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COMPUTING

Phantom Menace game lets you be a Jedi

June 3, 1999
Web posted at: 3:04 p.m. EDT (1904 GMT)

by Andrew S. Bub

From...
Games.net
iconINTERACTIVE
phantom screenshots

(IDG) -- With crowds lining up at the theaters and fans seeing The Phantom Menace in droves (and in some cases, multiple times), LucasArts unleashes its first Star Wars adventure game. The title is the same as the film's, and the story follows the film's closely. But is this an adventure game in the proud Lucas tradition of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango, or is it something else? It's definitely something else.

Gameplay

"I've got a bad feeling about this" quips Obi-Wan--voiced by someone other than Ewan McGregor, from the sound of things--at the start of the game. He's right, of course. The game looks great, sounds great, but there really isn't that much of a game here per se. The gameplay follows the movie closely--from the bartering on Tatooine to the swamps and palace of Theed on Naboo. But at the same time, it diverges from the film and pads the action with a handful of pointless side quests, numerous lame puzzles, and extended travel time.

By far the worst element of the game is the puzzles. They aren't at all innovative, and you've seen them in scores of games, from Tomb Raider to Herc's Adventures on the console systems. Move box there and jump on it, find and press the button, and…shudder… Developer Big Ape crammed more frustrating jumping puzzles in here than you can shake a lightsaber at. Really, the only thing that prevents this game from being a shorter ride than the movie is the proliferation of lame gymnastics.

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Sure, there are enemies--lots of them, in fact--but they have little intelligence except to stand there and shoot. Their shots travel slowly, which allows for dodging and saber blocking, but the action feels cold and uninspired overall.

Over the course of the game you get to play as Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon Jinn, Captain Panaka (the Queen's bodyguard from the film), and Queen Amidala herself, depending on the chapter. The Jedi can use sabers to attack and block, execute a force push, and, sometimes, use the Jedi mind trick in conversation. Panaka and Amidala have blasters, and the Queen has an additional item that can disable droids. Generally, the action is the same no matter who you play.

Put all these things together, and you don't get much gameplay. The controls are somewhat sluggish--I found a gamepad to work the best. There's little adventure and little action to be found.

Graphics

Gorgeous at times, yet oddly dull in places. The gameworld is fully 3D--in fact, high-end acceleration is required--but many background and even moving items (such as fish) are two-dimensional. Still, the lighting effects are first-rate, the video cut-scenes look straight out of the film (albeit grainier), and the architecture is appropriately grand.

The action is viewed from a third-person perspective, and sometimes the camera zooms in or out. It doesn't swing widely as in Tomb Raider, thankfully. If anything, the graphics do make you feel like you're a part of the film, and that's the best selling point this game has.

Sound

Hey, it's Star Wars. You got your humming lightsabers, clankety droids, aliens at Tatooine, and some voice actors direct from the film (Watto, Jabba, and Jar Jar Binks), plus some voiceovers that sound close enough (the rest). On top of that, you have Lucas' proprietary IMuse music system, which dynamically changes the musical mood to suit the action, playing snippets from John Williams' amazing new score! Overall Score: 5.0 out of 10 The Phantom Menace is the Jar Jar Binks of Star Wars games: true action- and/or adventure-gaming fans will hate it, yet young children may love it. The graphics are impressive, yet the Force is telling me to avoid this title. If you must own it, here's my suggestion: lower your expectations, take a deep breath, and enjoy the game for what it is--a decent Star Wars tie-in.

Tips

When overly frustrated with jumping puzzles, do as the Jedi do: meditate, search your feelings, feel the living Force, and save often.

Don't kill Jar Jar--you'll want to, but doing so ends the game.

Remember to use your Jedi powers, especially when faced with many enemies or enemies you don't want to kill.

Pay attention to any characters that offer advice, and remember that there's always an obvious way to get to where you want to go.

When saber fighting, roll left and right and then jump toward your attackers. You'll look like a frog, but you won't get hit as much as when you try to block/reflect every blast.


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