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As soon as the theme tune kicks in and the golden text starts to scroll across the screen, you just can't stop those hairs on the back of your neck from standing to attention, such is the expectation of this game following the recent launch of the visually stunning movie.
This game is so closely based around the movie that if you are one of the millions who has already seen it, the following paragraph may seem a little incidental, but for those six people in Outer-Mongolia who haven't, here's a quick summary of what its all about:
The game takes place years before 'Star Wars', so much so that 'Obi-Wan' (the old geezer in the brown cloak) is just a young man and 'Darth Vader' is a child.
All trades between planets are governed by a Federation (an inter-planetary U.N), known more for its corruption and greed than its diplomacy. They have mobilised a huge force to invade the peaceful planet of 'Naboo' and the Jedi Master 'Qui-Gon Jinn' and his apprentice, 'Obi-Wan Kenobi', have been asked to mediate with them in order to solve the dispute peacefully. Unfortunately for them, the 'Dark Side' (bad guys) are involved and so nothing will stop the attack and they may have just walked into a fatal trap.
As you progress through the game you will meet (and play as) several of the main characters from the movie and visit most of its key locations.
Principally a 3D Action adventure, this game features a lot of shooting, quite a few puzzles to solve, buttons to press and doors to unlock, with a little bit of character interaction thrown in for good measure.
Sound and Vision:
The Phantom Menace features some of the very best cut-scenes that you will ever see on the PlayStation, to introduce each new level of the game. Rather than taking the easy route of just pulling scenes straight from the movie they have completely re-created them for the game. It would be fair to say that many people will battle through each level of the game just to view them all.
Unfortunately the quality of the graphics ends here, in that those used for the actual game would have been more acceptable when this console was launched back in '95 rather than what we have come to expect from our machine today.
The developers could not have used any fewer polygons in constructing each of the characters in Phantom Menace if they had tried. When the camera moves high up and away from the action it looks fine, but as soon as it gets closer, everything begins to look like 'road-kill'.
There are quite a few occasions during conversations when its quite difficult to convince yourself that someone hasn't swapped your 32bit console for one of the old 16bit Sega or Nintendo machines from days long forgotten.
The camera view is fixed at a strange angle (above and just behind your character). This is fine for some of the earlier enclosed levels, but it limits your vision so much that as the areas begin to get larger and more open, you find yourself being shot at by enemies that you can't see. As you can imagine, this is more than a little frustrating.
The sound quality is typical of Lucasarts in every area. The background noises change depending on your location and situation and all are nicely recorded. The spot effects such as those used for explosions and the sound of your lightsaber swooshing through the air during combat are crisp and clean. They really need to be heard through a quality surround sound system to be truly appreciated.
The voices used for all of the characters throughout the game are equally impressive. Some sound just like the actors used in the movie others less so. Again they have all been skilfully recorded, which can't be said for the programming used to control what they say and when. There are several levels in Phantom Menace where you have to lead or follow another of the main characters. Standing close to them for a few moments is enough to set off a long list of repetitive one-liners that will eventually drive you insane.
The game starts on the Trade Federation Battle Ship, with the player controlling Obi-Wan. The room fills with poisonous gas and you quickly realise that you are not welcome. Qui-Gon assists on this level, offering advice and helping to fight off the waves of Battle Droid that attack at various points on the ship. In the most he is a great help, but can get stuck in certain rooms. I found it O.K on this level to leave him bouncing off walls while I pressed on, but when it happens later in the game, you MUST keep your partner close or they will get killed. If they become trapped in a room (or in a bit of the scenery) and can't be coaxed out, the level must be restarted and you just hope they don't keep repeating this obvious bug.
Progressing through this level the deadly Destroyer Droids are soon introduced. These are probably the most difficult enemy to defeat due to their high rate of fire, shield protection devices and ability to quickly roll into and out of the action at will. If you are faced with several of these dudes on screen at once, there is no shame in running away.
Later levels will see you face the armoured Battle Tanks. These vehicles move very slowly but fire multiple lasers and shells that inflict massive damage on both you and the surrounding area. Speed and dexterity are required to get past these vehicles unharmed.
Four characters will be controlled during the course of the game:
QUI-GON JINN is a highly skilled Jedi. He and his young student OBI-WAN KENOBI principally use their lightsabers to fight off enemies. These unusual weapons have the ability to deflect incoming fire back to where it came from. They can also use Jedi powers to perform an invisible 'Force-Push' (to stun enemies and activate remote switches) and alter the minds of enemies to get them to perform tasks that they normally would not be prepared to do. Both of these characters have tremendous athletic ability and can perform a somersaulting leap across large gaps.
CAPTAIN PANAKA is the leader of the Naboo Royal Security Forces, and the Queen's loyal protector. He has amazing instincts, sharp eyes and although un-armed, can protect himself with martial arts.
QUEEN AMIDALA is the newly elected leader of Naboo who sometimes adopts unique and very personal solutions to problems. She has a special droid stunner that will give her minimal protection when in danger.
All of the characters can run, jump, roll, shimmy across ledges and ropes and push or pull items along the ground. Additional weapons and heath packs can be found hidden around each of the levels, but be warned that these become scarce as the game progresses.
The analog controller is great for the general control of your character, but if you need to cross a narrow bridge it's worth switching back to the normal directional pad if you don't want to fall off.
Throughout the game I found that strange things would occasionally happen. In one instance I was allowed to cross a bridge that should have exploded before I could cross it, cutting out almost 3/4 of the level. On another occasion my 'Force-Push' weapon stopped having any effect resulting in my quick demise. Several slightly miss-timed jumps caused the graphics to go absolutely crazy for a few seconds before the screen went sky blue and a request to restart the level appeared.
One nice feature that is essential for various parts in the game is the ability to save your exact position at any time during the game. There are so many instances where you will need to re-try an area over and over again before getting past it, that this feature proves to be invaluable without spoiling the game.
Communicating with other characters in the game is a simple affair consisting of asking a few multiple-choice questions. These will often result in doors being opened, weapons being offered or goods being traded. If you can't progress in a level it may be due to information that you have not yet received from one of the supporting cast.
The game its-self is massive with 13 levels to complete. You will visit all of the main locations from the movie and meet all of the notable characters.
Many of the levels can be completed very quickly if you just run past the enemy wherever possible, but there are a few of them that will take hours to complete. Most of the puzzles in the game are the standard block pushing, button pressing door unlocking affairs, but there are a few that will have even experienced gamers reaching for our walkthrough of the game to help them on their way.
This is a single disk game for 1 Player. It is compatible with the standard (digital) joypad and the dual shock (analog) joypad. Games can be saved via memory card (1 block per save).
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