pop culture | no politics
Star Wars: Battlefront releases next week, and while I’m disappointed it’s a multiplayer-only experience I’m still excited to see video games make a return to that galaxy far, far away. From everything we've seen it's certainly a pretty game, but how will it hold up when compared to the greatest Star Wars games of all time? There's so many great games to choose from, but I took the time to narrow my list down to the following five:
The Force Unleashed’s premise is pretty simple: give gamers access to the Force and let them run wild with it. Everything about this game is extreme, your character isn't going to waste his time using the Force to stack rocks on Dagobah. It's all about using your powers to blast stormtroopers off of ledges, to tear open massive steel doors, and to even rip one of the Empire's massive Star Destroyers out of the sky. The dull lightsaber combat and repetitive level design keep the game from being great, but the story is strong enough to earn the number five spot on my list. A tale full of lies and betrayal, the game takes place between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, giving us a look a the Rebel Alliance in its infancy. Appearances by familiar characters from the movies like Princess Leia and Lord Vader himself really enhance the experience, and there's even a very satisfying Jar-Jar Binks easter egg that will take some of the sting out of those awful Phantom Pain memories.
Pinball is by it’s nature a repetitive experience, it's really nothing more than using a couple of flippers to bat a ball around in the name of scoring points. I’ve always enjoyed playing it in small doses, but have had a hard time staying engaged for long periods of time given it’s lack of storytelling ability. And honestly the idea of playing a virtual version of the game on a console seemed gimmicky and stupid. That all changed when I downloaded Zen Studios’ Star Wars Pinball onto my Playstation Vita. Suddenly there was more to pinball than simply chasing a high score as the best moments of my favorite film franchise were woven into of the experience. Rather than mindlessly mashing the buttons simply to keep the ball alive, I now made a conscious effort to hit the ramps and bumpers necessary to activate the game’s special modes and cut scenes. With a robust lineup that boasts tables based on the movies, iconic characters like Han Solo and Boba Fett, and even an epic battle between the two sides of the mystical Force, the game simply never gets old. Zen Pinball’s Star Wars has become my default go-to game to play whenever I’m traveling.
The Super Star Wars trilogy is the reason I bought a Super Nintendo, as soon as the first game was announced I rounded up enough cash to buy both console and game and made the purchase. Just like the movies themselves, the best of the games is the middle chapter that's based on The Empire Strikes Back. Loosely following the plot of the movie, gamers are given the opportunity to fight their way through Hoth, Dagobah, and Cloud City. It's obviously crude by today's standard, but back in the early 90s this was the first chance anyone got to actively participate in the adventures of Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewie on a home console. And like all games of that era, it was brutally difficult which made finally defeating the SNES version of Darth Vader so very satisfying.
Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic, or KOTOR as it's affectionately known, was released a year after the disappointing Episode II: Attack of the Clones. And it was exactly what the Star Wars franchise needed at the time. After two subpar movies featuring boring and unnecessarily convoluted plots, KOTOR showed there were still good stories to be told in this universe. It not only presented a fresh spatial look at the Star Wars world, but a temporal one as well. Set over four thousand years before the events of A New Hope, gamers got to experience a time in the Star Wars world where the Jedi were in their prime. Such a drastic departure from the main Star Wars time line was a risky move and could’ve easily been a disaster, but the developers were keen enough to pay homage to the world fans knew and were comfortable with while still provide a fresh, original adventures. The characters, ships, and locations might be new but they’re also a sense of familiarity to them. The ship you call home isn’t the Millennium Falcon but there’s enough design cues to make you believe that it could maybe be the ancestor of Han and Chewie's famous smuggling ship. I never found the game play to be anything special, but the story certainly shines and packs a twist that's on par with the ending of The Empire Strikes Back. KOTOR spawned not only a fantastic sequel, but started Bioware down the path that eventually led them to produce the groundbreaking Mass Effect series.
I've always been obsessed with aircraft and the concepts behind flying them, so I was super-excited when my parents bought me Microsoft's Flight Simulator 4.0 back in the early 90s. That excitement didn't last long as I quickly discovered that the game was dull and repetitive as the developer focused most of their resources on authenticity and realism instead of making the game fun. LucasArts didn’t make that mistake when they dropped players into the cockpit of an X-Wing starfighter. Gracefully walking the fine line between simulation and game, X-Wing demands the player focus as much attention on managing their vehicle as they do on shooting down TIE Fighters. Want your lasers to recharge faster so you can fire more shots? Well you’re going to have to sacrifice some of your shields, making your ship vulnerable to enemy attacks. Don’t like that? Well you can also divert power from your engines but as a result you can no longer keep up with the Empire’s much faster yet significantly weaker fighters. This never feels tedious though, and the experience really forces the player to remain adaptable to ever-changing situations resulting in an extremely deep level of immersion. Many sequels followed and honestly they were of a higher-quality, but the original X-Wing will always be my personal favorite as it was the one that gave us the first taste of how fun a space combat simulator could be. The game was truly ahead of it's time and whenever I feel like doing some virutal flying it's the first one I pull off the shelf.