Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
It's Menace time! Recently, GamePro played Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace for the PlayStation, and even at 70 percent complete, it looked and felt solid. Not surprisingly, the story line in the LucasArts' game mirrors that of the Lucasfilm movie. Plus, the game will offer tons of action and adventure with a dose of role-playing. When Menace arrives in a few days, no StarWars fan will be able to live without it.
May the Fourth Be with You
By now, everyone should know that the fourth Star Wars movie debuts this month. The story in the game and the film acts as a prequel to the original Star Wars flicks, recounting the events in the life of nine-year-old Anakin Skywalker, the future father of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia; of course, after being seduced by the dark side of the Force, Anakin will become the infamous archetypal villain, Darth Vader.
You begin the game as Qui-Gon Jinn, a Jedi knight who's been charged with protecting Queen Padme Amidala--ruler of the peaceful planet Naboo--who's being attacked by the forces of the Federation (which will one day become the forces of the evil Empire). Your pal is fellow Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi, who is also training a new apprentice. Anakin Skywalker. As the game progresses, you'll assume the roles of the other three playable characters: Obi-Wan, Queen Amidala, and Captain Panaka, a member of the Queen's royal guard.
Phantom action takes place via a V-i-overhead view. Much in the style of Metal Gear Solid, Phantom contains plenty of obstacles and enables you to hang from walls, swim, run, and jump.
Each character can also discover and use different weapons. For instance. Captain Panaka uses a rocket launcher to blast tanks, while the Queen uses a droid stunner that causes droids within range to go berserk. The two Jedi are "restricted" to lightsabers, but have the opportunity to master the Force Push, which can trigger out-of-reach switches and send a wave of energy to knock down your enemies.
Conversation sequences move the story forward. For example, you'll have to trade for a generator on Tatooine, where you can interact with over 103 characters. The talking takes place via the LucasArts' SCUMM interface in classic, menu-driven Monkey's Island style, letting you choose from a variety of answera to any one question. Be sure to watch the smart-ass answers, though, young Jedi. Saying or doing the wrong thing may lead to dire consequences, like having a cantina full of aliens draw their weapons on you.
Phantom Menace spans 12 levels, which occur on planets such as Tatooine and Coruscant from the movie. Although LucasArts said its adhered as much as possible to the film, there are a few secrets lurking around the game, too.
The Reel Deal
In addition to its solid game play. Phantom Menace presents an impressive list of features. The music is sampled from the movie, and some of the film's stars do the voices: For example, Anakin and Jar Jar Binks--Qui-Gon Jinn's alien side-kick--are voiced by the actors playing them in the film (Jake Lloyd and Ahmed Best, respectively). Plus, LucasArts showed GamePro cut-scenes that were digitized straight from the movie.
All this technical craftsmanship looked great on the PC, but a programmer at LucasArts said that PlayStation visuals might suffer slightly, with graphic effects like water transparency taking a hit. In the preview version, however, the particle effects in explosions and laser blasts looked good, and the 30 frames-per-second gameplay moved fluidly.
Don't Give Away the Ending
Even in its early stages, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was awesome. A word of warning to fans, however: The game follows the movie exactly, complete with plot twists and the movies ending--so if you haven't seen Phantom Menace on the big screen, don't pop this CD into the PlayStation. All that remains now is for LucasArts' programmers to go full Force and finish Menace with flair.
Download Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Can you feel the fourth? The newest chapter in Star Wars history has a pretty decent, albeit high-maintenance, game to go with it. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is snazzy, action-packed, and follows the movie story line so that the cinematic experience is re-created--but like the film, it's also a little dull in the middle.
Menace II the Galaxy
Menace is a 3D platform action/adventure game. Think Metal Gear Solid without the stealth. You play as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn, Captain Panaka. and Queen Amidala (as Padme), so there's plenty of variety. When you play as the Jedi, Menace really soars--it's lightsaber slashing and droid bashing at its very best. Playing as the two non-Jedi, the game turns into your basic run-n-gun action with lots of switches to trigger, droids to shoot, and people to converse with.
