Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron (PSP) (PSP)
Be it the DOOM-like Dark Forces or the EverQuest-ian Galaxies, a lot of Star Wars videogames have just been Force-fed versions of other games. The latest example is the Battlefront series, which adapted its motif (massively multiplayer online battles) and its moniker from EA's Battlefield. So it's rather ironic that in this, the latest Battlefront, the biggest change is the addition of a fleshed out single-player mode ... a move being mirrored by the latest Battlefield, the upcoming Bad Company.
In Renegade Squadron (a PSP exclusive developed by Rebellion and published by LucasArts), you play a rebel recruited for an elite squad that's sent by Han Solo -- who doesn't sound like himself, he must be under a lot of stress -- to take on the Empire in space and land battles both shown and alluded to in the original trilogy, though often from a different perspective, narratively-speaking, than we've seen before.
Starting with the evacuation of Yavin 4 after the destruction of the first Death Star, you take on 11 secret missions that include stealing one of the Imperial Starfleet's new (and rather ridiculous looking) TIE Defenders, rescuing a captured Admiral Akbar, and swiping tactical information about the Imperial forces on and near the forest moon of Endor. But while each mission has an ultimate objective, there are also pivotal events in the middle of them -- such as the appearance of an Imperial Walker in need of destroying -- that might prompt you to stop killing random Stormtroopers and go run an errand, instead.
Beyond this, however, Renegade plays like every other Battlefront. Mostly. Essentially a third-person shooter, most of the land battles play out like Team Capture the Flag or Team Objective. Infantry, as you'd expect, can commandeer a number of attack vehicles and riding creatures, capture spawn points and then use them to change weapons, and hit up FX-7 Medical Droids and GNK Power Droids to get healthy and pick up ammo, respectfully. But there are also space missions that recall such Star Wars dogfighters as Rogue Squadron and Jedi Starfighter, if those games occasionally were to have you land and do stuff.
The difference this time is that you've got a lot more freedom with your character, not just in how he looks -- you can pick different heads and clothing color palettes -- but in their weapons, tools and abilities, as well. Using up to a hundred credits, you can outfit e character however you want, even trading items back at cost so you buy new ones instead. Which means you can be a very healthy Wookie with a Blaster Rifle or a fast-running Rodian with a jet pack and an Arc Caster. You can also swap equipment in the middle of a battle, so long as you keep to your 100-credit budget.
Things work the same way in the game's other modes as well, though they don't have the story to set things up or create mid-battle events. And, obviously, you can also chose to join the Empire in its fight against those damn anti-government terrorists. Whether it's the single-player Conquest mode, which pits you against bots, or such multiplayer ones as Conquest, Capture the Flag (with one or two flags), and Hero Capture the Flag -- in which you get to be such iconic Star Wars characters as Lord Vader and Ben Kenobi circa Episode IV, with all their special abilities -- all the previous tenets apply. In addition, you can dogfight in the Space Assault mode or get tactical in the Galactic Conquest mode, where you -- or you and a friend -- fight for planets in an attempt to take over the galaxy.
But while these modes are not driven by classic Star Wars lore, and are thus less interesting from a narrative standpoint, they're actually crucial, as the Campaign just isn't very long; one good afternoon and it'll all be over. Plus, this really is a game best played against other people, which you can do against 15 other warriors via infrastructure or seven via ad hoc -- a big improvement over 2005's model, which only featured four-player ad hoc. People connecting via infrastructure can also upload scores to online leaderboards and make profile pages to display their medals, though this just reminds us of something Yoda said about Jedis craving attention not.
All of which might sound good -- and it is if you're a fan of Star Wars, the original two Battlefront games or sci-fi third-person shooters in general -- but there's a problem: the controls. Though improved over the PSP version of Battlefront II, you still use the lone thumbstick to move, which takes a bit of getting used to, but even then the controls aren't as good as on other third-person PSP shooters such as the Syphon Filter series, which uses the front buttons as a de facto second thumbstick. As a result, you turn around about as easily if you were steering an 18 wheeler, especially when you're trying to move at the same time.
Thankfully, the controls work better in space, where the lack of a second thumbstick isn't a problem. They've also upgraded your ships' systems with an autopilot function, which can be quite handy when you're trying to locate your target in the vastness of space. Once you do, though, keeping it on takes away the challenge of trying to outfly your enemy, so unless the Force isn't strong with you, you might want to trust me and switch it off, Luke.
The game also doesn't boast the best graphics we've seen on a PSP, while the enemy artificial intelligence in the single-player modes ain't that intelligent, either. Sure, we know Stormtroopers bump their heads a lot, but some of the ones in this game act like they could've used another week in the cloning tank.
In addition, some of your weapons run out of ammo way too quickly, while the blasters on the X-Wings seem to overheat rather easily. Granted, this might be historically accurate, but it's just not that much fun when you're either far away from your GNK or have finally lined up that particularly squirrelly TIE Fighter.
There are also some minor technical glitches -- disappearing sound, clipping issues, the usual -- but these are more just signs of sloppy programming than any real hindrance.
Oh, and I don't want to be 'that guy,' but when your character runs -- which you can make him do by holding down the Sprint button (thus using up some of his rechargeable stamina) -- he kind of looks like a doofus. I'm just saying.
Ultimately, Renegade Squadron is a fun, though hardly perfect, third-person shooter for the PSP. It doesn't work as well some, but it more than makes up for it with great multiplayer mode, a great (albeit short) story and all the goodness that naturally comes with being a Star Wars game. We just wish they'd aped other third-person shooters a little more.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.