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Episode III: the game

Twisted by the dark side young Gabez has become. The question is, was it worth it?

As the trademark music kicks in and the yellow text begins its screen scroll, it’s hard not to feel just a little bit excited; this is, after all, Star Wars. Eventually the camera pans away and we’re thrown directly into the action, lightsabering away at droids with funny accents on the way to rescue Palpatine. For those who have watched the film this will be all too familiar, though it has to be said that the plot presented here is a more washed down version than the one we saw on the big screen. Despite being full of spoilers the developers have edited away Padme and even changed the reasons behind Anakin’s fall to make the story a more action orientated affair, whilst simultaneously dumbing down an already dumbed down plot.

Thumb "There's just one problem: it doesn't work."

But then who watches Star Wars for the story anyway? What we really want is lighstabers, and lot’s of ‘em - something that the game is only too eager to provide. The stunt coordinator for the film even demonstrated some sword moves for the developers to copy, and it shows - every thrust and turn looks stunning as you effortlessly glide through a sea of enemies.

There’s only one slight problem: it doesn‘t work. Despite the effort to make a decent fencing system for a game, the experience soon degenerates to little more than frantic button mashing - all very well for Gareth’s charity wankathon, but not the sort of thing you want to spend an afternoon doing to your game pad.

REVENGE OF THE LUCASARTS

The main problem with the controls is that the combo-moves, though impressive looking, take far too long to implement, leading to what feels like a very unresponsive system. If they had followed something more in the vain of the Jedi Knight series and kept it relatively simple then it might very well have worked, though I suspect the temptation to go visuals over gameplay was too high for the makers to ignore. Furthermore, the skill system which levels you up RPG style for taking less hits is very frustrating, as every time you try to string together a series of attacks you leave yourself open for enemy blasters.

Luckily the game makes up for the flawed gameplay in the quality of the visuals. All of the major set-pieces from the film are here and presented in full 3D-o-vision, with nice little graphical touches like lens flare from the lightsabers and realistic looking scowls from Anakin. The sound, too, is decent, as we come to expect from LucasArts affiliated games, with the voice actors all doing an excellent job and John William’s score pumping through your speakers, albeit music from the previous films and not from Episode III itself as you would expect.

You play as Anakin and sometimes as Obi-Wan, but it feels like a missed opportunity that the game didn’t explore other characters in great depth as well. It seems pointless to me to just recreate the events of the movie, and it would have been much cooler if we could have controlled, say, General Grevious as he went on a mission to hunt down some Jedis for a few levels, or played Chewbacca fighting off some droids for a bit. It would have offered a change in pace and given us a better understanding of the film’s events, rather than a rehashed version of exactly the same story told in pretty much the same way.

SITH HAPPENS

Unfortunately the game doesn’t get any better as it goes along; the level design seems to get more confusing and frustrating as you desperately try to find an exit in another generic spaceship. The camera often seems erratic and doesn't do a good job of showing me the action; often I was attacked by lasers coming from enemies out of my orb of sight. The graphics helped to keep me interested, but at the end of the day if the core of the game isn’t right, there’s only so much visual whiz-bag can do.

And then we have the artificial intelligence. Now, I know droids aren’t supposed to be the brightest tools in the box, but standing in the middle of the room firing at the floor doesn’t strike me as something they were programmed to do. Even Obi-Wan Kenobi, the wise and venerable Jedi Master, occasionally gets trapped in corners making you want to throw your Xbox at his waddling figure. Even without the bugs it’s still pretty dire, though - enemies seem to either stand still until you attack them or run at you in a straight line firing.

The best solution to bad A.I. is to go online, of course, and here at least Episode III redeems itself somewhat. This is mainly because you don’t have the problems of the single player campaign, rather than any multiplayer innovation, but it’s stupid simple fun nevertheless.

Thumb "Luckily the game makes up for the gameplay in the quality of the visuals"

I FIND YOUR LACK OF FAITH DISTURBING

If you’re looking for a game with great replay value then you might as well forget it with Episode III - it’s shorter than the film for hardcore gamers and no longer than a weekend for the rest of us. Some value is given in the amount of unlockable video clips you can find along the way, but they aren’t worth replaying levels to find and you might as well just wait for the DVD.

Episode III isn’t a truly awful game - the graphics and the general level of polish make it at least a decent effort - but for the majority of us it is a game best left alone unless you’re a major Star Wars aficionado who needs a fix of lightsabering. If that’s the case, though, then I’d heartily recommend the excellent Jedi Knight series of games as being far more accomplished, and far better executed, than this slightly half-baked offering.

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Pros: Great sound; looks good; quite fun to play; it's Star Wars for crying out loud!
Cons: Plot a bit washed down; suspicious AI and level design; annoying camera and combo moves; way too short.

Next week: pretend you’re eight again with Lego Star Wars. Is the force strong with this game or are we left with another Phantom Menace?

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