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Product: Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace
Company: LucasArts Software
Website: http://www.lucasarts.com
Estimated Street Price: 35/$40
Review By: Byron Hinson

Additional Notes: Review updated July 2nd

The Features, The Plot and The Movie

I was a little bit worried when LucasArts announced the two new Star Wars games based on the movie just a couple of months before it hit theatres. The word rushed came to mind, but then I thought, This is LucasArts they wouldn't screw up a Star Wars title - or would they?

If you have seen the movie (Those of us in the UK have the game a full two months before the movie graces our cinemas) then you pretty much know the plot...but here are the basics without spoiling it for anyone. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute. The greedy Trade Federation has stopped all shipping to the planet of Naboo, hoping to resolve the matter with a blockade of deadly battleships.

The game allows you to take part in most of the action from the Episode 1 movie, you get to play as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn, Queen Amidala and Captain Panaka over a host of different worlds and settings.

Installation, Intro and In-Game Options

Installation is its usual simple self, Autoplay starts up and you select either regular or full installation (300+ MBs) and then the game is basically ready to go. The Phantom Menace requires you to have DirectX 6.1 installed but it is included on the CD for those of you who don't already have it installed. Now you just have to load it up.

Once loaded you are greeted with a few options. A short clip from the movie represents each option (When you put your mouse over the icon that is):

Start Game - This begins a new game and shows you the opening intro scene.
Options - The options screen where you can change general sound, graphics and control settings.
Load Game - Load up a saved game.
Quit Game - Just what it says.

I went to the options area and setup the graphics and sound settings for my PC. So I went for 800x600 resolution and also DirectSound 3D via Creative's EAX. Next I made sure that the joystick was setup correctly. Finally I went back to the main menu and clicked on Start Game and sat back to watch the intro. The intro is as you would expect the usual Star Wars fair with the flying writing and John Williams soundtrack, next we get a short animation of your ship flying onto the Federation Battleship.

Gameplay

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The game begins in the same place as it does in the movie, on a Trade Federation battleship. You take the part of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first level as you work alongside Qui-Gon to escape from the clutches of the battle droids. The game gets off to a good start as you walk into a corridor full of Battle Droids and then you fight them off with your extremely cool lightsaber, the John Williams soundtrack booms into action. Your lightsaber cannot only cut your enemy to shreds but it can also deflect off laser shots and fire them back at the enemy. You can also use your Force Push to "Push" the battle droids onto the ground and then finish them off with a few lightsaber swings. The rest of the opening level has you opening a series of doors and switches before you can complete it by flying off to Naboo.

The next level is where you realize just how hard and frustrating the game is. The game is played from a 3rd person perspective so it is like Tomb Raider - but a little higher in view. This means that LucasArts and Big Ape have decided to add many platform elements to the game, this would be fine but because of the viewpoint it can be frustratingly difficult to make certain jumps. This can lead you to fall a long way down and have to go back and carry on jumping until you get it right. I could live with this if it only happened a few times during the game, but this is every couple of minutes or so.

The Phantom Menace - Image 1

Next we have the "Adventure" part of the game, why have I put Adventure in quotes? Well despite what some previews said there really isn't any adventure style gameplay bar a few questions you can ask various characters in the game. When you are in this questioning mode you do get to use another Force power - Force Persuasion which allows you to change the views of other characters so they can do something for you.

Additional Notes: July 2nd: Later levels actually contain far more adventure elements (Finding Anakin and helping to build the Pod Racer) than the earlier levels and I have upgraded my review to take them into account.

The combat in the game is a little too simple (Although aiming shots at droids is a pain as auto aim doesn't seem to work all that well) I would have liked to have seen a bit more variety and control in lightsaber moves as all you seem to have to do is keep clicking the fire button whilst running at the enemies in the game.

Graphics

How It Grades
Originality: C-
Gameplay: C+
Story: B-
Graphics: C+
Cutscenes: C
Sound: A
Interface: C+
Multiplayer: N/A
Overall: B-

Some of the visuals in The Phantom Menace are excellent (Otoh Gunga), some are extremely poor while others are average. This is a real shame as it looks as if parts were rushed. The lighting effects in the game are on the whole excellent and it was also nice to see laser and lightsaber damage stay on buildings and trees instead of vanishing. Animation and character graphics are also pretty good.

Then come the cutscene animations, despite the license it seems that LucasArts are not allowed to use any movie footage for cutscene animations despite there being some on the main menu screen. This means you are left with computer animations that are trying to look like the movie, in other words, a disappointment because it is something they will never achieve.

But lets get one thing straight, it isn't the graphics that ruin the game, it is the viewpoint the game has to be played in. It is far too high. Sometimes allowing you to be shot to death without being able to see your enemies in the next room because part of a ceiling is blocking your view.

Sound

Ahhh thankfully something that LucasArts never seems to mess up with. The sound throughout the whole game is superb. From the lightsaber through to the laser guns every sound is taken directly from the movie. The music as usual for any Star Wars game is taken directly from John William's excellent soundtrack.

The only part of the sound that doesn't quite hit the spot is the voice acting, while some of the actors from the movie have signed up to do the voices (Jake Lloyd as Anakin and Ahmed Best as the annoying Jar Jar Binks) the majority of the main stars have not. This leaves the game with voice actors trying to sound like the movie stars, which doesn't really work apart from the guy who does Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Final Comments

The Phantom Menace was clearly rushed onto shelves for to coincide with the release of the movie. It is very unfortunate as I feel that a few extra months of coding could have turned an average game into a pretty good one. If you don't have the money to buy both The Phantom Menace and Pod Racer then please do yourself a favour and buy Pod Racer.

Additional Notes: July 2nd: After my initial review, I may have been a little too harsh on the game, as this has been one of the few titles released over the last few months that made me want to play right through to the end, upon completion of The Phantom Menace I have adjusted the scores to take this into account.

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Overall Score Original Mark 61%
July 2nd Mark After Completion 76%
Version Reviewed Version 1.0 UK
Release Date Out Now
In The Box? 1 CD
1 Set of instructions
Reviewers PC Setup Pentium II 450
Windows 98 Second Edition
128 Meg SD-Ram
Voodoo 2 - 8mb
DirectX 6.1a
SoundBlaster Live! Value
Toshiba SD-1202 DVD-ROM - 32x
17" LG Electronics Monitor
ATI 8mb XPert AGP Graphics Card
Microsoft Force Feedback Pro
Microsoft Freestyle Pro (USB)
PC Required Pentium 200 with 3D Accelerator
32 MB of RAM
95 MB of available hard disk space
Quad CD-ROM drive
Microsoft DirectX 6.1 (Included)
DirectX Compatible Sound Card

 

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