It has been a while since I posted last. Things have been busy. Anyway, I’ve had this one in the hopper for a while since posting it on Critically Sane in February. This closes out my Dark Forces lineage games but I have more Star Wars retro reviews in mind for the future. Enjoy. -Chris
Coming off the success of Star Wars – Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, LucasArts shifted to designing games based around the brand new prequel film trilogy that George Lucas was working on. Star Wars: Obi-Wan was one of those games. Originally intended to be the follow-up to Jedi Knight, Obi-Wan started out like the Dark Forces games as a PC game. At some point during development, the idea that Obi-Wan would be a pseudo-sequel to Jedi Knight was dropped and the game became an original Xbox title.
Playing Obi-Wan, it is a little hard to see the lineage of the far superior Jedi Knight games. While Dark Forces and Jedi Knight were primarily first person games, Obi-Wan is a third person character action game through and through. There are similarities in the fact that the lightsaber battles in Jedi Knight were best handled in third person, but everything else about Obi-Wan is a drastic departure from those games.
Obi-Wan is a very straight forward game, with rarely any branching paths to choose from. This isn’t necessarily a problem. I mean, there are plenty of third person action games that funnel you through the environment. The strength of those games though lies in the gameplay, and that is where Obi-Wan struggles the most.
Obi-Wan is controlled via the left stick, while all attacks are performed using the right stick. This makes for a an awkward control scheme as the camera will often swing wildly around unless you consistently utilize the inconsistent and unreliable lock-on system. Locking on an enemy keeps the camera focused on that enemy, but Obi-Wan will randomly unlock your opponent, throwing the camera wildly around, making it difficult to get your bearings, and often leaving you susceptible to attacks because of the lack of focus.
It doesn’t help that performing attacks don’t seem to register properly with the game. Sometimes I’d see myself attempting to attack with Obi-Wan doing nothing and then I’ll utilize the same input command and the game will do something wildly uncalled for. Let’s not get into the fact that this game requires some platforming in a 3D environment, but does so without allowing direct control over the camera. It all makes for a rage inducing experience and I can’t remember a game recently where I’ve been more angry at the shoddy control and camera design.
Even back in 2001 it couldn’t have seemed like a stellar entry into the genre. Onimusha: Warlords and Devil May Cry, both released in the same year as Obi-Wan, and while they are are different styles of character action games with pre-rendered backgrounds and less open-environments, they are also far superior in design.
Despite being on a stronger system than the Playstation 2, Obi-Wan kind of looks like garbage. The environments are muddy and the few character models that there are aren’t well detailed. It just doesn’t look good. I assume some of that can be attributed to the fact that we’ve been HD gaming for over a decade now our expectations have been skewed. This game was at the start of the generation before that started but it doesn’t make up for the bland art design, which can carry an old game on its back when the technology has moved on.
There are a couple of other issues with the presentation of Obi-Wan as well. The biggest is the voice acting of Obi-Wan himself. Obi-Wan just sounds weird and he is the one that does the majority of the talking in the game. He sounds like someone trying poorly, to impersonate Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan instead of taking on the role of Obi-Wan himself. It obviously can be done, because James Arnold Taylor is believable as Obi-Wan in The Clone Wars animated series, but Lewis Macleod (who voiced Sebulba in the Phantom Menace movie) just doesn’t get it right here.
The other issue is the storytelling. Nearly two-thirds of Obi-Wan follows the events of The Phantom Menace. Some of it takes place during scenes we’ve seen in the film, while others fill in gaps that didn’t need filling in. If you haven’t seen the film, I’m not really sure why you would choose to play this game but in that event, you won’t really be able to follow along very well. It just doesn’t do a good job setting up the player to follow along, whether it be via cinematics or in game dialog. But worse is that it at times outright changes pieces of the film narrative, so much so that this seems like fan fiction by a bitter individual over the events of the film but they somehow have worse and more boring ideas than what were displayed in cinemas.
Star Wars: Obi-Wan is a bad game. There is just no getting around that. It is no wonder that after this debacle, the Jedi Knight series shifted from LucasArts lead design to Raven Software. It is a shame because I think there are plenty of scenarios where a good Obi-Wan game could be made but this just isn’t it. So many of the choices just don’t work or don’t make sense. And can someone explain to me why Sir Alec Guinness is on the menus of this game?