I have to admit I was a little worried when LucasArts announced the next installment in the Star Wars Battlefront series was going to be PSP exclusive. After all, the only other Battlefront title to appear on the handheld, Star Wars Battlefront II, ported from the console, was a bit of a disappointment. There was no story-based campaign mode, no online multiplayer, and support for only 4 players via Ad-Hoc. Would Renegade Squadron make amends?
The title Renegade Squadron refers to a secret Rebel fighting force recruited and led by Han Solo and his friend Col Serra. Through a series of flashbacks, the singleplayer campaign tells their story and depicts their participation in some of the biggest conflicts from the Stars Wars movies “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” such as the Battle of Hoth and the Battle of Endor. Unlike the rest of the game’s modes, success in the campaign doesn’t hinge on capturing command posts or depleting enemy forces, but rather on completing objectives like stealing enemy technology and rescuing prisoners while fending off the likes of Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine. The campaign features a variety of space and ground-based battles, though it concludes pretty quickly.
The other main singleplayer mode, Galactic Conquest, remains unchanged from Star Wars Battlefront II. This “Risk” like game mixes turn-based strategy with classic Conquest gameplay. The galaxy is divided into four quadrants and you must take control of the planets within those quadrants in order to gain credits that you can use to purchase new equipment and troops, which you can then deploy to defend the planets you already control or engage in combat with a planet occupied by the enemy. You can also unlock and purchase Heroes, like Admiral Ackbar and Luke Skywalker, to aid in combat, or Commanders for extra bonuses. The ultimate goal is to take the enemy’s home base. The only problem with Galactic Conquest is once you’ve played through it once or twice, you likely won’t come back to it again. Pre-set scenarios of varying difficulty levels could have fixed that.
Remember when you used to choose from a variety of infantry classes, such as snipers, engineers and heavy troopers, as well as special classes, each with special abilities to differentiate the different warring factions? No more. In its place, character customization. Firstly, you can customize your character’s appearance, from your race to your faction’s logo. Then you have 100 credits to spend on equipment and attributes. So, for example, if you want to be adept at capturing command posts you might spend credits to improve your capture rate, purchase a Stealth Suit to make yourself invisible, and increase your base speed. If you prefer to be at the forefront of combat you might spend your credits to purchase a close-range weapon like a shotgun, along with one of many explosive devices, as well as increase your base health. There is a wide variety of primary and secondary weapons, explosives, special items, power ups and attributes to customize your character around, and every time you reach a command post on the battlefield you’ll have the option to re-equip your character as the situation dictates.
The control scheme has been reworked for Renegade Squadron. Rather than using the face buttons to aim like in Star Wars Battlefront II, you press the right shoulder button to lock onto the closest enemy. This makes it a lot easier to target enemies and it leaves the face buttons open for actions like firing your primary and secondary weapons, and performing a roll maneuver to avoid being locked on by opposing forces. The only problem with the new scheme is the inability to turn around quickly. If an enemy catches you from behind it’ll take a couple of seconds to do an about face with the nub.
Unfortunately the control scheme for space-based combat takes all the excitement out of dogfights. Destroying opposing ships is as simple as cycling targets, engaging the auto-pilot, and then waiting until you’re close enough to shoot them down. Where’s the challenge in that? Well, if you actually try to manually shoot down an enemy, you’ll know why the auto-pilot exists. It's very easy to fly into a Star Destroyer, an asteroid, or even completely out of the battlefield, which results in a friendly fire death since they’ll consider you to be a traitor. You can also dock inside an enemy capital ship and take down their shields on foot in order to give your fellow pilots a better opportunity to destroy the ship’s outer targets.
Multiplayer is where the Star Wars Battlefront series has always shined and Renegade Squadron is no different. The game features support for up to 8 players via Ad-Hoc and 16 players via Infrastructure. The games I played via Infrastructure were incredibly smooth with no lag whatsoever. Returning multiplayer modes include Conquest and Capture the Flag (one or two flags). New to the group is Hero Capture the Flag. In this mode, any player from your team can grab one of your team’s two flags and become a Hero character, acting to guard the flag against the enemy while attempting to take down the Heroes on the opposing squad. Leaderboards and in-game achievements round out the multiplayer experience.
Visually, Renegade Squadron is a mixed bag. You’ll have no problem recognizing the characters and environments from the movies, but the textures are muddy and the environments lack detail. Playing through the campaign, however, reveals some beautiful Star Wars artwork. Audio is pretty much what you’d expect from a Star Wars title. From John Williams’ soundtrack to the instantly recognizable sound effects, everything is here for Star Wars fans to enjoy.
With the presence of a story-based campaign mode and full online support for both Ad-Hoc and Infrastructure, Renegade Squadron atones for many of the mishaps of the PSP version of Star Wars Battlefront II. The singleplayer portion is a little on the shallow side, what with the brief campaign and the one-night stand nature of the Galactic Conquest mode, but the multiplayer portion is ripe with replay value and the character customization is a great addition. In the end, Star Wars fans should be very pleased.