When Obi-Wan was originally revealed, the PC gaming community was in a veritable uproar. It was billed as the spiritual follow-up to Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, which is undoubtedly the best Star Wars action game for the PC. Somewhere along the line, though, Obi-Wan changed gears drastically; LucasArts revealed that the game would be released exclusively for the Xbox platform. What wasn't clear until later was that many of the ambitious, attractive elements that were promised had been stripped away. The end result is an altogether disappointing action game, albeit one that occasionally displays shades of the brilliance under which it was conceived.
Obi-Wan puts you in the shoes of the young Jedi padawan and lets you play through the events leading up to Episode 1, as well as reenact some of the movie's more exciting scenes. What it ultimately boils down to, however, is a whole lot of combat--most of the game's levels seem designed around the massive throngs of enemies that you'll have to dispatch to trigger the next scripted cutscene, level transition, or what have you. What keeps this routine from being totally uninteresting is the satisfying array of force powers at your disposal. If you manage to fight the sometimes overwhelming urge to mow through masses of enemies with your lightsaber, you're likely to get some satisfaction from wielding the force in the cool ways that the game allows you to.
Both the force and lightsaber mechanics are mapped very well on the controller, which makes wielding both fairly satisfying. All lightsaber motions are mapped to the right analog stick, which decently mimics the mouse scheme originally planned for the game's PC release. If you want to swing right, you input commands in that direction, while if you want to attack with a fierce overhead blow, you hold the stick up. The nature of this scheme makes it pretty easy to string together combos of sorts, though you'll find that wild swings will usually result in gaffi sticks to the head. Luckily, if you enter no lightsaber commands, you'll block most attacks issued at you, and you can even reflect blaster fire if your timing is tight. Use of the force revolves around the force-modifier button--the L-trigger by default. You'll be under the influence of the force for as long as you have the trigger depressed, and this is made evident by the dainty particles that envelope Obi-Wan's body. In any event, every face button executes a particular effect when used in tandem with the L-trigger: hitting A will let you use a superjump while hitting X will cause nearby enemies to drop any firearms they might be holding. Use of these powers is regulated by a force meter, which, you'll find, replenishes rather quickly. In all, using these powers lends a decent bit of color to the battles, and it really does come close to salvaging the Jedi experience, despite the game's problematic camera.
The camera, in truth, lacks any kind of precision. It moves in wide sweeps, and usually, the only way to get a decent view of certain battles is to pull back significantly and let the mass of enemies be caught in the camera's view. As such, it's pretty inconvenient to take on more than three enemies at a time, despite the game's propensity to throw gangs 10 deep or greater at you. Mapped to the black button is a quick-turnaround function that serves as an occasional remedy, but its application is too particular to be of any real use most of the time.
As you've probably guessed, there is little to the game aside from these pitched battles. This is particularly frustrating when viewed in the context of its level design. Simply put, many of Obi-Wan's stages are incredibly huge, and, too often, they're incredibly empty, free of any kind of interactive elements. Huge chambers are at times free of anything save for decorative geometry, and post-battle hallways aren't nearly as interesting as they were during the fact, especially when you have to run through them several times during the course of a mission. And yes, this is definitely to say that you'll have to backtrack fairly often during the course of Obi-Wan, though, luckily, most of the time you'll find that enemies have respawned since your previous visit through the sections. The enemies' weak AI doesn't help things very much. Granted, they act decently when they're in your face, trying to kill you, but when in the distant, they run into all kinds of pathing problems.
Your reward for clearing these missions, in any event, usually comes in the form of scripted cutscenes rendered by the game's engine. These look about as good as the game itself, and their direction, most of the time, seems pretty haphazard. Transitions from cutscene to gameplay are often pretty rough, and you'll sometimes find yourself in a new environment without the smallest bit of context. Clearly, not a whole lot of effort was put into this aspect of the game.
The graphics, however, are the larger problem from which this stems. To put it lightly, Obi-Wan is not a very good-looking Xbox game, and this is evident from the get-go. The character model is needlessly low-poly, and many of the enemies are frightfully even more so. Obi-Wan's animation is passable, but other characters' routines are often best forgotten. Low-res textures permeate the environments, giving much of the game's geometry a look that is very "first pass." Adding insult to injury is the fact that the game slows down pretty frequently, especially when the battles get high-pitched. The sparse environment mapping (look at an R2 unit's head) and the ugly self-shadowing do precisely zero to remedy this.
Something bad clearly happened when Obi-Wan was turned into an Xbox game. It doesn't run very well on the platform, and its rather decently designed control mechanics don't save it. In this form, only the most ardent Star Wars fans will want to check it out, though anyone who picks it up for a few moments will likely find its control interface somewhat interesting. Closer inspection, though, will reveal a disappointingly sloppy piece of software. The light multiplayer mode helps a bit, but no one is likely to spend too much time with it, given the huge number of superior games currently available. Do yourself a favor and wait for Jedi Knight II.