In the fully accelerated version, the graphics shine like the Naboo moon, but only those few blessed with maxed-out high-end PCs will fully appreciate all the lighting effects, reflective surfaces, and subtle transparencies. The other 90 percent of us will see an easily crashable. poorly constructed game flawed by slowdown and mediocre camera angles.
Of Mice and Menace
Phantom Menace's saving grace is its music and sound effects. The game contains excellent voice characterizations and fantastic sound effects (especially those subtle ones, like the sound Destroyer Droids make rolling down the halls, or the ambient effects in the Naboo swamps), but, again, delicate sound-card management is required.
The developers of Phantom Menace also made the controls fairly manageable: Simply assign some directional commands to your keyboard, and you're ready to swing the saber (you can also use your mouse), open doors, trigger switches, and fight off the Dark Side.
Leaps of Faith
Speaking of the Dark Side, the game has a few. Because much of the game requires patient leaping and jumping, frustration may tear away at your Jedi soul--by the time you meet Jar Jar and the Gungans, you're in no mood for their silly patois. Another problem is the large amount of bartering when you get to Tatooine: You have to constantly trade just to get off the damn sand planet. Consequently, as in the movie, you start to feel weighed down by a plot BEjV that feels thicker than Bantha crap. Two words would have fixed that: more Maul.
Force fo Reckon With
Yet Menace stands as a testament to fan loyalty. Those Star Warsians who must have everything from Phantom Menace ticket stubs to illustrated toilet paper will definitely need to feel this force. Others tired of the hype will feel nothing but the Farce with this game.
- Shields can take lots of damage and appear when a ton of trouble is headed your way. If shielded, get to your next objective and save your game.
- Forget the Destroyer Droids. Outrun them at all costs.
- Some switches can be triggered only by using the Force Push.
- Check carefully amongst the foliage in the Naboo swamps for hidden health power-ups.
- In Tatoolne, hanging from overhead cables can be hazardous. Scan the street for henchmen and blast them with a grenade or laser shot.
- Watch the Queen closely. If she gives you the option to scout ahead, do so; if she doesn't, keep her close, or she'll be killed.
If you've got the muscle, Menace has the means. A powered-up computer will definitely showcase the game's impressive graphics--without it, you have a standard action game with a cool lightsaber.
Great sound, awesome music, and really annoying Gungans. All that's missing is a deafening THX logo.
Minimal fuss rewards you with maximum achievement. But those frustrating leaps of faith between platforms will ride your patience like a Tusken Raider on a Bantha.
You've got to be a fan to enjoy this game, which re-creates the movie experience perfectly. Then again, if you can't stand Star Wars, why are you even reading this?
Ah, those words that, when heard, bring out the child in all of us...
"Come and listen to a story 'bout a man named Jed..." Uh, nope, that's not quite it.
"Here he comes, here comes Speed Racer..." Er, uh huh.
"I'm going down to South Park, gonna have myself a time..." Getting... closer...
"A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away...."
Yes, finally... these are the words that many of us hold dear to our heart.
It echoes a simpler time when we could get ourselves lost in our own imaginations. Admit it, you used to picture yourself in the cockpit of a X-Wing Fighter going after the Death Star or maybe just laying some ground fire around Yoda's little hut. Back then, the best way to find yourself as a character within George Lucas' galaxy was to daydream of snow-speeders on Hoth as you held tightly on to your little 6-inch action figures.
With the recent release of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, kids today are lucky enough to have enough technology to get lost in the world of Star Wars... without having to wear Darth Vader Underoos. Who's lucky enough to bring this to us? George Lucas and his talented team at LucasArts.
