Title  : Star Wars: Obi-Wan
Platforms  : Microsoft Xbox
Publisher  : LucasArts
ESRB Rating  : Teen
Game Rating  : 5.5
Review by  : Jeremy Pallant

A long, long time ago (1995), I played a game out of the LucasArts stable called Star Wars: Dark Forces. In terms of technical merit it was superior to Doom, the other major first person shooter that was around then. Unlike Doom, Dark Forces was fully polygonal and used a genuine 3D engine. The gameplay was far more atmospheric, with excellent environmental effects and music that changed to match the situation. You could always tell when a fight with storm troopers was imminent because the tempo of the score would pick up. In short, Dark Forces was an extremely good game — a credit to LucasArts. 

What a shame, then, that Star Wars: Obi-Wan is so mediocre. If there were awards given out for mediocrity, this game would sweep the boards. It's not so much that the game is bad, it is simply, well, mediocre. It needn't have been. It could have been a good game had more effort been put into it, but it seems to me the idea was to quickly churn out a Star Wars game for a new console, and avariciously rake in the proceeds from a plethora of the genre's fans. 

In the Star Wars timeline, this game takes place in the weeks before the Trade Federation invasion of Naboo. Obi-Wan, the Jedi from The Phantom Menace who slashed Darth Maul in half at the end, uncovers a plot on the planet Coruscant that takes him, via fifteen levels of rather boring action, from the depths of that planet's underworld to the planet Obredaan, the home of the mysterious Jin'ha. 

So much for the plot; here's how the game plays. Walk around, whack, walk around, slash, walk around, jump a bit, walk around, hit someone over the head until they stop being a minor irritation. Repeat. Does that sound less than inspired? Well, it is. I have nothing against hack and slash games. I loved the PSX version of Diablo, and Record of Lodoss War on the Dreamcast. However they were more worthwhile games, and even now I would recommend either one to fans of hack and slash adventures. 

Somehow though, LucasArts managed to take a simple concept and rob it of all the fun. 

Spoilsports. 

One of the fun aspects of the afore mentioned two games is the interaction with other characters, and character development, both of which are entirely lacking in Star Wars: Obi-Wan. The Jedi may be addressed during a mission, but there is no interaction per se. Your character's development is purely down to you learning the confusing controls and maneuvering the increasingly difficult arena combat, upon which progression through the game is dependent, as missions are unlocked upon the defeat of your opponent. Not such a bad idea I suppose (he grudgingly admitted), but I'd prefer to see your skills improved through careful plot development. 

The game's high point is the lightsaber and its control. You use the right hand joystick to cut and slash in various directions, and defend yourself against laser bolts. If your timing is right, you can deflect incoming energy fire back against the enemy firing at you. It works well, but the lightsaber has been emasculated. Remember how, in the movies, a lightsaber could cut through almost anything? Not anymore. A good solid strike against a skeletally thin android should result in its falling to the ground in two parts. Nope. Not here. 

In the interest of maintaining a bloodless game, I can understand why slashing an enemy to death might not result in a pile of disarticulated limbs, but against non-living targets, would it have been so unreasonable to lop off an occasional limb or head? Or how about railings and walls? Incorporating them into the plot so that the take-to-bits abilities of the lightsaber could have been showcased would have been an effective move. 

Now I grant you, hacking at a wall with your saber will leave gashes evident, but stand in front of a small rock and try to cut it in two and the rock will suddenly become immune to your weapon. 

The rest of the controls I found to be awkward, and definitely non-intuitive. I had to spend time studying the manual and running through the tutorial to gain even minimal proficiency. I've had practice dealing with complex controls: G-Police on the PSX was criticized for its controls, but I never had a problem. I was offended when G-Police 2 dumbed them down. I recently read criticism of the PlayStation 2's excellent title Thunder Strike: Operation Phoenix that centered on the controls, and I can honestly say I just didn't understand it. So I find it odd that I have such trouble with the controls of Obi-Wan. 

I grant you, it could be the Xbox controller itself. I do find those oval, shiny and slippery buttons counter-intuitive, and generally not really feeling like buttons at all. However I've gotten sufficiently accustomed to them enough to finish Halo and Max Payne, the latter twice, so I must conclude that the fault lies with Obi-Wan. 

Musically, the game is what we have come to expect from LucasArts. John Williams' excellent score is evident, and the lightsaber sounds nicely authentic. The introduction is classic Star Wars. Except for that, I must confess that the sound effects do no more than a pedestrian job of creating your environment. Not bad, not good, just, well, mediocre. Uninspired. 

Graphically speaking, the game is less than inspiring as well. Like the gameplay the graphics are definitely lackluster. The character and environmental graphics are mediocre, looking as if only the most cursory attention was paid to them. The Dreamcast could have done better. What am I saying? The Dreamcast did do better. Record of Lodoss War looked better than Obi-Wan. The early Dreamcast release Slave Zero looked better than Obi-Wan. This is particularly evident during the in-game cut scenes that use the game engine. Those of the former game look far, far better than those of the latter. 

It cannot be said that the game highlights the Xbox's capabilities, though slowdown is not a problem. Coming to a complete halt for no apparent reason is a problem, but not slowdown. You're either viewing the graphics at a nice constant frame-rate, or all action on the screen has totally frozen for around a second, until normal service is resumed. This is rare, but you will almost certainly experience it. 

Having said that, I did like the menu system. Mind you, loading takes an age. For some reason, both Max Payne and Star Wars: Obi-Wan feature surprising loading times on occasion. Even Halo isn't immune. Thus far, when it comes to the length of time required to get a level from a disk, the PlayStation 2 and especially the GameCube impress me more than the Xbox, though in fairness the latter two consoles are relatively new, with a limited number of titles, so a more precise picture may yet develop. 

It should come as no surprise that I cannot recommend this game to anyone but a fervent Star Wars fan who cannot conceive of anything but excellence from the franchise. It you absolutely must try the game, you would be well advised to rent it first.


This article is copyright (c) 2002, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Gamebits, 13-Mar-02