Star Wars Battlefront II is everything a Star Wars fan could want. Rise of the Empire is your core story mode and from the outset, there is an obvious emphasis on mission cohesion. You are a member of the 501st Clone Battalion (voiced by Temuera Morrison no less) sent in to do much of the dirty work skipped over in the films. Each battle is introduced with a voice-over, cut-scene and film snippet that places the battle at key points along the Star Wars spectrum and actually acts to flesh out the story.
Also on offer and a fun secondary option is the Galactic Conquest mode which is practically the same as SWBF, but offers a bit more variation in the field. The goal here is to feed your inner Palpatine, taking over all 13 planets in the galaxy by manipulating your forces in a turn-based method. Your success in these battles not only determines your balance of power, but the number of credits that you earn which can be used to buy battle bonuses and new character types.
SWBF2 shares a lot of similarities with Battlefield 2. When you begin a battle, regardless of the mode, you'll have access to a number of command points and, as you progress, you'll be asked to capture enemy or neutral bases by effectively lowering their flag, and raising yours. In Rise of the Empire Mode, you'll also achieve objectives such as "bring down shields" or "capture power crystal" which require a more focused and team-orientated approach. The 20 battlegrounds range across all six movies. In particular, the space-based battles impress, allowing you to dock at enemy ships, go out on foot and run around without loading times.
Also similar to Battlefield 2 are the class system and vehicle combat. Gamers have some 30 vehicles to sift through and their importance in battle should never be underestimated. Thanks to the strong AI, the tide will fluctuate repeatedly. Experienced gamers will find the pace a little easy on normal difficulty, but it's no walk in the park and the smarter AI also benefits multiplayer games, which feature their fair share of NPCs.
But arguably, the biggest improvement in SWBF2 is the presentation. Sometimes, the amount of action on-screen is jaw-dropping - especially in space - with foot soldiers, vehicle based fighters, laser fire, explosions, spaceships and everything else you can imagine lighting up the screen like a firework spectacular.
SWBF2 is clearly a product of intelligent development. As a single fighter dumped into a frantic battle, you have so much strategic freedom - be it from character class, vehicle, weapon or tactics - in such a lovingly crafted Star Wars atmosphere, that it's exciting from start to finish.
A screenshot is available here.
Visuals: Just gorgeous. Silky character animation and everything you could want in a space battle.
Audio: The usual familiar backing music, and star vocal talent.
Gameplay: The gameplay freedom offered here is unsurpassed, and this is an excellent sequel to a fine game.
Score: 5 Stars
Developer: Pandemic Studios