Every year for the last several years, there have been at least a few games vying for the "vehicular combat" crown. This year, the main stars of the vehicular combat stage, Twisted Metal and Vigilante 8, haven't made any sequential appearances, but the makers of the Vigilante 8 series have kept busy with Star Wars Demolition, which may appear to some as a "Vigilante 8 with Star Wars skins."
The premise of the game is that the Empire has finally made podracing illegal, so Jabba the Hutt has turned to vehicular combat as an alternate source of entertainment. Contestants and vehicles arrive from all corners of the Star Wars galaxy - two rebels in a snowspeeder, a wookie in a battle tank, an Imperial officer in an AT-ST, a rancor steered by one of Jabba's henchmen, the well known Boba Fett (who gets by just fine with just armor and rocket pack), and more. And while last year's Episode I: Racer brought you to a number of new locales, Demolition sticks with better-known places such as the swamp planet Dagobah, the ice planet Hoth, the desert world of Tatooine, and the second Death Star.
There are four different modes of play in Star Wars Demolition: battle, tournament, high stakes, and hunt a droid. Battle is a standard one-round fight against computer-controlled opponents. High stakes is a variation in which you bet money on the outcome of your battle and keep fighting until you've either reached 10,000 credits or had your bank cleared out. Hunt a droid makes you destroy as many Imperial probe druids as you can within a three-minute period. But tournament is the main draw of the game. In it, you play four rounds of battle against an increasing number of opponents.
So far, Star Wars Demolition may sound like any other vehicular combat game, but there are slight variations in its gameplay that allow it to break away from the norm. Instead of beginning with several lives, each contestant starts with a number of credits. If you run out of credits, you're out of the game (and likely into the sarlaac pit). But if you can earn 10,000 credits in four rounds, you can open up locked extras in the game. You gain credits by attacking enemies and lose them when you need to repair your vehicle's weapons or shields. Each vehicle comes with a laser weapon, but special weapons such as thermal detonators and tractor beams and power-ups such as energy absorbers and shield reflectors can be picked up in the playing field. Both your basic and special weapons can be charged into powerful special attacks, which can gain you huge credit bonuses if executed correctly. The constant balance between the need to repair your ship and the need to squirrel away 10,000 credits lends a strategic feel to the gameplay. It's quite easy to survive four rounds by unleashing special attacks on enemies and visiting the pit stops between rounds, but to make that amount of cash, you need to play smart and take risks - not run to the recharge units every time your shields or weapons are low.
The Dreamcast and PlayStation versions of Star Wars Demolition are exactly the same except in the areas of multiplayer support and graphics. Both editions offer two-player variations on the tournament, battle, high stakes, and hunt a droid modes, which boosts the games' replay value. But the Dreamcast version also provides an additional three- or four-player deathmatch mode, which runs smoothly with only a little slowdown. The visuals in the PlayStation game are a big step down from last year's Vigilante 8: Second Offense. Pop-up and fogging are frequent, and the textures are muddy and ill defined, which can lead to problems in some of the game's stages. For instance, on Naboo, you won't be able to tell the stairs from a wall until you're right on top of them. To make matters worse, slowdown occurs often, which detracts from the gameplay. Both versions of the game benefit from having an excellent soundtrack. Each stage has a theme that is either boldly cinematic or just simply catchy. There's enough variation to the original Star Wars scores to make the songs new, while they're similar enough to be recognizable at the same time. Surely, you've never heard the cantina band play so well. The only thing holding back the audio portion of the game is that the weapon sounds are unimpressive by comparison.
At first glance, Star Wars Demolition might seem like some half-baked attempt to cash in on the Star Wars license, though it's actually a competently executed game. It's nothing that we haven't seen before in some regard, but its variations on the established theme make the experience at least somewhat different from the rest.