LucasArts' latest foray into their enviable Star Wars license isbased on one of 's most memorable scenes, the Boonta Eve Classic Podrace on Tatooine. And believe-you-me, after watching the movie I HAD to have this game.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
The premise is quite simple -- even simpler if you have already seen the movie. You have a podracer, you have a track, and you have to go around in a circle and hope to end up ahead of the pack.
What's a podracer? Well, for the 17 of you that are going to wait to rent the movie on video, it's a futuristic version of the dogsled. Imagine two huge 747-like engines tethered to your sled (pod), held together by a plasma-energy beam. Surprisingly, the design of these podracers "almost" makes sense. LucasArts also does a great job representing the physics that would be involved while playing the game.
What's a podrace? Sigh. Well, it's a race with... pods. You have these podracers and you race them against other podracers, um... just go see the movie, will ya?
You have over 21 podracers to choose from. All of these are distinct in their styling, handling and drivers. You get to race on multiple tracks strung across eight distinct planets, each with its own theme and style of racing. As you successfully finish each race, you will gain Trugats (money) that enable you to upgrade your podracer and prepare for the next race. Finish first and a new podracer is unveiled that you can use for future races.
This is where the "storyline" in Racer starts to get iffy. You never really get a sense of belonging to your pilot or podracer. Since you can choose from multiple pods and multiple pilots, it kind of lacks continuity. I would have liked to see the same pilot used and you be allowed to upgrade from there. If you decided to try a different "character" from the movie, you could have chosen that pilot at the start of the career.
How does it play? Simply put, if nothing else, Racer simulates speed better than any other game I have ever played. Any other racing games/simulations pale in comparison as far as the sense of acceleration. It's a hard thing to describe in words... but this game is fast.
As you may have read in my other reviews, I am a big fan of force-feedback. If implemented correctly, this can entrance me into a state where my joystick becomes an extension of my persona... my yin to its yang. Racer does this oh-so-well and has now become my 'reference'? title to which I compare all others. I cannot believe how good Racer translates the physics and handling of the podracers through a simple joystick. From G-forces and failing engines to running smack-dab into a canyon wall, it's all there in its lap-slapping, wrist-wreaking glory.
Sounds pretty good so far, eh? Wait until you finish a race, though...
What were they thinking?
The interface for preparing for a race, upgrading your podracer, and just about anything other than actually racing is confusing as all get out. At first, before reading the manual, I would just get mad and go on to the next race. After reading the manual, it started to make sense... that's when I couldn't figure out how to get where I was trying to go.
You see, in some menus you need to use the mouse; in others, the keyboard; in others only the game controller seems to work. I ended up juggling so many peripherals around to upgrade my pod that I wound up ctrl-alt-elbowing my way into a frenzy.
Coincidently, LucasArts posted a little blurb on their support site about this shortcoming. What's their answer? Allow me to quote: "For navigating through the interface we recommend using the keyboard and mouse; joysticks, gamepads and wheels are not fully supported for the Front End interface. You can interact with some items using the mouse and others with the keyboard. We recommend exploring the various menus thoroughly to find a method of getting around that suits you best."
What? I need to explore and see which controls work and which do not? Funny how when I get stuck, it's the joystick that gets me out of the jam -- something that isn't "fully supported."
I'll admit though, once you "explore" and "memorize" how to get through various screens, there is a lot to be done. The interface provides a lot of flexibility, but isn't fully realized compared to the quality of the race sequences.
So the game goes like this: Race, win, race, win, upgrade, race, lose, upgrade, re-race, win, and so on. The difficulty goes from absurdly easy to pretty challenging with little in between. You actually "desire" to get to the next track to see what LucasArts is going to throw at you.
Then it's over.
Although I am still struggling in the final stages of the Galactic Circuit, I have many friends who have since finished the game. What is there to do at this point? You either shelve it or play on the net, right?
You see, Racer supports Local Area Networks, but no Internet play to speak of. If you are lucky enough to have a LAN available, the game can be quite fun to play against friends or foes. Multiplayer mode supports up to eight podracers which would be quite a blast, I bet... (The 'force'? was not with me during the reviewing of Racer. I could not for the life of me get my home network up and running. I am suspecting Bantha fodder, but I have used too many geeky Star Wars terms in this review already.)
