If you like Star Wars and you love games,
Publisher: Nintendo |
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When most people get their hands on LucasArts' newest Star Wars game, Shadows of the Empire, they will feel secretly happy knowing that they've got one of the most highly anticipated Nintendo games. But sadly, Shadows of the Empire falls sharply into the category of games that are "wide but shallow" -- it's full of different gaming genres, but not one of them is much good.
I love LucasArts (and many of its games on other systems -- Dark Forces, Sam and Max, etc.) just as much as anyone, but we were disappointed again and again at this game's terrible control, its mediocre gameplay, and the overall knowledge that, once having finished it, you knew that the developers from LucasArts could have orchestrated a much better piece of videogaming.
Relative to the other eight levels, the first and the last are by far the coolest. Skimming the snowy surface of Hoth is something everyone has wanted do since The Empire Strikes Back. And dusting off the Sky Hook's core is extremely satisfying. But after the Battle of Hoth the game takes a slow careening slope downhill until the Skyhook Battle.
With the Doom-style levels of Escape from Echo Base, Gall Spaceport, Emperial Freighter Suprosa, the Sewers of Imperial City, and Xizor's Palace making up half of the game, one must wonder who approved Dash Rendar's annoyingly anti-gravitational, unrealistic, and just plain poor movement. Yes, there's a learning curve, but the control doesn't get any better once you've learned, and more often than not you just have to cross your fingers and hope for the best. Dash falls off cliffs, ledges, trails, and buildings that he's not supposed to, despite the players' skill level.
Accompanying the movement tragedy is the Movie Angle. Three of the four viewpoints are useful during various stages of the game, with the exception of the movie angle, which directly faces Dash Rendar or follows him at "movie angles." What's the point of this angle -- ever? It's faster to turn around then it is to flip to this. On a similar complaint about the movement, the speeder bikes in Mos Eisley and Beggar's Canyon prove jumpy and strangely awkward. In this case, the level design breaks down to a confused obstacle course with no street signs, with a level that's neither fun as a racing game, nor a bumper car sim. And the villains that Dash is supposed to knock off actually wait for him to catch up!
In terms of level design, the "walking" levels are vastly empty, with few surprises or bonuses in them, an occasional Challenge Point, and little ingenuity in the puzzle design. They're simply not as exploratory as any decent Doom-style game on the market. Only after finishing the Sewers of Emperial City, were we slightly excited -- but still, this kind of level can be found in Duke Nukem, Quake, or even Dark Forces, where they're more complex and more intricate. Furthermore, the bosses, with a few exceptions, are easily beatable. In Gall SpacePort, the AT-ST was cool the first time we played it, but it's a simple task of encircling the machine until you take it out (and it's slower than you). This same strategy applies to at least a few other bosses (the Loader Droid in Emperial Freighter Suprosa, for example). The sole exception may be Boba Fett and his nasty Slave 1 ship, which was challenging and fun. But this pair is annoyingly difficult in the hardest level.
LucasArts always does justice to graphics in its games, and while Shadows isn't a graphic tour de force, it's often pretty. Fogging effects aren't obvious because the effect is worked into the design on several levels. Looking down the infinitely steep cliff walls in Gall Spaceport causes fear, and looking through the haze in the Sewers of Emperial City and Ord Mantell Junkyard is also occasionally creepy. One of the more remarkable elements in this game, and which essentially holds it up by its coattails is the soundtrack and near-perfect replication of the movie-quality sound effects. After Mortal Kombat Trilogy's poor music production delivery, Shadows' performance is a sheer sigh of relief and proof that good music can be accomplished on the Nintendo 64 cartridges.
What's strange about Shadows is that the storyline is compelling enough for most gamers to want to play until the end -- despite all of its problems. You actually get accustomed to the poor level design and horrifying movement just to reach the ending. But not because it gets better, but because the Star Wars itself universe is so fantastic. Again, oddly, the game as a whole is just slightly better than its mediocre, individual parts. If you like Star Wars, you'll like this, but if you like Star Wars and you love games, you're in for disappointment and disbelief.