Force is with `Starfighter'

Review: With its quickness, sharp graphics and maneuverability, this one-player game is a treat for users of 128-bit home systems.

Game Room

April 02, 2001|By Aaron Curtiss | Aaron Curtiss,LOS ANGELES TIMES

"Star Wars Starfighter" justifies buying a Sony PlayStation 2.

Finally, a game begins to show off what Sony's hard-to-find 128-bit console can do in terms of graphics, speed and control. Although the game's a pretty standard flight-based shooter, "Starfighter" is the first PS2 title that offers its player a truly intense game experience.

Yes, the system has hosted a handful of high-quality games such as "Smuggler's Run," "SSX" and "DOA 2 Hardcore." But "Starfighter" is good enough by itself to justify hunting down a PS2.

Set about the time of "Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace," "Starfighter" follows three very different pilots - the straight-laced military man Rhys Dallows, the rebellious mercenary Vana Sage and the inscrutable space pirate Nym. Together, they discover a nefarious plot by the Trade Federation and try to thwart it.

A player starts as Rhys as he undergoes training and launches into his first mission behind the controls of a Naboo Starfighter. As the game unfolds, Rhys' path crosses Vana's, and the player takes over her character and her ship, the Guardian Mantis. When she runs into Nym, the player switches to his character and pilots his Havoc bomber.

Really, though, there's very little difference between the three ships. The cockpit interface is substantially the same. Control is identical. The crafts differ in their weaponry, however, and the player gets to tinker with everything from proton torpedoes to a napalm-like Plasma Scourge.

The analog thumb sticks on the PS2 controller offer extremely refined maneuverability. The left stick controls direction, and the right stick controls roll. The combination, which takes a little practice to master, allows for sharp turns and gives players plenty of flexibility in tight situations.

But the graphics are the game's true star. With missions that take place on and in orbit around various planets from the "Star Wars" universe, "Starfighter" delivers beautiful scenery swarming with enemy ships.

Even the black void of space - which generally doesn't offer much in the way of visual opportunities - sparkles with the brilliance of far-off suns or the colorful fog of nearby nebulae. The ships - both enemy and friendly - enjoy nice detailing and move gracefully across the screen without graphics hiccups.

On planet surfaces, designers did a great job creating terrain that is nice to look at and challenging to play.

Enemies can hide behind ridgelines or dive down a canyon to stay alive.

On the whole, though, many of the bad-guy ships don't seem all that intelligent - preferring to swarm targets instead of responding to player actions.

If there's a beef to be had with "Starfighter," it's that the game is solely a single-player endeavor.

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