By Jake Rodkin
Star Wars: The Clone Wars, developed by Pandemic Studios, is mostly set after the events in Episode II. Throughout the 16 level game, you take control of one of three Jedi from the prequels (Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, or Mace Windu). Your goal is to help the Republic lead an assault against the people of the Confederacy (bad), who are trying to assemble an ancient Sith weapon of mass destruction, which might be the Death Star (also bad).
At first glance, the game appears to be yet another flying/shooting game in the vein of Rogue Squadron, Battle for Naboo, and Rogue Leader. While this may very well be true in the end, it seems that the developers are really trying for something more complex with The Clone Wars.
The demo we were shown was set during the battle on Geonosis at the end of Episode II. There are Republic gunships, troop transports, and miscellaneous enemy ships flying around in the air, while tanks, Segway-like rolling things, and ground troops duke it out on the planet's surface. All of this is taking place while very large command ships float around, and those weird spherical Trade Republic ships are blasting off from the planet's surface. There is a lot of action happening on screen at once with no noticable slowdown, and it all plays a part in the mission.
The guy running the demo took out the smaller ships without much thought (he had been running the same demo all day, and likely helped develop the game), but the command ships and mini-Death Stars took a little more effort. The extra effort was worth it though, as seeing the huge ships slowly fall out of the sky and crash onto battlefield in giant clouds of dust is really impressive. Think the visual quality of Rogue Leader, but picture a star destroyer falling out of the sky in that first Death Star mission, and leveling half the gun turrets in a firey blaze of doom.
The strongest point by far in the demo we were shown was the way the game switches up the gameplay mid-mission. Half way through the level, presumably after the player completed the air-based objectives, your ship lands and your character runs out and jumps into a nearby tank. Suddenly you are fighting dead center in the ground battle which thirty seconds ago you could only see from the air. Though I can't tell whether or not this will actually equal "fun gameplay" in the final product, it is a really clever way of essentially merging two or more levels into one. Of course, all those huge command ships that were shot down during the flying part of the mission are now giant obstacles laying about which must be avoided.
While the earlier Star Wars flight-action games like Rogue Squadron consisted mostly of flying through space or over a pretty linear strip of planet surface, the battles demoed in The Clone Wars appeared less controlled. The space you get to play in is certainly not endless, but the game doesn't try and push you down a straight line.
The aspect I (and probably most players of LEC's past flight-action games like Rogue Leader and the original Starfighter) was most interested in was the game's multiplayer element. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see that demo. According to the press release there are at least three or four multiplayer gameplay types (playable by 4 players at once on Gamecube, and 2 on PlayStation2), all using the standard split-screen modes seen in Mario Kart and the like. Considering every recent console-based Star Wars flight game (except Starfighter for XBox and Jedi Starfighter) has lacked multiplayer, this is probably a very welcome feature for fans of the genre.
Overall I was very impressed with The Clone Wars, especially considering I was expecting nothing at all. If after reading everything I've written the game seems identical to all the past Star Wars action-based vehicle games, I suggest you take a look at the gameplay footage in the trailer. Though it could easily end up being same-old same-old Star Wars vroom vroom trash game, there are numerous enhancements to the gameplay and visuals that, to me, made it stand out from the pack. And allegedly, in the final version, you can run over the ground troops while driving the tank. That rules.