Fans of the Star Wars Battlefront franchise can rejoice as the latest installment, Elite Squadron, has landed in stores for the PSP and DS. Those of us who can be counted among the fans of the franchise long for it's return to consoles, but will happily take what we can get in the form of another handheld release. Today, I'll be presenting a review of the Sony PSP version of the new game, but must admit my Star Wars Battlefront fanboy status before doing so. I've enjoyed each incarnation on multiple platforms so far and will base most of my comparisons in the review to the previous PSP Star Wars Battlefront releases. (SWBF 2 and Renegade Squadron) I'll take a look at Story Mode and the Galactic Conquest mode separately before moving on to general thoughts about multiplayer and the gameplay itself. The one new feature to keep in mind as you read through the review is the new ability to transition from land to space and back again within the same battle. This is utilized in both the Story and Galactic Conquest modes, and I'd consider this the biggest advancement in the series in quite some time.
The story mode of Elite Squadron charts a course through the military life of X2, a unique Clone soldier who makes his way through the events of the Clone Wars, Order 66, the Galactic Civil War and beyond. Lucky for us, X2 is quite the nice fella in addition to being one heck of a killing machine. In other words, you play through the game as a good guy. His twin brother, coincidentally named X1, isn't so nice. Good versus evil. Brother versus brother. It all makes for, in my opinion, a much more interesting story than that which we got with Renegade Squadron. In that particular game, the story mode had some fun missions, while the story itself was a bit forgettable. What helps make a story less forgettable? Cutscenes from the 6 Star Wars films! This is the first handheld version of Star Wars Battlefront that incorporates gameplay and movie cutscenes as opposed to still artwork. Not only is this enormously effective in keeping you interested, but the movie cutscenes look fantastic on your PSP screen. The scenes plucked from the Star Wars saga, for the most part, are devoid of any of the major film characters but still allow you to feel like your totally within the Star Wars universe. Don't get me wrong, familiar film characters do make many cameos and you'll even hear (or will see) characters from Renegade Squadron as well as The Force Unleashed. Story Mode missions take you to familiar planets from the Battlefront series such as Coruscant, Endor and Hoth, while new additions include Bespin, Dantooine, Vjun and more. If you're disappointed to see some of the same planets making appearances, don't be. The maps have been updated, if not all out changed, and the ability to fight in space and on land in one battle keeps thinks fresh. You'll have to play the game for yourself to get any more plot details and tidbits as I want to avoid spoilers where possible.
Though the story mode is fun, Galactic Conquest has always been my favorite Star Wars Battlefront mode. As in previous incarnations of the game, you battle from planet to planet with Risk-like upgrades of troop strength while vying for control of the galaxy. The set up for this mode is new as there are now 6 scenarios from which to choose with varying difficulty levels. Three of these scenarios are set during the Clone Wars while three are set during the Galactic Civil War. As before, you can beef up your army through tech upgrades (weaponry, logistic, and infantry) and by purchasing commanders with uniue abilities. The one shot bonuses have been modified to only offer 3 choices. The insurgency bonus makes an enemy planet neutral. The distraction bonus forces your opponent to skip a turn. Hero hire returns as a one shot bonus but again has been modified a bit. Previously, heroes were available for a limited amount of time based on the ammount of kills you make vs. the amount of hits you take. In Elite Squadron, you start the chosen battle as the hero (Luke, Obi-Wan, Darth Vader, General Grievous...) and also re-spawn as the hero when you die. This allows you to play the entire level with the hero which, in my opinion, is great. Another postive to the new hero one-shot bonus is that your starfighter is upgraded in space flight. The negatives to the tech upgrades are that you can only purchase them once during your Galactic Conquest war and again, have limited choices. The difficult Galactic Conquest maps in particular can take some time to play through so it would be nice to use heroes more than once. If the idea of pre-set-up scenarios makes you crinkle your nose a bit, have no fear as a Free Play Mode also allows you to play through Galactic Conquest in a more classic format with your choice of playable faction (Republic, CIS, Rebel Alliance, Galactic Empire).
