When I first heard that the next Star Wars Battlefront game was coming exclusively to PSP, the first thing I asked was "why?" It's not that I don't love my PSP -- but I found it surprising that the biggest Star Wars gaming franchise of all time would make Sony's diminutive handheld its home, rather than a console powerhouse. Certainly, a game that's all about online connectivity would benefit from the additional horsepower that's demanded from a game of this kind. So, when the first footage of the game was released, I was admittedly concerned. The framerate was far from stable, and the graphics lacked the polish that I expected from a modern PSP game.
Well, a good number of my worries were put to rest when I picked up Renegade Squadron. The developers finally gained access to the PSP's full clock speed, 333MHz, and the framerate has stabilized quite nicely. Granted, the level of detail isn't what I'd like it to be, and the draw distance still leaves a lot to be desired. Considering the limitations of the PSP hardware, it does seem like the team at Rebellion have still pulled off an impressive technical feat for the handheld, especially considering how large the environments tend to be.
There's a lot to do in Renegade Squadron, and it can be quite daunting at first. Thankfully, there are tons of in-game tutorial videos that attempt to explain all of the features of the game. However, I discovered the best way to learn is to simply jump into the single player story mode, which offers far more useful advice. The tutorial will guide you through the basics of capturing bases, choosing weapons, conducting battle, and flying spacecraft. After a few levels, you'll have gained a basic understanding of Renegade Squadron's basic gameplay mechanics.
The single player story mode was fun, and although I wish there were full-motion cinematic sequences, the comic book style sequences work well, especially because of the high quality voice acting. The story is integrated into the good half of the Star Wars universe, following the exploits of the Renegade Squadron. Supposedly, this unknown group of misfits provided a helping hand during many of the franchise's biggest battles, from Hoth to Endor.
Although the story provides reason enough to visit such varying locales, one of the biggest flaws with the story-telling is the feeling of being alone. Although you'll have computer AI assisted pals, most of the time, you'll feel like you're completing objectives by yourself. There aren't developed characters, so people expecting a fully fleshed out narrative experience will walk away disappointed -- especially when seeing how short the story mode actually is. Even more disappointingly, moments where you encounter big baddies (such as Darth Vader) as underwhelming at best. It's clear that the single player isn't the main draw of the title: it's the multiplayer. Viewing the single player story as a glorified tutorial for multiplayer is best. Through these battles, you'll learn which weapons suit your style, how to customize your character mid-battle, and more. If it weren't for the Battle of Endor in the game's finale, I wouldn't have learned to appreciate how significantly your character changes through the application of different upgrades. I turned myself into a capturing maniac, equipped with huge health, little firepower, and increased capturing ability. Such customization is a first for the Battlefront franchise, and it adds a huge amount of strategy to the game.
I still had difficulty adjusting to the controls, until I realized that there were multiple control options. Instead of the default setting, I opted for the alternate controls which make Battlefront play more similarly to other PSP FPS games. In the alternate mode, the character moves with the analog stick, and aims with the face buttons. Locking on is for chumps, especially if you're carrying a minigun. Admittedly, the default controls will offer players more tactical options. Throwing grenades and dodging involves a simple press of a button on the default controls. It'll be interesting to see how our multiplayer battles go -- to see if I have a significant disadvantage over the other writers.
Stay tuned for impressions of the game from the other PS Fanboy writers.