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Pentium 166, 32 Megs RAM, 4X CD-ROM,
16-bit Sound Board, Mouse, DirectX 5.

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Sound FX



Episode I - The Phantom Menace

Game Review - by Jerimiah Pratt
Like every other Star Wars fanatic, I've been waiting with building anticipation (and impatience) for the new movies ever since the end credits began to scroll for Return of the Jedi. Finally, both the day and the first movie have arrived and the games too ... which brings us to our review of Star Wars - Episode I: The Phantom Menace for the PC.

The similarity between movie and game (the game follows the plot of the movie exactly, with the exception of several extra sections.) are so close that by playing or watching one, you will be extremely familiar with the plot of the other. In fact the best way to enjoy the game is to watch the movie first, then re-enact your favorite scenes to your liking in the game. Without giving too much away about the story of the film, I can say that the game is made up of 12 separate levels, and you play as several of the major 'good' characters from the movie.

Each level occurs in a distinct location taken directly from the movie, with many recognizable features and lands. While this similarity does keep the film and game closely tied, it does eliminate some of the freedom one might expect in an adventure game, although when playing this doesn't pose a major problem mainly due to the extra sections added in which did not appear on the silver screen. These are often the slower-paced, exploring orientated scenes, while areas taken from the movie are usually full of action.

Good quality cut-scenes link each stage together, and in turn move along the plot and introduce new characters or locales. In game conversation (navigated by a great dialogue choice menu a la Sam And Max or Day of the Tentacle.) also conveys the unfolding saga, with some adequate, but not quite perfect voice acting for almost every character you meet.

Combining elements from Tomb Raider and various puzzle-solving adventure titles and RPGs, Lucas Arts and Big Ape Productions have produced an exciting third-person action/adventure (or *practically* first-person, if you know the cheat code ... we do) that requires more than just whipping out a light saber and going medieval on the bad guys.

In The Phantom Menace, you assume the roles of four characters from the movie -- Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, Queen Amidala, and Captain Panaka. The character swapping takes place at various points relative to parts of the movie (i.e. Obi Wan in the swamp, Qui-Gon wandering Mos Espa looking for ship parts, etc.). The game is also an *extension* of the movie, in that not only do you wander through areas added for gameplay (certain levels require wandering through the Gungan underwater city, various levels of the Queen's palace, etc.), but you discover cool little things that were taking place "off-camera."

Maneuvering characters in TPM is similar to controlling Lara Croft -- you can jump, swim, fire weapons, climb vines over chasms, etc. Out of the four, the Jedi prove the most entertaining, as they have additional moves as well as the power of the Force (to knock down droids in their way) and, of course, they have their trusty light sabers. Some of their maneuvers take a little practice but are well worth the extra effort, particularly when the bad guys are shooting from all different directions. Gameplay ranges from almost too easy to (in the words of our reviewer of Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance) "stunningly difficult." Several times, I found my quick pace through a level stopped dead by some challenge that left me madder than a Hutt on a diet. Therefore, it's *strongly* recommended. That you get to know the F5 button real well. It controls the "quick save" feature, allowing you to save that exact moment of the game -- very handy right after completing an almost impossible challenge you want to make sure you don't have to repeat. The ease or difficulty of making your way through a level depends greatly on many of the choices you make. Throughout your travels, you'll encounter characters who are not necessarily from the movie, but who will nonetheless affect your actions greatly in the game. For instance, after offering some water to one of the queen's injured soldiers, he might be apt to give you information on how to achieve a goal. Of course, you need to find the water first -- which opens up a whole other can of Ewoks. My biggest gripe is with the various camera angles that the game switches to. The camera is usually just above and behind the character, making it a little hard to see in certain directions. Occasionally, I found myself moving in a direction with laser fire coming at me from enemies I couldn't see that would have been no problem to defend myself against in something like Dark Forces.