Other notable changes to Galactic Conquest include limited troop strength upgrades and combined space and land battles. Only 30 troops can now be added to a planet between turns. This makes for more calculating moves and prevents one team from beefing up all of their planets to full strength between each turn. Much like the revisions to the tech upgrades, this new variarion to the rules allows for more strategy in your moves and prevents you from barrelling ahead and quickly defeating numerous enemy planets through sheer numbers. As for the combined space and land battles, since you can now transition from space to land within a single battle, there was really no need to keep such battles separate anymore. As you play through the battles, you need to be mindful of all that's happening on the battlefield to know when you're needed in space or on the land to protect your command posts. Battles are won when a team reaches 1,000 points first. No longer will you win a battle by simply capturing all command posts or by taking out the major systems of capital ships. (though taking out a capital ship by depleating it's sheilds and then landing on it to destroy the power core will net you the biggest point bonus)
Galactic Conquest continues to be my favorite mode of Star Wars Battlefront and for the most part, the modifications made to the mode make for a more strategic experience and are quite welcome. On the otherhand, the tech upgrades could be more numerous and it would be nice to play with heroes more than once. I also found that vehicle selection within the levels were a bit lacking. For example, in Renegade Squadron, if you were playing as the CIS, your starfighter choices would include a Vulture Droid, Droid Tri-fighter, General Grievous' ship and a troop transport/gunship. Now you only have the choice between two: Vulture Droid and transport/gunship. The gunships used to be slower but with more powerful weapons. Now their benefit is troop carrying abilities but their weapons are not as powerful. As a result, I've maybe used it once. Maybe there are more vehicles to unlock, but considering how much I've played the game already, I doubt it.
General Thoughts and Rating
You might wonder why I'll now briefly touch on multiplayer within the general thoughts section instead of giving it it's own area. Well, the reason is that I just didn't play that much of it. Multiplayer is back and still a heck of a lot of fun whether it be Ad Hoc or with up to 16 players online. Galactic Conquest can be played via multiplayer as well. For me personally, online multiplayer is a great way to break up the experience with the all out chaos of a 16 player battle. There are going to be those who love racking up kills and shooting for personal stat goals over the many single player possiblilities and there's nothing wrong with that. Elite Squadron sure offers up enough scenarios and modes to hopefully entertain all types of Battlefront fans.
While I've geeked out quite a bit over the Story and Galactic Conquest modes, let's also remember that you can get your Battlefront fix without having to launch into a lengthy game. Instant Action allows you to jump right into a battle on the panet of your choice, as the faction of your choice and with the scenario of your choice. Scenarios include Conquest, a couple versions of Capture the Flag, and the kick-a Heros And Villains mode. Just imagine a land only battle featuring only heroes and villians and being scored only by kills. Lots of new and familiar heroes and villians are available including characters from Renegade Squadron, Elite Squadron and even The Force Unleashed. Heroes can also be used in Conquest and Capture the Flag battles and are utilized in the manner you are used to seeing from other SWBF games.
Controls are pretty much the same as what we had in Renegade Squadron focusing heavily on the, love it or hate it, lock-on feature. You really have no choice but to use it in the space battles unless you rival Anakin Skywalker with Force awareness. Though I still prefer the SWBF 2 controls, I'm personally used to this set-up at this point and though I don't love it, I don't hate it either. The only major issue I had in regards to controls was that the movement and camera angles felt off-kilter when in confined spaces. It's an effort to turn around sometimes. However, in an open environment you're good to go.
Visually the game looks good in gameplay and great in the movie cut scenes. Of course the sound effects and music are top notch. As with any Star Wars game, play it loud! Some of the voice overs work, some are a bit bland, and others (Admiral Ackbar) made me chuckle.
Just a couple other notable notes: -Characters, troops and weapons can be highly customized -The title screen changes as you play through Story Mode
All in all I'd give Star Wars Battlefront Elite Squadron a strong 4 out of 5. The land to space and back again ability adds a whole different dimension to the battles, and the enhanced modes and scenarios provide much more replay value than ever before. What would have given the game a 5 out of 5? More hero use in Galactic Conquest, a better variety of starfighters, a tighter control set up and less messages letting me know I'm leaving the battlefied in space skirmishes. How can you loop around for another pass at disabling an enemie's engines if you're leaving the battlefront as soon as you face away from the capital ship? Those issues aside, if you're a fan of the Battlefront franchise, you're going to have a lot of fun with this latest edition.
Catch up on Star Wars Battlefront news through the related links below including our SWBF: Elite Suadron Q&A with LucasArts. Click on any of the thumbnails within this review to view the full sized image.