Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron Preview: To Fire The Ion CannonS

All I wanted to do when I played the newest Star Wars game on the PSP was fire the ion cannon. I became immature about it, even.

Imagine a normally respectable Kotaku reporter badgering a LucasArts PR man: "But I want to fire the ion cannon!" Worse, imagine that turning into: "I'm going to go play a game over there [PixelJunk Shooter,] but can you get to the part where I can shoot the ion cannon and let me know? I'll come back over."

Happily, the nice LucasArts man at the Sony showcase event I attended late last month in New York did as I asked and let me fire the ion cannon from the surface of the ice planet Hoth, as rendered on a PlayStation Portable. Thus, Star Destroyers were made to explode.

That's the hook: Ground-to-space battles on the go.

What Is It?
Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron is a PSP and DS game coming this fall from LucasArts, developed by Rebellion and n-Space, respectively. True to the series, it is designed for multiple players to adopt the roles of Star Wars heroes and bit-players, grab any franchise vehicle they can find on the battlefield (think Battlefield) and wage war. Levels tend to be shaped for arena combat and the game design, as ever, is geared for a multiplayer experience, though one of the talking points for Elite Squadron is that a satisfying single-player campaign will be included.

What We Saw
I played the Hoth level of the PSP edition of the game during a Sony event held in New York City in late July. What I experienced didn't lead me with different conclusions than what Crecente wrote about in June, so for the basics, do check out his earlier preview.

How Far Along Is It?
The game is set for fall release, but as Crecente noted back in June, it feels like it's just about done.

What Needs Improvement?
Staying On Target: On the ground, with just one analog stick, it's still tricky to shoot who you intend to shoot and to not get beaten by a guy who is within arm's reach. Running and looking are both mapped to the left stick, an eternal PSP complication.

Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron Preview: To Fire The Ion CannonS

What Should Stay The Same?
Outer Space: Flying a snow-speeder is beginning to feel old. But flying an X-Wing is a joy that doesn't spoil. Why is that? The outer-space fracas between my fighter and some shielded Star Destroyers was a blast. Fighters can attack capital ships, land in them, have their troops lay siege. It's fun. That's been in Battlefronts before. But what's fresher is...

Space Vs. Ground: Those capital ships can fire at ground forces. I flew my X-Wing down to Hoth, endured a few-second load time (four, maybe?) and landed my fighter to join in the ground battle. AT-AT walkers were attacking the rebel shield generator. I hadn't seen the damage done by the capital ships, but I did hurry over to the Rebel's ion cannon. I tried to fire some shots. I kept getting killed, but after the aforementioned whining, I got my chance. My Star Wars hero stood at a Hoth super-computer and my PSP screen became a targeting reticule with the belly of a Star Destroyer blotting its sights. I fired away and blew the thing up. In multiplayer, other players could be up in space witnessing that while I'm on the ground.

[UPDATE: The fine readers of Kotaku and the good people of LucasArts have explained what was happening. The ion cannon was not in and of itself blowing up the Star Destroyer. It was lowering the shields of that large vessel. What I thought were explosions were either the ion cannon blasts or explosions caused by fighters shooting at the Star Destroyer and causing explosions while its shields were down. The Star Destroyer was not detonated by the ion cannon. My eyes tricked me. My Star Wars knowledge failed me. I apologize.]

Fictional Fiction: There were droids from Episode I or II or both roaming through Hoth. Battle droids. Things that were not in The Empire Strikes Back. There were also Tauntauns, which I could ride but from which I could not fire a gun. Disregarding Lucas canon, this Battlefront game mashes up Star Wars vehicles, characters and special heroes from all the movies. Why not?

Final Thoughts
I'm not a big multiplayer gamer, so I've seldom enjoyed Battlefront games the way it feels they are supposed to be played. But brief bits of the new one played solo were fun. Until I see it, I'm skeptical that a strong single-player campaign can be in a game like this. The levels, after all, are designed for open-ended skirmishes, not the forward advance of a well-paced level. So that's something to look out for if you tend to play portable games on your own. Otherwise, this game's battlefield is grander than you might expect to find on a portable system.

(While the game is also coming to DS, the above impressions apply only to the PSP game I played. Elite Squadron is expected this fall for PSP and DS, with the PSP one also being available as a download.)