Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace: The Adventure Begins Review
Original pub date (5/30/1999)


Actually one of the best parts of the marketing of Phantom Menace. It plays surprisingly well and helps tell the story of the movie while providing an interesting adventure.

It has an identity problem and tries to be more Tomb Raider than adventure game. Steep hardware requirements to play well. The title is just too long.

The game mirrors the movie in many ways. It's not what you expect and that is not entirely a good or bad thing. Those wanting an extension of the movie will get it, and the delivery is better than what's in the theater overall. It's just not a great Star Wars experience . It leaves you wanting more and wondering what could have been.

Full Review

By now, at least 90% of the world's 5 billion-plus population have heard about the new Star Wars movie, and that means there are over 4 billion people calling for the death of Jar Jar Binks. Reviews for the movie have been mixed, there is no denying that, and yours truly is on the fence with this movie, though I will readily admit I walked away feeling a bit empty. It makes no difference what reviewers or even the movie-going population have to say about Episode I; it is going to make a ton of money. Every manufacturer and marketer has some sort of Episode I tie-in, from KFC and Pepsi to Kleenex for Christ's sake. I'm pretty sure I saw a sign at the local gas station offering Episode I paper floor mats with every oil change. Lucas will undoubtedly make more money from the tie-ins and merchandising than he will from the movie itself. Considering what movie has raked in so far, that's a lot of loot.

Part of the merchandising arm of the Episode I money-sucking machine is LucasArts, and they have delivered a slew of CDs ready to whet anyone's Phantom Menace appetite. Many of these titles are 'behind the scenes' and 'find out more about the movie' rubbish that operate best as drink coasters. Racer recently came out, and it takes the best part of the movie and makes a game out of it. Not a bad concept. I personally thought it was too console-game based, but it's a solid game and you should read our review for an unbiased opinion. The other game is named after the movie, Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace. The sub-title is, The Adventure Begins. Off the bat, you undoubtedly expect an adventure game, perhaps in the mold of Grim Fandango, or even The Dig. Leave your expectations at the door Bucko, this game is harder to categorize than most. This is a good and bad thing.

Phantom Menace is basically a third-person shooter with some adventure elements thrown in. You have a sort of top-down view, and through this perspective, you get to see a lot of the level you are navigating. You take on the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi originally, and to me this seems to make up for the dismal amount of screen time young Obi-Wan received in the movie. The plot is taken directly from the film and, believe it or not, playing the movie actually builds a greater appreciation for the plot than the actual movie did. Your job is to navigate various movie-based levels, fighting off those pesky Trade Federation battle droids, and doing your best not to kill innocent bystanders. Occasionally, you need to talk to these bystanders. Some of them have valuable information, others have items you need to complete the task at hand. This isn't run, shoot, run, blow everyone's head off, like most FPSs. There is a bit more sophistication involved.

The first level is fairly enjoyable, and wielding the lightsaber is a lot of fun. Not only can you kill with it, you also get to deflect incoming shots, which in turn can kill the droid firing at you. The use of a lightsaber in a game is certainly not new, but it was a big deal in Jedi Knight. In this game, the use of the lightsaber is strikingly similar to the Star Wars platform games that were made for the Super Nintendo. Actually, this game goes through phases where it seems like a 3D platform game. The first of those phases begins on level two, where you meet the incomparably annoying Jar Jar.

Another thing that happens on level two is the implementation of Tomb Raider-style gameplay. I've never been a big fan of those games, particularly because they put too much emphasis on jumping and timing. There's nothing wrong with having to time a jump here and there, but Tomb Raider was nearly unplayable unless you mastered the jump. I mastered flinging the disc into the trashcan. (I know, TR is a great game. I'm just bitter that I can't play it well.) Phantom Menace becomes Star Raider for a bit here as you have to follow Jar Jar through the swamp, and he doesn't necessarily take the easy way. This is a bad idea. First off, if given the choice, I wouldn't follow Jar Jar if he was on his way to a pot of gold. Second, this is supposed to be an adventure game, and adventure games, as I recall, don't require much in the way of arcade-like skill. Still, despite my gag-reflex to this type of gaming, I got through it. Alright, I enjoyed it. Sort of.

Graphically, Phantom Menace will remind you of Heretic II. The 3D engine works smoothly, and it pumps out graphics that are on par with what's out there now. There is nothing revolutionary here, but there is enough eye candy to keep video junkies, like myself, happy. The box calls for a Pentium 200, but I strongly suggest something a bit more robust. A Pentium II is really the price of admission here, and you'll want a solid video card to back it up. If the two previous lines just caused you to sigh out loud, or possibly send a mental expletive in my general direction, then Phantom Menace is not for you. Seriously. At low frame rates, the game chokes and basically loses any of its appeal. It would be like Darth Vader and Obi Wan having their classic lightsaber battle in a vat of molasses. If you have the hardware, specifically a Pentium II and at least an 8mb video card, you'll enjoy this game's visuals.

In the sound arena, Phantom Menace really shines. It supports all types of 3D sound acceleration, from Directsound 3D, to Aureal 2.0, to Creative's EAX extensions for theSoundblaster Live. I have the Live card, and the game's sounds and music were unbelievable coming through the Cambridge Desktop Theatre speakers I am currently using. Crackles and hisses came from all about the room, the soundtrack was excellent, and ambient sounds were appropriate. The only gripe I had was the voices, which sometimes sounded flat and distant.

Controls for Phantom Menace are fully configurable. The box recommends a joystick, but using a joystick reminds me too much of playing a Playstation. I opted for the classic FPS setup: the keyboard for movement, a trackball for firing and quick directional changes. This setup worked great, and so did the gamepad when I reluctantly fired it up for this review. And you can customize either to your heart's content.

Considering the fact that this game gets its heart and soul from a movie which seems to lack both, Phantom Menace is an enjoyable experience. It does sometimes change its identity quicker than a politician behind closed doors, but even through this identity crisis, the game is solid. The game also has an easy-to-use save game setup, something I feared would be lacking when I heard this game was destined for the Playstation as well. In all, you have a game worth the forty clams the stores are asking for right now. Actually, if you've been trapped under an overturned trailer for the past month and a half and haven't seen the movie yet, you'd be better off spending the forty bones on the game instead of taking some dimwit to the movies with you who will ask you mind-numbingly dumb questions throughout the flick, and suck down thirty bucks worth of popcorn, soda and other crap they sell at the refreshment stand. At least the game has some entertaining moments and you can enjoy it in quiet solitude.

Minimum system requirements: System: Pentium-200 or equivalent; RAM: 32 MB; CD-ROM speed: 4X; Video Mode: 3D Accelerator with 4MB of video memory; Sound Board: Yes; Operating System: Windows 95, Windows 98

If you like this game, you might want to also try Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II or Tomb Raider III.