Reviewed by Mark Isaacson
The adventures of Obi-Wan Kenobi were first played in the THQ Game Boy Color title, Obi-Wan's Adventures. Now, as the first original LucasArts title for Microsoft's X-Box and the last to be based on Episode 1, Obi-Wan returns in this 3rd person perspective action title combining previous elements seen in Jedi Knight and Jedi Power Battles.
What would you expect if LucasArts planned a game which would allow the use of force powers and lightsaber battles, two player deathmatch and highly detailed graphics all on a brand new video games system which, supposedly, is the most powerful on the planet?
Something really, really special, right?
I'm afraid to report that the result of the above plan, Obi-Wan, isn't all that it set out to be. After what was a solid effort with Starfighter Special Edition, LucasArts have fallen back into a hole. A hole they previously pulled themselves out of. The Hole of 'Not working hard enough'.
Graphically, Obi-Wan is a very mixed bag. There are areas here that are really impressive, such as the shadow effects of the lightsaber and Obi-Wan himself. Or when using the many force powers on offer, you can go slow motion, almost like The Matrix 'Bullet Time' special effects, creating a sense of satisfaction as you force push an enemy into a nearby wall.
I can't believe, then, that the simplest graphical areas of the game are left behind. Landscapes are bland and boring to look at, which is a shame when compared to the beautiful architecture that was developed for the movie. It really is difficult to understand why such an important area was lost during the development process. Was it to keep the frame rate above 60 frames per second? Even so, they could have looked at least a little more interesting then this.
The characters and enemies aren't spared either, especially in comparison to the detail on Obi-Wan. Granted the only difference between one droid and the other is a slight color change, but there is more then one enemy in the game.
Without a doubt, the most important area in any video game should always be the controls. And the X-Box has plenty of buttons to play with. The left control stick moves Obi-Wan around the play field, with the four main buttons available to jump, roll, etc. The right control stick is used to move the lightsaber and depending on which way you move while fighting, you can create many different attack patterns (ranging from simple hack and slash to parrying and blocking, etc).
The left trigger activates your many force powers, and you can combine this with your lightsaber attacks to wield more devastating attacks on your opponents.
Controlling Obi-Wan isn't a problem. The big problem, which can have a major effect on your health meter and your patience, is the camera. As this is a 3rd person game, the camera sits behind Obi-Wan, so you can see ahead of the play field as well as your hero. You can then use the three remaining buttons: white to center the camera behind Obi-Wan; black to turn 1800 behind Obi-Wan; and the right trigger to target the nearest enemy, positioning both you and the camera in the correct position to attack.
Even with these buttons available, you don't have complete control making it difficult to see around corners as you walk around, leaving you open to attack. And walking across small ledges is a very difficult task, something that shouldn't occur in a game like this.
With the camera spoiling an otherwise steady control system, how does this effect the gameplay itself?
Enough to hinder the enjoyment at least. Fighting the enemy will keep you amused for a while, but the lack of full control with the camera will frustrate even the most cool and calm players. Most of the secret areas and power ups are just too difficult to collect because of this, which left me with little to do but beat the enemy in front of me.
Even then, there aren't that many enemies to face. They are varied, with different types of battle droids and eventually races as you progress through each level. But there isn't the same amount of intensity during battles compared to the movie scenes, since there are very few enemies on screen at any one time. It would have been a lot more fun, and more challenging, if on occasion 20 droids were waiting around the corner instead of 4. But using your force powers to throw them around the screen is still an enjoyable moment.
The development of the story is of some interest I suppose. As it is situated in and around Episode 1, I enjoyed seeing some of the original cast of characters (minus Jar Jar of course) as well as a few new ones.
It's interesting to note that a new race has also been included, called the Jinn Ha. Its not often new races appear in Star Wars video games. That said, they don't look all that interesting anyway, thanks to the lack of detailed textures (as mentioned previously).
The only thing the upsets the story telling are the poorly developed cut scenes. If there is one thing that annoyed me more then that damn camera, it's the cut scenes. Instead of 3D animation, LucasArts put these together using the game engine itself. The result has familiar character looking absolutely stupid. Qui Gon barely looked like the dressed up Liam Neeson, let alone the Hasbro figures.
As with all Star Wars video games, the movie soundtrack is here for all to
hear. This combined with the classic lightsaber hums and blaster fire will bring back memories every time you play (or just for me at least).
But the one thing that has always been a concern to me is the lack of support by the actors when it comes to voice acting in games. Surely it wouldn't take too long to record a few words from Ewan McGregor. The poor actor that was given the opportunity here never really got the hang of the accent, which for me spoiled the illusion of playing as Obi. [On record, I think only Anthony Daniels has ever taken time out to help developers (check Star Wars Monopoly and Rebellion/Supremacy)].
LucasArts were at least smart enough to add a multiplayer component to Obi-Wan, and although it isn't the greatest in the world (compared to the planned 64 players at a time for Jedi Outcast) 2 player deathmatch will keep you going for a while longer. You will eventually get bored with it just like the single player campaign though, as the same problems with the camera and the poor presentation will drain you of enjoyment over time. If you can find somewhere where the camera isn't of concern (a large open area), you can have a fairly decent lightsaber duel.
Disappointing. Besides the impressive lightsaber and force moves, and the fairly decent 2-player mode, Obi-Wan doesn't offer enough stability in terms of camera control and presentation to warrant a full price purchase. The X-Box can handle much more then this, so let's hope that LucasArts put in a better effort the next time, whenever that may be.
Now if you will excuse me, I'm going to drool over the Jedi Outcast screenshots some more.
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