While the debate rages on about the quality of the film, there can be little question about the game based upon it: It is bad. Very, very bad.
The Phantom Menace, despite earlier reports, is not an adventure game. It is a third-person action game in the vein of Tomb Raider or Heretic II, with a slightly altered perspective. The game closely follows the plot of its motion picture counterpart, though the levels themselves mostly take place between major plot points of the film. You control four of the major characters (Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Queen Amidala, Captain Panaka), running about and accomplishing small tasks that let you progress to the next level.
The game starts off promisingly. You are in control of the young Obi-Wan aboard a Trade Federation ship. You run around, fight droids, and push buttons (in later levels this list of requirements will include pulling blocks and jumping). The game looks good, with lots of color and nice lighting effects. It sounds good as well, with the original film score and solid voice acting that sounds enough like the real actors to be convincing. In the early levels, you only face a handful of enemies, and the game seems like it may be a simplified Jedi Knight-like escapade.
With the second level, though, The Phantom Menace's faults begin to show - and it isn't just the introduction of Jar Jar Binks. You begin to see that being a Jedi, at least in this gameworld, is not all it's cracked up to be. Sure, you can roll side to side and do back flips, but that doesn't do you much good when your acrobatics and lightsaber are no match for a row of shrubs. And your only real Jedi power is the force push, which lets you knock down close-by enemies. Clearings full of droids are waiting for you, but the combat (which mostly consists of you hitting the fire button repeatedly or just holding it down when you're tired) is disappointing.
Enemies can hit you from offscreen, when you can't even see them. Your ability to deflect blaster shots is a great idea, but it feels ineffectual - like you are at some crazed batting cages where all the machines are set on high and pointed straight at you. In fact, the lightsaber seems incredibly weak in the game, especially considering how fun it was to wield it in Jedi Knight. Here, it's about as elegant as a lead pipe, and as you repeatedly bang away on droids and Tusken Raiders, it's hard not to wonder why it only took one hit to take out Obi-Wan in the original Star Wars. The other weapons are standard fare - blasters, a rocket launcher, an assortment of grenades - but the lack of an auto-aim function (as in Heretic II and Tomb Raider) is a problematic oversight. As is the lack of an always-run option, which forces you to continually hold down the shift key while moving.
While levels have some interesting elements - such as leading another character to safety or solving some peripheral task within - too many problems face you at every turn. Characters whom you are supposed to protect will follow for a while, only to stop at predetermined points - usually in a swarm of enemies whom you'll then have to attack. Sure, there are plenty of indoor areas that are absolutely safe, but why should they miss all the action just because they don't want to help? And often they won't follow you even after you tell them to, so you'll run to a safe spot only to find they're still in the midst of the mayhem.
The level design sets up some nice action sequences, but the game just isn't up to the task. A horde of droids is ahead, manning a gun turret under a bridge. You can just run up some stairs, flip off of the bridge, take out the gunner, grab the turret, and have at it. Which would be incredibly fun, except for the fact that there are more powerful enemies behind, you can't turn the turret around, and you can't see under the bridge while you're fighting.
The viewpoint is constantly a problem, either obscuring enemies you want to fight or obscuring the character you're controlling. And because of the high angle, you simply can't see very far ahead. Unlike other games of its type, The Phantom Menace uses a camera angle that is much higher. It borders on top-down, located above and just slightly behind whomever you are controlling, as opposed to the behind-the-back viewpoint used much more effectively in other third-person games.
There's no doubt many of the game's problems stem from the fact that it was rushed, having to be in stores when the film was released. There are some good ideas here, and, with time, they may have become a good game. But The Phantom Menace is just too frustrating to recommend. If you loved the movie, you may bear with the game's problems simply for letting you run around in the world, swinging your lightsaber (if only ineffectually). If you haven't seen the movie, the game will undoubtedly ruin the experience. Not just because it gives away the story, but because you'll be reminded of it while you watch.