Rebellion Developments’ second PSP Star Wars outing offers some fresh ideas on top of the already great Battlefront formula and while some technical issues get in the way, it’s not enough to dull an otherwise great experience.
World-building & Story
Set in the beginnings of the Clone Wars and running right through to end of Return of the Jedi, Elite Squadron is a tour-de-force in terms of Star Wars locations and call backs. It certainly assumes you have prior knowledge of this universe and its lore, although tells an original story throughout this.
You play as X2, a clone of a Jedi Master, over the course of a number of years and through some of the franchise’s major events, alongside his clone brother X1. The two work to crush the separatists together initially, but the story branches following this and soon they find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict. It’s an interesting premise, but sadly one weighed down in reality by hammy writing and voice acting making things melodramatic and sometimes silly.
My biggest problem with the plot is that it merely feels like a convenience to allow the player to experience all these major battles from Star Wars history without attempting to be a good story in its own right. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever experienced, but it’s certainly forgettable and feels like filler – the kind of thing that’s easily forgotten once the game has been put down.
World-building is done through explorations of the planets which form the levels of the game – these are always interesting, but again rely on a knowledge of the IP. If you’re an outsider, Elite Squadron definitely isn’t a good entry point to the franchise; but if not it’s a fun time exploring these places you’ll have seen in the films.
Presentation & Sound
Despite being a 2009 PSP game, Elite Squadron is far from the best the console has to offer. I’d go as far as to say it looks worse than its prequel Renegade Squadron and by no means an ugly game, I feel developer Rebellion certainly could have done better.
To start with the good – character models are mostly solid and although slightly blurry, you’ll certainly tell the difference between each faction’s units. Animations are also good, with things like grenade tosses and gun reloading being shown on screen. Vehicles are of a similar quality – clearly low-resolution, but good enough in terms of movements and attacks and generally the title does a good job of capturing that Star Wars feel.
Speaking of attacks – shooting and explosions make up a big portion of what’s happening on screen and generally I found these to be impressive. Laser rifles shoot across the screen in beams of light; destroyed ships go down in a blaze of fire and enemies go flying through the air when hit by a grenade. Best of all, it causes very little slowdown and I mostly found the game ran well enough aside from a few odd hitches.
Sadly, environments in the game do not hold up anywhere near as well. Although you can tell what everything is, things like textures are shockingly low resolution – most noticeable on some planets when zoning in from space, the landmass below will just be an ugly blur of green and brown with no definition to it. Even inside levels it’s often difficult to tell what things are or when there’s a doorway in a wall, meaning things like traversal can be difficult.
And in general there’s just a low-budget feel to so much of the presentation – like it’s a game thrown together without the effort put in to the final touches to make it glorious. Things like janky character movement; poorly placed environmental objects and some issues with draw distance cause the game to be far less impressive than it should be; but overall it does nail the feel of creating a version of the Star Wars universe on a handheld.
Sound is mostly okay – music is the usual mix of classic Star Wars tracks with other pieces of dramatic orchestral tunes and sound effects are pulled straight from the films and previous games. Voice acting, on the other hand is present but unfortunately is pretty cheesy – there’s nothing offensively bad and it’s certainly amusing, which is a small bonus.
Gameplay & Content
A third-person shooter with strategic elements, the Battlefront sub-series of Star Wars games have always differentiated from their contemporaries thanks to compelling gameplay and design choices, something which is still very much on point with Elite Squadron. Although a number of clunky elements manage to find their way in due to PSP’s limitations, they’re not enough to dull an otherwise enjoyable experience.
During the story mode you’ll play as X2 the majority of the time, but other modes give you a wider range of characters and classes to choose from. Initial control isn’t the most responsive – players feel clunky; things like the ability to do a rapid 180 turn are missing and jumping is sluggish. It’s something you get used to over time but is far from the title’s strongest aspect.
Moment-to-moment gameplay in battles gets significantly better and you’ll quickly realise what a gem the series is. Weapon shots have impact; you’ll always have options available thanks to a number of guns and grenades at your disposal and maps allow for strategic thinking with plenty of large-scale clashes and choke points to take advantage of. The areas themselves are impressively large in scale which – despite their graphical shortcomings – are fun playgrounds to experiment with.
What makes the battles most special, however, is that the game finally combines space and ground combat within the same conflict. Provided the mode allows it, you can choose to take off into space at any point to blast a few enemy ships before returning to orbit to land and continue the fight on foot. It isn’t seamless (a transition screen plays between each area) but it opens up a wealth of different ways to play. It really gives a feeling of scale that Battlefront has always had – that you’re just one soldier in a massive war, but still able to influence the outcome with smart decision-making.
Although the campaign suffers from a serious case of corridor-itis, other modes are much more open. Conquest has you vying to score more points than the opposition through a combination of kills; building destruction and various other feats, allowing you to approach the battle however you like. Alternatives like capture the flag add variety to the proceedings allowing the game to stave off the feeling of repetition.
But it’s one specific mode in paticular that’s the star attraction and has been since the series first started (and was oddly missing in 2015’s reboot) – Galactic Conquest. This board-game inspired challenge sees you invading planets across the galaxy while managing your resources in order to become leader of the universe. It’s bizarrely compelling, perfectly mixing strategy with action and thanks to some quality of life changes (the option to automatically generated the outcome of an invasion) offers one of the most polished experiences of this kind.
Combined with the fact that battles now have both ground and space combat happening at once, Elite Squadron feels like the most conceptually perfect Battlefront game to date. It’s let down in terms of execution, but remains a compelling product as long as you can look past some of the more glaring control issues.
Content-wise, the game’s campaign won’t take you more than a handful of hours, but if Galactic Conquest or instant action battles take your fancy then there’s a decent amount here. Certainly for me it’s the type of title that I can return to every few months for a few quick battles before moving on to something else.
While the PSP’s hardware limitations get in the way in terms of graphical presentation and some of the finer parts of control, Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron still manages to nail the series’ perfect mix of strategic thinking with action-packed gameplay to create a compelling package that’s the type of game you’ll keep coming back to on your Vita time and time again.