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PSP Review: Star Wars: Battlefront – Elite Squadron

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There was a point in time, one which lasted several years, in which every Star Wars game that one played featured a run down the Death Star trench. It is an iconic moment in film history and carries over exceedingly well into videogames – it's the classic hero moment. It may feel a little played out by the umpteenth game one has to negotiate the turrets and juke away from TIE's in that tiny little trench, but after an hour or so with Star Wars: Battlefront – Elite Squadron, it is a moment many might often wish to repeat. The second Battlefront title to appear on the PSP, Elite Squadron is more frustrating than trying to bulls-eye wamp rats in your T-16 back home.

The game spans multiple Star Wars films, and as with other Battlefront titles, while one may be a part of important battles and play crucial (yet unseen in the film) roles in the battles, they do not take center stage. Here, in Campaign mode (the main single player mode), the player is X2, a clone made from a Jedi, and younger brother-cum-twin (as they're clones of the same person) as X1. The two, as is apparent from the word "go," won't always be getting along in this game.

In terms of gameplay itself, while the reasons for the objectives and the planets that they're carried out on may vary in the game's Campaign mode (the main single player mode), the objectives remain awfully stagnant. In a typical level an enemy exists on the ground, in the air and/or space, and aboard a ship (Star Destroyers are a common theme there). Users have to eliminate the right people or disable the large vessel or blast enough small ones out of the sky to move to the next area. The levels may change, the enemies may vary slightly, but the typical objectives are the same. Perhaps the developers are making a statement regarding the nature of war, but it doesn't make for a particularly enjoyable game.

Frankly, it could be that the tasks would be more enjoyable and exciting if the controls weren't endlessly frustrating, and the various ways X2 can be equipped were interesting. Taking the latter first, though the weapons do change somewhat, they don't change in interesting ways – the various equipment combos only seem to exist so that the player can be required to travel great distances hampered by a lack of a second gun in order to blow up something big or fix a piece of equipment. There is no real-feeling advantage in playing with different loadouts, only greater and lesser disadvantages.

As for movement, controlling a player requires using the ever-annoying PSP analog stick, so if the user's hand doesn't cramp within the first 20 minutes of gameplay, they will find themselves disheartened at never getting X2 or the vessel X2 is flying to quite face the correct direction or go where they want, how they want, when they want. Then there is the fact that the camera is never positioned correctly, which means that even if one is in the right place, all too often they don't know it.

It is as though the developers were aware of this shortcoming as they put in an auto-targeting feature which will have the player snap to the correct position to fire on an enemy character. As with so many other good ideas in the game, if this had been carried out correctly, it could have improved things. As it stands though, the auto-targeting feature has a mind of its own and all too often won't target the closest enemy, won't target the enemy firing at the player, won't target the player's objective, and can't be made to switch very easily from one enemy to another. On the upside, as opponents never appear damaged even when they are, without the handy-dandy life meter that appears over an enemy's head when they're being targeted, one would never be able to figure out how close they were to taking the bad guy out.

Combat in space is far more enjoyable than on the ground or in a larger ship, with things being more separated and it being easier to get the ship oriented correctly so as to get a clear shot at the enemy. The controls are somewhat sluggish in space, but it is still a far better game there than on terra firma (or aboard a big ship).

Elite Squadron also features a Galactic Conquest mode which is a combo of turn-based strategy gaming (without much depth) and action-based battles. The basic goal is to, well, conquer a galaxy (bet you couldn't tell that based on the name alone). Conquest is actually a lot more fun than the regular campaign mode, if only because one can often ignore commands being given and just score enough points any way they want to in order to capture a planet and get one step closer to galactic domination.

Elite Squadron also features a multiplayer component in which one can play as better known villains and heroes, but the bad controls and faulty targeting scheme still make themselves far too well known to make multiplayer an enjoyable experience. Two users can also use a single PSP in order play in Galactic Conquest mode, which, in this form, resolves any takeovers of occupied planets by simulating the combat.

The Star Wars universe is a fun one. There are, as this game demonstrates, more stories that can be told, and even if they're side stories, they can still be both deep and interesting. That being said, Stars Wars: Battlefront – Elite Squadron is hampered by deficiencies in so many other areas, that even if the story here were as great as Empire Strikes Back, it still wouldn't be the best videogaming trip into the Star Wars universe one could take.

Star Wars: Battlefront – Elite Squadron is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Fantasy Violence. This game can also be found on: Nintendo DS.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.