The attention to detail Big Ape put into the graphical aspect of the game really shows. As with many of the new releases nowadays, The Phantom Menace requires a 3D-accelerator board to run. However the benefits of this are immediately apparent as soon as you enter the game. The depiction of the player characters and their surroundings is very crisp and detailed-- the light saber hanging from Obi-Wans's belt, display screens that can be turned on and off to show characters talking, the excellent likeness of characters and vehicles in the game to their movie counterparts.

Some nice lighting effects are also present, most noticeably when using a light saber or firing a blaster. These weapons cast differing types of luminescence, and can actually be used to navigate in the darker areas. Lightsabres look particularly good when swung, as they leave a faint trail in their path, as they weave around. Deflecting blaster bolts with this type of weapon looks fantastic, and is extremely satisfying to do.

Other weapons, such as the rocket launcher and thermal detonators also boast some spectacular pyrotechnics, with some nice shockwave and explosion effects. Enemy reactions to being hit by these varied weapons are also polished and impressive. Slashing into a battle droid can knock it down to the ground in a shower of sparks, or occasionally blow it to bits on the spot.

Enemies display their own animations when cut or shot down, which look great, especially considering the developers didn't have to resort to fountains of blood and gore to depict this. The surroundings are also not impervious to the on-going action. Slashing into a wall leaves a lightsabre shaped gash, and after heavy fighting an area can be almost covered in blaster gouges, pocks and other debris of battle.

Nice touches include reflective wall displays (which look even better when shattered by blaster bolts.) and some amazing touches on Queen Amidalas ship. (If you've seen the movie it looks equally as good in game. No small feat considering SGI workstations was used for the film effects.)

Animation on characters overall is of good quality, but in some instances seems a little forced or out of place, especially when rotating your character on the spot. Despite this, the special moves and such that each character can perform (such as Jedi front flips etc.) look pretty fluid, and offset the occasional stiffness to some extent.

One thing that no amount of graphical slickness can overcome however is the fixed viewpoint. Set immediately above and behind your character it makes judging height for jumps extremely difficult. It also hinders when enemies slightly off screen, which are made invisible by the camera angle, but would be in plain sight from a first person perspective, attack you. Its understandable that for technical reasons a fully roaming camera could not have been added, but the option to lower it a few degrees to allow more forward view would have been much appreciated.

Sound FX:
As with action and The Force, impressive and distinctive sounds have been a part of the whole Star wars experience since A New Hope. The Phantom Menace is no exception. Sound effects and music are pulled directly from the movie, furthering the bond between film and game. Lightsabre effects, blaster whines, even the whirr of a droid's servomotors all are in full force and all sound crisp and well placed. Music is also well placed, and the familiar tunes are well matched to the onscreen action. Unfortunately speech was not directly pulled from the film, and sound-alikes were used to make up the 1000+ lines of spoken dialogue. These actors did a pretty good job overall, but after hearing the real voices in the theatre they can grate slightly.

One aspect of filmmaking that George Lucas has always kept to in regards to the Star Wars series is that they are a lot of fun to watch. Perhaps they don't pose deep, thoughtful questions about our society, or offer insights into the human psyche (although some hard-core fans would argue the series does in fact do all of the above.) but regardless, the series is an exciting and enjoyable experience.

In much the same way, The Phantom Menace is a roller coaster of action and excitement, combining a fast-paced story with aesthetically polished combat sequences, and other scenes that will literally make you drop your jaw in awe. Don't expect too much in the way of complex, brain twisting puzzles however, as they are nowhere to be found. Due to the flexibility of the PC gaming format individual tastes can cater for.

I recommend anyone who enjoyed the film, but wanted to see more lightsabre dueling, or battle droid dismemberment to go out and buy the game, because on PC you can choose to spend more time fighting and less time talking, or vice versa. And anyone else who simply likes an enjoyable action adventure with the added benefit of the Star Wars background should give it a try too, because, just like the movies, it really is a heck of a lot of fun.

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