Remember the Disney movie TRON? A guy gets sucked into his own computer game, and everywhere he looks there's something really cool. Now imagine getting sucked into thousands of games at the same time and that's pretty much what you get when you visit E3 (the Electronic Entertainment Expo). Everywhere you look there's something flashy, something loud, something really cool? And oh yeah, scantily clad women handing out stuff you'd probably never take otherwise, and will most likely look at come the end of the day and wonder how and when that ended up in your goodie bag? For video game fans, E3 is nirvana.
Some have called it sensory overload, but really it's just about the biggest gathering of electronic game and media professionals assembled in one place. And sure enough, down a quiet little concourse, LucasArts is there showing off their latest wares to those fortunate enough to swing an appointment. Yes, there are a couple of playable demos at the Xbox and GameCube booths. Yes, there's a video-wall down around the corner that continually plays the trailers for the new LucasArts games. But the real fun is in the LucasArts showroom where you get a first hand look at all the games and a quick run through by the designers and programmers that have spent countless hours building the games many of us will be playing within the next few months.
Easily one of the most anticipated Star Wars games of all time, Galaxies was the first stop on our tour, and rightly so. For those of you that?ve been living under a bantha for the past year and a half, Galaxies is a massive multiplayer online game that will allow players to immerse themselves in the Star Wars universe. In the initial release, players will be able introduced to ten Star Wars planets, and have the ability to choose from eight different species, male or female, with literally dozens of personalized character traits. As demonstrated at the show, you can pick and choose clothing, hair color/style, skin tone, freckles, age, and build. On the Zabrak characters you can choose from a variety of facial tattoos. Nothing as elaborate as Darth Mauls's mind you, but there are some very cool patterns to choose from.
The game itself falls into the continuity just after the first Death Star has been destroyed. Players coming into the game can choose to support the Rebellion or the Empire. You also select what profession you want your character to hold; merchant, weapon smith, bartender, smuggler, entertainer, farmer, etc. You can essentially do whatever you'd like, from running a nightclub on Dantooine, to training to become a Jedi, the possibilities are endless.
Because Galaxies is a skill based game and not class based, players are free to explore any "destiny" they choose. If at one point you decide a cantina musician is not the life for you, you can trade in some of your skill point towards some other profession. Along your journey, players can pick up items like Stormtrooper gear, Mandalorian armor, even parts to build your own lightsaber. Some items are harder to come by than others, in fact becoming a Jedi will be quite difficult, but the options are there for those that feel they?re up to the challenge.
Currently in the third beta testing phase, and due for release in the fall, Empire Divided will have minimum requirements of a 56K modem and G-Force 1 card, which, for any self-respecting gaming fan, isn't much of a system requirement. A "Special Edition" box set will be offered for collectors. The box set will include for the first time ever, a female Zabrak pewter figurine, and a beautifully detailed "Art of an Empire Divided" book, chronicling the development of the game. Following Empire, LucasArts is already working on a space based addition to the on-line world. After that fans can look forward to smaller updates adding new species and planets to the ever growing galaxy.
It should come as no surprise that this game is going to be huge. There are going to be legions of Star Wars fans who will be logging on and never coming back out...
For those looking for a more self contained role playing experience, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic should be right up your alley. Much like Galaxies, players are allowed to customize their characters (by groups of three) which will continually evolve through the course of the game, depending on the choices you make and the actions you take. You can choose between serving the light side of the Force, or the dark, and how you play the game will determine how powerful you become, or how quickly you fall. Blast a hapless jawa and your journey towards the darkside begins.
As your team advances through the game there are a number of different playing options. One of the more interesting options is that players can pause the game and program different characters to carry out specific tasks. Targets can be selected and orders given. When game play resumes, your team-mates will engage their specified target leaving you free to concentrate on yours. A "solo mode" (not to be confused with Han Solo) will take any character out of the group and allow him (or her or it) to scout a head.
As the game is set 4,000 years before A New Hope there aren?t many familiar faces for movie fans to gravitate to. However, there are plenty of Sith running around and no shortage of lightsaber action to be had. Knights of the Old Republic is set for a Summer 2003 release for the Xbox console, and Fall for PC CD-Rom players.
Sticking with the "build your own character" theme of this year?s games, Jedi Academy continues the adventures of Kyle Katarn in an action packed follow up to 2002's smash hit Jedi Outcast. Well, actually Kyle isn't in this game, er, I guess really he is sort of, only you don't get to play as Kyle? Oh never mind. This time around players create their own Jedi Padawan attending Luke Skywalker's Jedi Academy. The selections are not as wide ranging as they are for Galaxies or Knights of the Old Republic, but you do get to design and build your own lightsaber, which is pretty darn cool. Players can choose between single bladed, double, or dual sabers, hilt design, and blade color. Each saber has its plus' and minus' which you'll discover during game play.
Academy takes place one after the events in Outcast, which is about 15 years after A New Hope. The object of the game is to complete each level (or mission) in order to gain certain Force powers and work your way up to the level of Jedi Knight. One of the more interesting aspects of the game is that the missions are non-linear. Essentially, the levels are laid before you to select, or volunteer for, which one you?d like to go on. If you end up having a particularly difficult time on one mission, you can back out of it, complete other missions (gaining new Force powers) then return to that mission with a better chance of success. Unless you intentionally set out to do so, the game can virtually be different every time you play. More innovation from the company famous for blazing the path...
Available this Fall for Xbox and PC, Jedi Academy promises to be one the must have games of the year.
Rebel Strike - the much anticipated sequel to the stunning GameCube launch title, Rogue Leader. This time out players will not only find themselves in the cockpit of a highly detailed X-Wing, but can also expect to find themselves piloting a number of classic vehicles and ships. Anxious to zip across the forest floor of Endor with a Speederbike between your legs? Now you can. Want to pilot an AT-ST? Ride a taun-taun? Save the Princess? Rebel Strike has all that and more.
Rebel Strike really pushes the Rogue Squadron series to the next level. Not only have the graphics been improved (fifteen times more ground detail: no small feat, considering just how amazing Rogue Leader looked), but some of the play options have also been altered. Players will get the chance to jump out of their ships for a little third-person action - not unlike what we saw in the N64 title Shadows of the Empire, running around levels and hopping from one vehicle to the next. By popular request, Rebel Strike offers gamers the chance to play other well-known characters like Wedge Antilles and Han Solo, with slightly different game play for each. And where would Han be without his wookiee sidekick? Developer Factor 5 has also included a multiplayer mode, which will feature a split-screen co-op play throughout every level of the game.
To move the story along, DVD quality cut-scenes from the original movies have been woven throughout the game. You won?t be able to piece together the entire Trilogy (drats!), but the scenes definitely add that little extra flare to the game. Fond of easter eggs? Rebel Strike's apprently got plenty of 'em - though nobody at the LucasArts booth was willing to spill the beans.
Bigger environments, consistently high frame rates, a new lighting engine, more enemies onscreen at once - the whole Rogue Squadron experience has received an overhaul that exceeds expectations on almost every level. For GameCube owners that November release date just can't get here fast enough...
Looking for more E3 coverage? How about some game trailers? Head on over to the E3 website setup at LucasArts.com. Be sure to scope out the terrific animations they have for the LucasArts "Gold Guy" logo - good stuff!