171st played so far
Year of Release: 2003
It’s interesting to see how many Star Wars game have ended up in the list. As much of a bad reputation licensed games have – a result of many of them having been generic platformers with updated graphics and, if you’re lucky, a minor franchise-specific twist thrown in – there have been some good ones. We’ll get to Spiderman 2 later and there’s games like Sam & Max Hit the Road where the game’s more famous than the other parts of the franchise, but I can’t think of another one that’s been as consistent in delivering. From a quick count (that might have missed titles where the Star Wars part isn’t as obvious) there are ten games in the list. So far we’ve only covered Lego Star Wars, but more will follow.
I’m sure that in part this is because LucasArts has its own major videogame arm – responsible for the earlier Sam & Max game, Grim Fandango as well as other great adventures we’ll mostly end up covering (although they’ve unfortunately dropped that since), down to the more bizarre Zombies Ate My Neighbours – but also because they work with great developers. I’ve not made a secret of my love of Bioware games – see our Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate 2 posts for more on that – so this ought to be good.
First admission – we didn’t just play this for five hours, we played for more than that. It took us about six hours to get off Tarsis – the first planet – and it feels like we’ve barely seen anything yet.
The start of the story is incredibly straight forward – amnesiac hero with visions of the past wakes up on a ship under attack and has to escape to the planet before it’s blown up. Find friends, get away, and that’s where we’ll leave it for now. It’s engaging enough, with some nice character interaction with your party member to keep you curious.
Combat is fairly straight forward – at the start, clicking attacks the enemy. You can activate specific abilities and throw grenades and such if you have them, while healing and similar items use a seperate action bar. Most of your interaction with the world uses a similar interface – click to do stuff, while choices between options – pick a lock or blow it up with explosives – are similar to do as abilities. Both are straight forward, but offer enough depth to be interesting. Like with most RPGs of this ilk the default option is to have the game pause the moment you happen across enemies to allow some thinking and preperation before diving in sword-first into a squadron of sewer mutants. Personally I would have this option switched off because I enjoy the adrenaline rush of random encounters (despite what I said about my mental state during Resident Evil).
In the mean time, character customization and options are streamlined from the earlier Bioware games, while still offering enough customization. Gone are the long skill lists, trimmed down to about two handfuls of always useful ones, and feats are similarly limited, while more plentiful – you get more options for choice, but less options to pick from. It still allows for customization, but isn’t paralyzing. At the same time, these choices still require you to know or understand the system – how else to figure out how to-hit factors in or what a round is? It’s clear Bioware is still in the era of extended manuals at this time. I love it, but it’s not for everyone.
In the mean time, the most charming thing is the one thing Bioware does best and probably better than anyone else – characterization. The characters that join you have interesting functionalities and make you wonder what they’re about. The first permanent character – Carth – clearly has trust issues, but it takes time and probing to get to them. In the mean time, you do get to pick how you treat him – hurt his feelings or not – and he’ll react appropriately. You pick up a fairly large number of these ‘friends’ during the course of the game and unlike previous titles like Baldur’s Gate 2 you do not have to dismiss older members to pick new ones up since they just become part of your bag of tricks. The pay off is that you are only able to take two of these allies with you during the missions meaning that you really need to think what the mission will require before setting off. Usually it meant some combination of Mission/T3-M4 and a heavy to make sure you could break into computer and whoop some serious Sith ass.
This also extends to lesser characters. While it was just a minor character, an alienphobe (is that a word? I would have gone for xenophobe) preaching on a street corner, the conversation we had with him led to Peter calling him out every time we walked past him. It’s simple at times, but it works well and does get to you. These guys feel real. That guy pissed me off majorly. Ass.
Then there’s the moral choices. Star Wars is of a struggle between the light and dark side, good versus evil. This comes back in more places – dialog choices and quest endings both. Most quests have multiple endings, where sometimes one option feels forced in – Oh yeah, we need a dark side option, let’s put it in – but some quests have only one outcome, or it’s played more subtly, which can be fun. Still, the choices rarely seemed meaningful. It’s really just about which side you want. The dialog choices are more subtle there – at times the way you treat people matters, and it’s not an either-or choice. It feels more meaningful and is a really fun extra thing to play with.
Graphics are decent but very much of it’s time. There are some issues (like weird eyelids) but nothing that we haven’t covered in other games from 2003. The sound, however, was very well done and you can tell that every effort has been made to make this game cinematic (same with graphics to be fair but it succeeds more with sound). The voice cast (as you would expect from a Bioware game) are fantastic with stalwarts Jennifer Hale, Frank Welker and Grey DeLisle all putting in appearances with a scripot that could apparently fill 10 ring-binders. Sound effects and music-wise it is fairly obvious that everything sound-related was outsourced to LucasArts since it is pretty epic in every sense of the word.
In the end, however, it’s a nice step up from Neverwinter Nights. Character customization might not be as deep, but the game is still great fun to play and very engaging. More so than previous Bioware games, based on Peter’s engagement…
Okay fine I was won over by a Bioware game. Woopty-do. I would have liked to have played this more for myself and will probably do some in the year 2023 when we finish this blog (so far away…) but the Bioware game I am really looking forward to starting is Mass Effect. I have managed to stay away from spoilers about all of these games for years and will continue to do so until we get to play it… and I’ll demand to lead the playthough!