When I was 7 years old, I sat in the back seat of my family's car and imagined the Millennium Falcon flying through the stars in the cloudless night. We had just seen the original Star Wars movie, and it lit up my imagination like nothing before.
Although the films have been disappointments since 1983's Return of the Jedi, the universe George Lucas created has thrived. I collected and played with Star Wars action figures for years as a kid, acting out my own adventures in the Death Star (the living room coffee table with the glass top) and on the ice planet Hoth (my parents' white faux animal fur floor rug that I'm sure was cool at the time). However, I distinctly remember the day when, in the midst of playing, I realized that action figures weren't as much fun anymore. Not long after, the figures and plastic starships ended up in storage.
Now it's the twenty-first century, and computer games make it possible for me not only to fire up my imagination, but also to play an actual role in the Star Wars universe. Star Wars Battlefront, a LucasArts game ported to the Mac by Aspyr, puts me in the boots of several types of Star Wars characters, fighting battles in locations from the movies from a first-person viewpoint.
Star Wars Battlefront spans all of the Star Wars movies, enabling you to inhabit four different character classes: the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire from Episodes 4 through 6 (the first three movies to be released), as well as the Republic Clone Army and the Separatist Battle Droids from the most recent prequels, Episodes 1 through 3. Within each class, you choose a soldier type, such as infantry, scouts/snipers, heavy weapons soldiers carrying rockets, and pilots. Each class also has its own special type: flying troopers for the Empire and Clone Army, wookies for the Rebels, and the rolling, lethal droidekas for the battle droids.
These characters inhabit 12 environments located on 10 planets, many of which are the sites of battles from the movies, such as Hoth, Endor, and Geonosis. And of these, many also include vehicles such as AT-ATs (the giant walking dinosaur-like ships from The Empire Strikes Back), X-Wings (the Rebellion's ship of choice for attacking the Death Star in Star Wars), and Jedi starfighters. If you've ever wanted to sit in the cockpit of a TIE fighter, now's your chance.
Like other "battlefield" type games such as Battlefield 1942 and Call of Duty, you're not a lone superhuman soldier blasting away at everything in sight. Instead, you're part of an army, one of a large group of soldiers working toward specific goals. The primary goal is to eliminate the other team. But to do so, you need to capture command posts to gain tactical advantage over the enemy. Some maps have additional goals, such as destroying shield generators.
Stay on Target -- Star Wars Battlefront offers two campaigns in the single-player mode, taking you chronologically through the two movie trilogies. However, you don't get to choose which side of each conflict you're on. I'm sure this behavior is meant to give you a taste of each character class, but it's a bit confusing to be fighting for the droid army on one map and then blowing them away on the next.
If you want to choose your class and play single maps, the Instant Action option is the route to take. You can choose the battlefield and the character class, and switch sides in the middle if you're not happy with how well your fellow soldiers are doing their jobs.
The last gameplay option is Galactic Conquest, where you choose a scenario (such as Dark Side Rising, representing the birth of the Empire) and must attack and take control of every planet in the galaxy. If you win a battle, you get to choose the next engagement and hopefully conquer the planet. As you add more planets to your winnings, you take advantage of planetary bonuses, which range from having reinforcement troops at the ready to being assisted by a "Jedi hero," such as Luke Skywalker or Mace Windu, who run around slashing foes with their lightsabers.
In terms of visuals, Star Wars Battlefront doesn't disappoint. It ran perfectly fine on my 1.25 GHz PowerBook G4, and superbly on a fast dual 2.3 GHz Power Mac G5. The G5 took advantage of a higher setting for drawing shadows, which was often helpful when trying to sneak up on stormtroopers behind a corner or spotting a snowspeeder's location from inside an AT-AT.
But to me, the game's audio is its signature element. The sound design of the Star Wars universe (accomplished by the talented Ben Burtt) has been consistently unique from other movies, and it's all here in the game: laser blasts, which vary depending on the gun and the character class; the specific engine whines of each ship; the powerful crunch of AT-AT legs in the snow. Rounding out the auditory experience is John Williams's score. These aspects do more to put you into the game than the graphics or playability, in my opinion.
Star Wars Battlefront also sports multiplayer action, either on a local LAN or over the Internet using the GameRanger service. However, since the game has only recently begun shipping, there were only a couple of multiplayer games available to test, so I can't offer much more commentary other than it seems to work fine. You can play only single maps, not Galactic Conquest or campaigns.
Apology Accepted, Captain Needa -- Star Wars Battlefront isn't without its shortcomings, which are more annoyances than fatal flaws. For example, when you finish a battle in Instant Action mode, you must wait for the next battle to load and start before you can exit to the main menu. If you've loaded only one map, it must load again before you can return, which is pointless and frustrating. The addition of a simple button at the end of a battle that let you return to the main menu would easily fix this.
Flying can be a problem, because often you're piloting a supersonic spacecraft within a small area of battle, so you end up turning and turning often to avoid leaving the battlefield. The exception is Hoth, which is large enough that the Rebellion's snowspeeders, which play an integral role in the battle to bring down AT-ATs, have plenty of maneuvering room.
Unfortunately, sometimes your fellow soldiers simply act dumb. Several times I've been the rear gunner in a snowspeeder and watched with dismay as the computer-driven pilot flew around in circles or smashed us into a cliff. When fighting in groups, other soldiers sometimes push you around as they move into position, making it difficult to aim at the opposition.
Oh, and the ewoks. As in the movie Return of the Jedi, the chirping and squealing of the little teddy bear creatures is annoying, but in the game it's worse because you spend more time on the Endor maps trying to accomplish the mission. Some people may take some small pleasure in the fact that you can blast the little fuzzy obstructions without diminishing your troop reinforcement numbers.
Now, I Am the Master -- However, these irritations haven't kept me away from the game. As someone who grew up with the original trilogy, it's exciting to jump into the Star Wars world and fight the battles depicted on the big screen. And in at least one way, this option is better than the movies: one of the great pleasures of playing Star Wars Battlefront is that it offers the best parts of the most recent trilogy without the inane dialog. At no point did a clone trooper stop and say, "Hold me like you did by the lake on Naboo."
Star Wars Battlefront costs $50 and is available now. It requires a 1 GHz PowerPC G4- or G5-based Mac running Mac OS X 10.3.6 or later, and at least 256 MB of RAM (512 MB is recommended). Video requirements include ATI Radeon 8500 or later, or Nvidia GeForce4 MX or later, with at least 64 MB of video memory. Lastly, the program comes on a DVD, so your Mac needs a drive that will read DVDs.