Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone












While too many Star Wars console titles have failed to live up to expectations, LucasArt’s first foray on the PS2 has been a subject of much anticipation and hype. Taking its cues from the acclaimed PC titles such as X-Wing and Rogue Squadron, Star Wars: Starfighter promises to be one of the first console titles to live up to the legendary film series. With its incredibly ambitious design and deep gameplay, does Starfighter live up to expectations or fall short in key areas? Read the in-depth review to find out.   

LucasArts’ highly-anticipated Star Wars: Starfighter for the PS2 is an outstanding mission-based shooter that satisfies on many different levels. Its intrinsic quality and polish more than makes up for the many disappointing Star Wars titles that have come out for the console in recent years, there can be little doubt that this title is a must-own for any PS2 owner. The deep mission based play allows for plenty of variety while the action-packed gameplay is fun and challenging. The game’s rich graphics push the limits of the PS2’s power and combine with the deep play make the experience one of the best overall PS2 games to date. What’s even better is that the game expands on the Star Wars galaxy without losing the essential appeal of the series. This is because Starfighter’s plot is faithful to the Star Wars universe, immersing players into an action-packed gaming experience that feels quite cinematic without losing sight of gameplay. In addition, an expansive mission structure allows for varied missions that are fun without becoming overly frustrating. The way the game switches action from character to character is seamless. This allows for loads of variety and challenge while also weaving together an epic and engrossing plot and most importantly keeps monotony at bay. This is great for the most part, but there are a few missions that are incredibly difficult at first and must be played multiple times until they are completed successfully. This can get aggravating but players with persistence and patience are commeasurably rewarded with an incredible gaming experience. Even jaded players will be impressed immediately by the title’s impressive graphics. Starfighter’s visuals show plenty of polish and cohesiveness, taking full advantage of the PS2’s powerful hardware with ship and world designs that show a high degree of creativity and attention to detail. Finally, the excellent controls make the flying interface simple to learn and master without sacrificing depth or versatility in commands.

Starfighter’s story takes place parallel to Episode I and allows you to play as one of three different characters during the course of the game. It’s a great story with believable, sympathetic characters who come together slowly.  Those looking to play through the game as Obi-Wan Kenobi or Anakin Skywalker will be disappointed since they don’t appear in this spin-off but on the bright side, neither does Jar Jar Binks. Fortunately, even though the characters are new, they fit well in the Star Wars universe and are fleshed-out quite convincingly, considering they exist as complete CGI virtual creations. This is due in large part to its plot, which is surprisingly convincing and deep for a game – there are some hackneyed elements but for the most part this is a thrilling game that serves as a nice compliment to Episode I. For its duration, the title weaves a good tale as the three seemingly disparate stories converge later on to make for a huge climax, neatly aping the feel of the movies while also complimenting them. In many regards and spirit, the more straightforward story of Starfighter is closer in spirit to the original trilogy than the prequel was and makes the game more enjoyable to die-hards, many of whom were quite vocal in their disdain for the childish parts of Episode I.

An excellent storyline makes Starfighter’s mission structure seem logical because the game switches between the different characters seamlessly without losing the plotline’s cohesiveness. This has a huge impact on how the game plays. It is best to think of Starfighter as a hybrid that combines the depth of a PC space simulation with the action packed gameplay of a console title. While Starfighter exists between the two planes, those on either side may find it too much of the other for their taste. For example, PC players may not like this because it feels like a watered down simulation, while console gamers will probably find it a bit slower and more cerebral than they are accustomed to. In the end however, the game seems to exist in a comfortable middle ground gameplaywise that offers the best structural aspects of each that it should satisfy both camps. In the end, the game succeeds because its switching character perspectives allow for more variety in the action. This is great because Starfighter’s planet-surface and space-based missions make for a versatile playing experience. Additionally, the three characters each have their own ships. The famous yellow Naboo fighter makes an appearance, as do two other unique fighting craft. While the controls on each of the three ships are all similar, each ship features their own control nuances that players will have to adjust for. In addition, each of the ships have their own set of super-weapons. The changing locales range from exotic planet-surfaces to deep space only enhance the game’s expansive feel covering many different areas while giving the game quite a bit of visual versatility. Starfighter’s mission structures are intelligent and challenging because players have to deal with different objectives for each mission, ranging from reconnaissance to shoot to kill.  

