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Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Star Wars is all about the superweapons. George Lucas certainly started the ball rolling, but doing a quick Google search, it's apparent that Star Wars writers have really taken that ball and ran with it, with nasties like the Sun Crusher, the Death Star prototype, the Darksaber, the World Devastators, and the Star Forge.

Fearing that the prequel trilogy might tragically conclude superweaponless, here comes LucasArts and Pandemic with The Clone Wars. The game picks up where the second movie left off and takes players through the major battles of the conflict. Not surprisingly, the major thrust of the story involves Count Dooku racing to resurrect an ancient Force-powered Sith (wait for it...) superweapon called the Dark Reaper.

Okay, so the story is sort of lame, but is it fun? Yes, it is. The Clone Wars is essentially a ground-based Rogue Leader. Featuring seven different playable vehicles (including two types of tanks and speeders, a walker, a flying assault transport, and the dinosaur-like Maru from the Wookiee homeworld, Kashyyyk), as well as several missions on foot, the levels are different enough as to not become repetitive. Requirements vary from "blow up everything" to "protect the convoy" to "escape the fast-moving wave of vaguely-threatening pink gas." Players will occasionally have a sense of déjà vu, however: one level requires holding back a Separatist assault on a frozen planet long enough for Republic transports to escape, while another has you racing on speeder bikes to stop the enemy scouts from alerting their headquarters. Sound familiar?

The game generally succeeds in making you feel like you're in the middle of a frenzied battle, with some featuring dozens of ships fighting on either side and hundreds of tiny clone troopers and battle droids working feverishly to finish each other off. The effect is especially good in the few assault lander missions, where you can zoom over these conflicts and choose to assist or ignore on your way to achieve your own mission objectives. The on-foot battles (with Mace Windu, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Anakin Skywalker) are comparatively less refined, but still perfectly enjoyable.

It's disappointing, then, that the game is so short. There are only sixteen missions over five different planets, and, except for the later levels, most can be beaten on the first or second try, even considering that the majority feature some sort of boss. The exception to this is the final boss. While you're busy trying to complete the seemingly nineteen steps required to defeat it, it will be busy grinding you into a fine red powder with a barrage of energy blasts and an unavoidable death ray.

Once you've gotten tired of dying repeatedly at the hands of the Dark Reaper, though, you can try out the multiplayer maps, which let you pilot vehicles not available in the campaign, like the two-wheeled hailfire droids, or fight in the Geonosian arena as a Jedi knight. Of these, the vehicle-based maps are the most fun.

The Clone Wars borrows ILM's vehicle models from Attack of the Clones, so the ships, tanks, and droid armies look great. The character models (with the exception of Yoda), however, are fairly mediocre, although most of them do have a passing resemblance to the character they represent. The landscapes are believable and look good, as well. For players with a 16:9-enabled TV, there's a widescreen mode available.

It's Star Wars, so you should know what that means in the sound department: a resounding orchestral score overlayed with the instantly recognizable sounds of blasters, lightsabers, and R2 whistles (all in Dolby Pro Logic II surround sound). The voice actors are generally good, despite Daran Norris's Obi-Wan sounding a little more effeminate than Ewan McGregor's. Mat Lucas, who also does the voice of Anakin in the Clone Wars cartoon, could almost pass for Hayden Christensen, however.

Extras: Like many of these games, bonus objectives have been added to each mission for replayability. These can unlock various features, including four multiplayer maps, a unit viewer, a music player, a collection of production artwork, Yoda as a playable character in the Geonosian arena, and a reasonably interesting short featurette on the making of the game. Players weary of replaying levels to gain bonus objectives can use various codes to make the task a little more fun the second time through.

While The Clone Wars delivers in gameplay and has that intangible Star Wars feel going for it, its short length really makes it best suited as a rental, unless the price is right. Rent it.