was played entirely from a first-person perspective. Jedi Knight, the sequel, mixed both first- and third-person perspectives in order to accommodate the introduction of the light saber. While the sequel had a wide variety of rifle and pistol weapons that could be normally operated from the character's perspective, the handling of the light saber required players to get a better view of their immediate surrounding, creating the necessity for the over-the-shoulder camera angle. With Obi-Wan, LucasArts is stressing the importance of using the light saber, and thus, the entire game will be played from a third-person perspective. That's not to say that the light saber will be Obi-Wan's only weapon, as the game is littered with enemies that wield an array of blasters, rifles, and grenades, all of which Obi-Wan will be able to pick up and use at any time during the game. As it stands, LucasArts has finalized seven weapons, not including the light saber. They include the Naboo S-5 security blaster, the battle droid blaster, the TM-29 battle droid sniper rifle, the senate guard rifle, ion grenades, the CR-2 Naboo basic blaster, and the Tusken Gaderffi stick.

Despite this robust arsenal, however, the light saber is Obi-Wan's weapon of choice. In fact, as a Jedi, the light saber isn't just a weapon - it's an extension of Obi-Wan himself. According to LucasArts, after wielding the light saber, the game's conventional weapons will instantly seem cumbersome. While Kyle Katarn donned his own light saber in Jedi Knight, his range of movement was limited to a handful of attacks and blocks. In this game, however, LucasArts has implemented a seemingly complicated method of saber control called the Glyph System. "It's a little different, but learning the glyphs will ultimately benefit players and dramatically improve the amount of control they have over their sabers," explains project lead Stephen Shaw. The Glyph System ties Obi-Wan's saber movement with the player's mouse. When the attack button is held down, the mouse's movement will determine what kind of swing Kenobi takes. All the saber and mouse movements correspond logically with each other, meaning that moving the mouse upward while the attack button is held down will cause Obi-Wan to swing upward. Pulling the mouse downward will result in a low attack, moving it back and forth once will cause Obi-Wan to flip his light saber behind his back to attack or defend against enemies behind him, a circular motion will result in a spin attack, and so on.

The Glyph System currently includes eight movements, and despite its complexity, it will actually require only a small learning curve to master. For those who prefer to keep things simple, Obi-Wan can still be played using the classic Jedi-Knight style of swordplay. However, those who master the Glyph System will be able to pull off some amazing moves otherwise not available in the game.

Harnessing the Force

No Star Wars action game would be complete without use of the force, that mystical energy that binds Jedi Knights together. Force powers were first introduced in Dark Forces II in a system that gave players the chance to choose between becoming a Jedi or straying to the dark side of the Sith. As the game progressed, players gained new experience points that they could allocate to whichever force power they had learned.

While force powers still exist in Obi-Wan, the way the game handles them is drastically different from Jedi Knight. First of all, players will begin the game with the ability to use every force power in Obi-Wan - the powers during the opening sequences are the same ones players will possess shortly before the closing credits roll. And because players are acting out the role of an established movie character whose ultimate destiny has already been decided, straying to the dark side won't be an option in the game.

Obi-Wan's list of force powers has almost been finalized by LucasArts, and currently includes force push, an invisible force that topples enemies and other objects out of Obi-Wan's way; force throw, which grabs items (and enemies) near players and hurls them outward; force pull, a power that can be used to get to items out of Obi-Wan's normal reach; saber throw, which lets Obi-Wan fling his light saber at enemies and have it return safely in his hand; heal; distract; and force speed, which instead of making Obi-Wan run at uncontrollable speeds across a level will actually slow everything around the player down to a crawl and leave Obi-Wan to walk at his usual pace. First used in Acclaim's Turok, this effect has become instantly popular since the release of The Matrix. As players proceed from mission to mission, they'll receive an invisible set of "points" that will automatically enhance all the force powers they possess. As the game progresses, players will find that Obi-Wan's force affinity is gradually growing, as he'll be able to run faster, throw items farther, and heal for more health.

More on the Force

In their attempt to make powers a more natural part of Obi-Wan, the designers at Lucas implemented a unique way of using the force. Force powers won't be activated by pressing one of nine function keys like Jedi Knight. Instead, there'll be only a single force-modifier button, which when used in conjunction with another action will result in Obi-Wan using one of his force powers. For example, if players hold down the force-modifier key and press the jump key, Obi-Wan will perform a force jump. If players stand still while wielding their light saber and hold down the force modifier, Obi-Wan will automatically block enemy laser blasts.

Adding to LucasArts' aim to seamlessly integrate the force into the game is the lack of any health or force points. "A Jedi Knight doesn't stop in the middle of a battle and say 'Oh, I see I have 75 hit points left,'" jokes Shaw. Instead, a small silhouette of Obi-Wan will be located in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. This icon will be a solid green color and bordered by a blue outline. The green represents Obi-Wan's health, and as the player takes more damage, the green will begin to fade. Likewise, as players use their force powers, the blue border surrounding the icon will also begin to dissipate. To regain his health, Obi-Wan can either use the force to heal himself or pick up one of the scarce bacta tanks located throughout some of the levels. Obi-Wan's force affinity recharges itself over time, and as he gains more force "points" throughout the game, his recharge time will decrease.

Tomorrow, we'll detail Obi-Wan's single-player campaign, discuss the game's levels and new engine, and wrap up our preview with a look at the multiplayer component. And we'll let you know whether or not Obi-Wan will square up against Darth Maul.

Be sure to read the second part of our Obi-Wan preview here.

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