What’s most impressive about the missions are their large scale and sheer magnitude – there are literally dozens of ships and events occurring simultaneously to each other during the missions. This can be a bit confusing at some points because it can overload your sense of proportion, but on the other hand, it also helps to immerse the player further into the game. The real trick to the game is to “use the Force” to really concentrate on your own objectives and not allow yourself to be distracted by the many other things going on. The missions are well designed and run the gamut from protecting ships to fighting Trade Federation vessels and destroying various installations – there is a great deal of versatility in the design which keeps the replay value high. You have to complete all the main objectives to beat the missions which is great, but some of the missions are very long and replaying them all the way through because of a small error can get very frustrating at certain points. On the plus side, while there may be too much going on sometimes, the large levels also allow plenty of freedom to explore the game environments. With many events unfolding simultaneously, some strategy comes along with the action. You have to figure out which objective to complete first, though this is obvious in most cases it is not always clear.

A big help comes in the form of the ship’s auto-target, which is surprisingly intelligent. The auto-target usually locks in on the most important objective at that moment, instead of mindlessly tracking the closest enemy. This makes playing much easier, but the game is far from a cakewalk. Another factor to consider are the wingmen on your sides. You can command the wingmen to attack specific enemies or report the current mission status – this is a significant asset to the game because it allows you to feel even more immersed in the action. Controlling them is simple, just use the digital pad and you’re all set to go with the commands simple to understand thanks to the on-screen labels. Knowing how to deploy your wingmen plays a crucial role throughout the game, especially in later levels, with much of mission successes riding on your decisions. The Wingmen are handy when you face an armada of attackers and need some support to get you through a rough spot or need a refresher on your objectives during the heat of battle. This lends a surprising amount of richness to the experience that’s relatively uncommon in console titles and one of the main reasons why Starfighter is such a satisfying experience. This utilization of wingmen allows sub-plots within missions to appear, adding more to the storyline without detracting from the bigger quest. It doesn’t hurt that the voice-acting here is also well-done.

Unfortunately, despite it’s polish and the impressiveness of the engine and gameplay structure, there are some flaws that detract from the experience a bit. While Starfighter’s storyline is quite engrossing, there are only 14 main missions in total, which is a shame. Adding more missions to the main quest would have made for a deeper game, allowed for more character development and could have greatly reduced the game’s unfortunate reliance on bonus missions. There is a mitigating factor, however, and that is that some of these are quite long and extremely difficult. The difficulty is especially apparent as you reach later levels, some of which verge on impossible. They are beatable but only after repeated play – this gives the game poor balance. It would have been better if there were more missions that were shorter and less taxing, but still this should not be enough to dissuade gamers as Starfighter’s redemption comes in the form of it’s sheer excellence. It should be noted that in addition to the main quest, there are also bonus missions that while not affecting the main storyline add significant replay value and allow you to improve your flying skills. It is disappointing that these missions don’t enhance or elaborate on the main storyline making them little more than training exercises. There is some motivation in unlocking them since they add to the gameplay time. Unlocking the bonus missions requires that you complete extremely difficult bonus objectives during the regular missions and further, there are also objectives in the bonus missions with unlock yet more missions, giving the game layers of challenge. This means you have to play through the same missions repeatedly until you can beat them almost perfectly in order to open the bonus missions - this can get old in a hurry. It also would have been good if the game had other things to unlock, such as ships, characters or, a branching plotline, because it gets a bit dull just opening more missions repeatedly. While this is a good structure overall, there are obvious improvements could have been implemented that would have made this excellent game an extraordinary event. This may be a function of console game expectations, but still there are some nagging flaws with the overall structure that diminish the long-term appeal somewhat.

The gameplay structure is well-done for the most part, and the other essential ingredient, an intuitive control system and a complimentary smartly designed interface are also in place to make the game that much more enjoyable. Starfighter’s controls are intuitive and work perfectly with the Dual Shock 2 controller while simulating a believable sensation of flight – the game allows for quite a bit of versatility without getting bogged down in excessive complexity and complications. Learning the controls is quite a simple task thanks to the early levels that serve as training missions. The way the game is structured allows players to gradually learn the methods and timing to the myriad of commands, adding more layers as the missions become increasingly elaborate. For example, you don’t have wingmen in the first few missions and their uses are constrained at first, allowing you to slowly accumulate the knowledge you’ll need without throwing you into the action without a net. The interface of the game is excellent, clear and concise and doesn’t clutter the screen with unnecessarily confusing bells and whistles. Using the tracking and other devices is a snap. The on-screen indicators are simple, allowing you to quickly locate the enemy ships. The targeting system is also quite intuitive as well. Adding to the game are the wingmen controls, which allow you to command and communicate with supporting craft. A sniper mode allows you to zoom in for extremely accurate shots when you need to destroy specific objects. The controls are transparent for the most part, making the focus squarely on the action yet allowing the player quite a bit of freedom and versatility.

