Most Star Wars games that drift our way wind up getting battered by an asteroid belt of bad decisions, or break apart in the harsh atmosphere of EA; if and when they finally do crash-land, we usually find them in a sorry state, as if we’ve followed a distress beacon. Every now and again we’re given something solid, which we mistake for something sublime, and as a result – rather like Hoth – I’ve developed an icy outer crust. This isn’t to be mistaken for cynicism; it’s merely weathered, rocky pragmatism.
After watching the recent trailer for Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, I can feel my resolve beginning to slip. A Single Player, story-driven, Jedi-powered, action-adventure, made by a developer that glitters with talent: could it be? Is this the game we’re looking for? The thing is, there’s absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t be; the vacuum of good Jedi games is one of mysterious origin. What is it that so eludes any and all that take on the challenge? It isn’t as though we’ve always been served sewage; it’s just that even the best games that offer us the chance to swing a saber seem to lack some invisible guiding power to see them through.
Take the Jedi Knight series, for instance, which saw its hero, Kyle Katarn, wield both sword and blaster and burn his own path between light and dark – able, should his temper turn stormy, to shoot lightning from his fingertips. The trouble with these titles was that when you drew your sword to duel, it looked as though C3PO had responded to the call of the Force but had forgotten to oil up his hinges. My memories of flipping and swishing gracefully through the air have been quashed by watching YouTube footage of what I was actually doing, which now resembles a form of intergalactic slam-dance performed in spite of rigor mortis.
But they had their charms. As is so often the case with any Star Wars game, it’s the sights and sounds that seduce us into leniency. The Battlefront series excels in recreating the texture we all crave – the insect-wing hum of a lightsaber, the electric bird-squawks of the blasters – and dropping us into familiar forests, snowscapes, and sandboxes. But they are repetitive and uninspired, and after the swell of nostalgia settles, they feel as synthetic and weightless as a hologram, liable to fizzle into the air at any moment – Help us, lengthy roadmap of DLC. You’re our only hope!
Then there’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, by most accounts the best Star Wars game there is and, by my account, features the worst combat there is. It’s tough to feel the joy of a laser sword when it’s crammed into a turn-based fighting system. As a rule, a lightsaber fight shouldn’t be as winding and clunky as one of Yoda’s sentences.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve fond memories of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Or, at least, the first five minutes of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. The opening mission, wherein you play as Darth Vader and wave away the opposing Wookiees as if they were merely a line of tie-in toys. It understood the heft of power, and it let you play around with it – batting away bolts of laser with your lightsaber, pinging bystanders off cliffs, and all to the accompaniment of Vader’s gas-leak breathing. But when things switched to Starkiller, Vader’s apprentice, the game honoured the tradition of the original trilogy and fired its proton torpedoes at all sense of pace. Scrabbling around cruiser hangars and planets filled with purple plants couldn’t match the opening, nor its delicious sense of not playing fair.
Whenever I think of The Force Unleashed (I mined it from the depths of a Tupperware chest not long ago and replayed an hour or so) I think, of all things, about Spider-Man 2, which was similarly akin to finding dirty water in a desert. Treyarch’s game gave us the most competent Spider-Man simulation we’d had: part of the post-GTA open-world boom, the game was as thin as a line of web, but the sensation of swinging between buildings kept the spider-devoted satisfied for years. Indeed, it wasn’t until Spider-Man, which came out for the PS4 last year, that we had the definitive experience we’d been craving – a game that borrowed from the best, if some slightly creaky, places and hit a home run. A day late, perhaps, but with every dollar accounted for.
Watching Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (I’ve seen the trailer a foolish number of times now), there is the distinct sensation – which I last felt with the PS4 Spider-Man – of not necessarily someone making a bright and brilliant game so much as someone finally getting it right. That might well be a fanciful conclusion given that all I saw was a handsome trailer that didn’t show any direct gameplay, but what it did show was promising. And what trailed in the wake of the trailer was intriguing; ‘We want the player to have fun and the power fantasy of having a lightsaber and Force powers,’ said Stig Asmussen. Yes! The game won’t have any microtransactions, says EA. Yes! The hero is played by Cameron Monaghan, who played The Joker in the FX show Gotham… OK, sure!
The game is due out on November 15 for PlayStation 4, PC, and Xbox One, and I’ve resolved to limit myself to watching the trailer only once a day until then (unless, of course, there is another trailer between now and then). If what we get is a game that borrows from some worthy places – splashes of Force-assisted Uncharted-style platforming, a smattering of what looked like pretty lavish Uncharted-style cut scenes, and I spotted a few waist-high walls, sort of like those in Uncharted. Perhaps the game will follow in the footsteps of The Force Awakens and play things safe, retread some beloved ground, and right a wrong that’s persisted for too long. I’ve got a good feeling about this.