We've railed on the PSP's analog nub plenty, many a time expressing our disappointment with the portable's numerous attempts at pulling off a decent shooter. Well, the PSP and LucasArts have just delivered a resounding "Shut yo' mouth" pimp slap across our flapping gums with their fairly phenomenal shooter, Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron.
The lock-on implementation via the right shoulder button works fantastically with the ground controls, for the most part. And the multi-functionality of the L trigger allows players to jump by tapping, run by holding, and a double tab will activate a jet pack. Don't want a jet pack? No problem. The new credit system allows you to customize any character exactly to your liking, whenever you please. The guns, attributes and abilities are ascribed a point value, and you may configure them in any manner of your choosing as long as you stay within the 100 point credit limit.
We liked to run and gun with the classic Blaster rifle while activating a Hulk-like power up called Rage, which offers extra endurance and power. But if you want to jump into battle with triple health, extra speed and nothing but a pocket full of thermal detonators... as Bobby Brown says, that's your prerogative. Whatever your personal selection, the gameplay is blissfully blast-happy. Capturing bases, manning turrets, piloting familiar machinery and fragging Wookies is just as fun as it should be.
The action is just as fun and frantic as any console counterpart, with any issues fans had with the previous PSP version (Star Wars: Battlefront II) dutifully addressed. Wireless ad-hoc play has doubled to an eight player maximum, and when when we played sessions at full capacity, we saw no loss in the framerate. If you lack eight friends with PSPs, up to 16 players are able to duke it out online. (For those keeping score, yeah, that's as many as Halo 3.) The galactic dogfights are back and as laser-happy as ever, with the ability to exit space crafts and enter capital ships now proudly present in the handheld version.
The game's controls still suffer a little in some indoor areas. Even the lock-on can't compensate that well, and will leave you staring at the ground and bumping into walls. It's somewhat difficult to move around in tight spaces, but most of the game takes place in larger outdoor environments, and the real meat of Renegade Squadron is the multiplayer. Meaning that, sooner or later, people will gravitate towards the maps that don't suck.
Simply calling it a great mulitplayer experience would be neglecting the over-the-top fan service found within that'll make any Star Wars fan giddy. Whether dicing up fools as Yoda or soaring through the remains of Alderaan in Boba Fett's Slave I, there's very little here for a fan to bitch about. Even the fishy-faced Admiral Ackbar is playable, for Force-sakes!
Plus, the single-player campaign offers a captivating story through a series of mission-based goals. Told in lusciously animated flashbacks set during the Original Trilogy, Col Serra sings the untold song of the Renegade Squadron, a ragtag outfit assembled by one Han Solo that fought all the battles behind the scenes.
Above: Vader has the flag!
If you're still obstinately willing to put off playing human opponents, there's a also a turn-based, strategic way to play in Galactic Conquest mode, where battles unfold in between the taking of planets in four phases. Because it's not all about mere base-capturing.
The new Hero Capture the Flag mode is sure to delight anyone who used to sleep on bedsheets adorned with the Millennium Falcon. Instead of a stationary base, your favorite Jedi act as roving flag bases. And just so you know the prequel fans won't be left out, the "bases" in a match of ours took the form of Mace Windu and Count Dooku. Even though armed with only a lightsaber (understatement?), these deadly space-ninjas can cut down large swaths of oncomers while taking far more damage than the average soldier.
We can't think of another occasion where a license has provided such a rewarding variation on a classic theme, so hats off to aptly named developer Rebellion.
You lucky so-and-sos who've held out on getting a PSP until this week can not only get the system at a reduced cost, but they're throwing in a copy of Renegade Squadron, too. As tempting as the Daxter pack and a handful of old Family Guy episodes may appear, you can pick up either at any time for less than $20. Most will get far more mileage out of Renegade Squadrion's multiplayer free-for-all, and that's not to mention the uber-slick white PSP that no iPod enthusiast will ever want to be without. Need we add that Vader's face is branded onto the back?
Renegade Squadron scores for being a great game that offers hours of satisfying multiplayer, while simultaneously using its license to its fullest potential and improving over its predecessor. If you're willing to overlook the minor control issues and last-gen graphics (and most will), you'll see that the PSP is still capable of performing a little magic of its own. The Emperor will be most pleased.