Starfighter’s excellent graphics display the PS2’s power with excellent ship models and environments with detailed textures and few of those annoying jaggies evident in any area of the game. This is truly a landmark title. It pushes the technical abilities of console forward from a visual standpoint with unprecedented smoothness and attention to detail. The planet surfaces and deep space vistas look incredible throughout the game, offering gobs and gobs of eye-candy. In addition, the game runs at a smooth frame rate, which is all the more impressive when you consider the volume of objects that are onscreen simultaneously. The individual objects display a great deal of detail and the high polygon counts make for a believable world that feels consistent and beautiful in some aspects. The renderings of the planet Naboo are especially commendable and truly allow players to feel as if they are flying through canyons on the surface of the planet. StarFighter’s extensive special effects such as flares, explosions, and shading are abundant and incredibly impressive throughout with lasers, flares, and reflecting lighting up the screen in brilliant color and design. Some of the levels are stunning and seem almost magical in their realism and design. You really have to let it sink in and allow yourself to be immersed into the action; it is only then that you can begin to fully appreciate the sheer amount of effort that has gone into the game. There are two especially levels: one that takes place on the mining planet and another inside a Federation starship which are some of the most memorable areas ever to appear in a Star Wars video game title. The visuals in these levels are nothing less than astounding and truly set the bar higher for other developers while immersing the player deeply into the game. What’s great about all this technical proficiency is that the visuals convey the Star Wars universe in such a way as to remain faithful while introducing heretofore unseen planets into the Star Wars lexicon. It’s all highly polished and not surprisingly, the space-based areas are quite impressive visually with massive cargo ships and huge planets taking the player directly into that galaxy far, far away. Not surprisingly, Starfighter looks and plays much better in the first-person mode making for a more immersive game. While its outside the ship views are nice, they fail to have the impact that playing the game in cockpit perspective offers. There are some minor glitches involving object collision detection and polygon breakups some areas, which can potentially be a major drawback. Players should compensate for this by allowing for it. It can be very aggravating depending on your point of view, but given the ambition and design of Starfighter, it’s a small problem in the grand scheme of things and is there is really nothing that ruins the experience.

With such attention paid to the visuals, you’d expect the soundtrack to be just as excellent and it is. Legendary composer John Williams’ memorable score adds that classic Star Wars feel to the background music that enhances the visuals and sets the stage as brilliantly for the game as it did in the film. Hearing the memorable score in the background should be more than enough to get your pulse quickening. Heightening the game even more are the impressive sound effects that also add to Starfighter’s evocative atmospherics. The most important aspect of the game are the actors used in the duration. Above-average voice acting adds a professional feel to the proceedings and the impressive performances lend believability and some depth to the characters. This is all the more impressive when you contrast the characters in Starfighter with the generic cardboard characters and threadbare plotlines that populate many other space shooting games. All of the actors seem to be well cast and fit the appearance of the character models used in the game and help to make the plot that much more immersive and exciting to experience. What’s even better is that each character’s wingmen are all performed by a unique cast, giving the player a further sense of depth and gravity. Few action games have been able to suspend a player’s disbelief as well as this game has.

Despite some minor graphics glitches and too much repetitiveness in its mission structure, this is an excellent title. The immersive storyline synchronizes perfectly with Starfighter's challenging gameplay to create one of the most challenging and satisfying PS2 games yet released and one of the best Star Wars console titles overall to date. It doesn’t hurt that Star Wars: Starfighter features some of the most impressive graphics seen on the console to date. The fact that it lives up to ambition in most areas and doesn’t disappoint when so many other anticipated PS2 titles have up to this point is something akin to a miracle. Since the storyline ties in so nicely to Episode I, while also expanding the storyline to include new characters and worlds, this should add greatly to the title’s appeal amongst Star Wars fans. Starfighter is highly recommended for space-combat fans. While it isn’t perfect by any means, it’s still enormously deep and challenging. This makes for a more-than-satisfying game should erase the memories of the more dismal Star Wars console titles from fans’ minds and should make the wait for Episode II easier to take.