The infectious arcade-style gameplay of Star Wars: Rogue Squadron returns in Star Wars: Starfighter. Pilots won't have to waste much time with strategy since the shooting and explosions begin immediately. Fortunately, the point-and-shoot missions are mostly well planned and fun, so the absence of tactics and story can be forgiven.
Learning the strengths and weaknesses of the three main ships -- the swift Naboo fighter, the intimidating Havoc, and the versatile Guardian Mantis -- presents a challenge, though the personalities of the three pilots are forgettable. The story tries to explain why three seemingly disparate characters would join forces, but it's a banal affair. Skipping the cut-scenes gets right to what the game is all about: lots of lasers and plenty of explosions.
Starfighter was originally a console game released for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, and the ship handling reflects this history. Though it's "possible" to control the ships by using the keyboard and mouse, a gamepad is strongly recommended. Trying to remember all the necessary keys and pressing them in the right combinations is a frustrating experience, especially when flying through the canyons of Naboo (an exasperating level even with a gamepad). Using the mouse is impossible.
The cockpit controls and readouts lack radar displays and intuitive shield/weapon readouts, so pilots will need time to adjust. The omission of a radar screen is particularly ridiculous -- players must cycle through the targets (and frequently there are 20-30) before finding what they need to destroy next. Also, on the maps with hills and other geographical dangers, a radar screen would have been helpful in avoiding pointless crashes.
Starfighter looks great, though the rendered backgrounds frequently add a deceptive sense of size to the boards that is actually lacking. Each mission has an area just big enough, but extra space to enjoy with hidden tasks would have been welcome. Rogue Squadron included such goodies, but Starfighter doesn't. Though Starfighter invites comparison with Rogue Squadron because of the similar missions, interface, and gameplay, Starfighter loses any such evaluation. Players looking for some good fly-and-shoot action will enjoy Starfighter, but may walk away disappointed if expecting the same depth and style of Rogue Squadron.
Graphics: Beautifully textured worlds, lasers, explosions, ships, and buildings wait to be discovered. However, this has all been done before, and better.
Sound: Star Wars music is reliably good and the sound effects work, but the voices are disappointing.
Enjoyment: Don't expect a flying simulation, realistic controls, or fantastic missions. Point-and-shoot gameplay, however, is plentiful and fun.
Replay Value: Though Starfighter mimics Rogue Squadron by including Bronze, Silver, and Gold medal awards depending on how many bonus goals are accomplished, not many players will enjoy the game enough to repeat mission after mission in search of gold medals. Hidden levels and ships can be unlocked for those so inclined, however.
People who downloaded Star Wars: Starfighter have also downloaded:
Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance, Star Wars: X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 3D, Star Wars: X-Wing Collector Series, Star Wars: Battle for Naboo, Star Wars: TIE Fighter, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, Star Wars Episode I: Racer
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