Graphically, this game has very few equals. If you slow the podracer down, you may notice some minor graphical glitches... but who cares? Since this wasn't made to be perused at anything less than 600 mph, trust me when I say you won't notice. If you do notice, well, you must be one of those 3D rendering vs. FPS (Frames Per Second) geeks that really get on my nerves.
Each planet, each track, is exquisitely rendered with tons of eye-candy and if you spend too much time gawking -- well, trust me when I say that at 600 mph you need to be looking at the road ahead instead of the pretty countryside.
You can drive your podracer from one of four different views. This is where complete and utter Star Wars-Geek-Immersion comes in. Turn out your lights, crank up the rear speakers, and choose the 'driver's seat'? view. Wow. It left me speechless.
The only oddity for me was the garish low-resolution map overlay that appears on your Heads Up Display. Everything else in Racer's podracing sequences is so beautiful that this fluorescent green eyesore really stands out. Thankfully, LucasArts allows you to change this to a more suitable progress-bar view that is more helpful in the long run.
Oh, and get this: The game has the ever-so-popular "lens flare." All you FPS geeks can cheer and slap each other's palms with this "win." Me? I am just happy that Racer allows you to turn it off.
One thing that Racer does right is to immerse you in an audible world so convincing that you'd swear you are either in the theater all over again or actually racing down a canyon. It's hard to describe how sweet this game sounds when you have properly set up surround sound on your PC. From Doppler effects to the thump-thump-thump of Sebulba's engines... it's all there. My wife will sit and watch me play just because "it's like watching the movie."
It's not only a perfect example of how to use surround sound (a decidedly new technology for PC gaming) to enhance the gaming experience, but LucasArts does the right thing and makes it highly configurable.
Oh yeah, and John Williams. 'Nuff said about that.
Minimum: Pentium 166mhz, 32 MB RAM, and a 4MB PCI or AGP Direct 3D video card
I recommend: Pentium II, 64 MB RAM, a next generation 3D video card, and an audio card that supports at least four channel surround. And if you can still fit into those Underoos... go for it!
The documentation is quite good. In reality, the documentation becomes a lifesaver since a lot of the between-race interface can be quite infuriating without some additional guidance. There is even a good attempt to suck you into the storyline (like that would be hard). Each of the eight planets is given a back story along with a small blurb about each of the podracers you are allowed to drive.
I would have liked the manual to include a little more information on the various upgrades that you have available for your podracer. The interface limits most of the information to performance bar graphs without really understanding the impact of what you are adding.
I really, really wanted to score Racer much higher. In some parts of the game I would lose my sense of reality and become that young kid again who dreamed that one day Stormtroopers would invade a little town in Idaho and I would be the hero of the... er, never mind. Other aspects (like the between-race interface and clunky mouse/keyboard/joystick gymnastics one must go through) left me scratching my head that LucasArts released something that seemed so unpolished.
At first, the lack of Internet play really bugged me. How can a company release a title that screams 'net play'? without even considering the Internet? Then it made sense to me. We often spend a lot of time cursing at companies for doing Internet play badly (such as Unreal), so it's almost refreshing to see a company say, 'We can't do it... so we won't.'? Regardless of the technical reasons, though, a successful implementation of Internet play would have gone a long way in increasing the "it's still on my hard drive" life of this title.
What it boils down to is this... if you are a Star Wars fan (who isn't?) and you felt that youthful urging during the podrace scene in Phantom Menace, go get this. Be prepared, though, to be confused in almost every aspect of the game except for the actual racing. Since racing is where Racer shines, enjoy yourself and scream like a Wookiee as Sebulba knocks you onto the service-ramp... yet again.
But remember... in space, no one can hear you scream like a Wookiee.