You might not have noticed, but a new sci-fi flick opened in theaters during E3 2005. The arrival of Episode III primed show attendees for a very Star Wars-centric showing from LucasArts. Only three titles were in evidence: Battlefront II, Star Wars Galaxies: The Total Experience, and Star Wars: Empire At War.
Battlefront II, developed for the PS2, Xbox and PC by Pandemic Studios, is obviously the sequel to the well-received original. The developers have added a few key ingredients to broaden the formula, with the intention of recreating the battle magic from all six films. The story revolves around the 501st, the clone unit that becomes Vader's right hand between Episodes III and IV.
The three most obvious new features are fully integrated space combat, playable Jedi, and content based on Episode III. For example, we saw a mission that began in the hanger of a star destroyer. The player leapt into a TIE Fighter, took off into space and promptly joined a horde of other imperial fighters in battle against a force of ARC-170s. The space map seemed quite large and the ships were free to perform barrel rolls and classic dogfighting tactics.
The mission required disabling the engines of a Rebel ship from within. So the TIE fighter flew into the Rebel hanger, where the player jumped out and wreaked havoc inside. Along the way to the engine room, the character was free to jump on gun emplacements in order to deal damage out to other Rebel ships in the fleet. When it came time to leave, there was no problem jumping in a Rebel ship instead of the original imperial craft.
The playable Jedi in the game will all be based on established characters from the films. The only two currently being shown are Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi, each of whom bears a few specific powers and abilities such as force choke and inhuman agility. The characters will act as rewards; by performing task well or quickly, players will be given the chance to play as a Jedi. But the opportunity comes with a time limit; using the character well will extend the time limit.
The Episode III content will push the battles from that film to the foreground. The single-player game begins as players work with the Republic clone troops during the clone wars, then moves along the Star Wars timeline into A New Hope and beyond, so players will get to play through the full transformation from Republic to empire.
On the other end of the spectrum, Star Wars Galaxies: The Total Experience is a collection of every shred of Galaxies material to date. The recently released Rage of the Wookies is a part of the $30 package, which has been compiled to capitalize on the release of Episode III. For existing Galaxies players, the value of this release will depend upon how many expansions have already been purchased, but for new players there's no other place to start. A new vehicle—a speeder bike based on Revenge of the Sith designs—is also included as a bonus extra.
With Star Wars: Empire at War, developed by Petroglyph, LucasArts returns to strategy. The game attempts to remove tedious resource gathering and unit micromanagement, concentrating instead on the sweeping scope of battle. As the title implies, players fight either for the Rebels or the newly minted Empire as it struggles to take control of new star systems and rise through the imperial ranks. (In other words, the game occurs between Episodes III and IV.)
The most promising aspects of the game are balanced factions, a simple, clean interface, and the ability to zoom out to view the entire universe. Players can get in close to see individual units in action—not a bad thing since hero units such as Darth Vader have been included. From there, the zoom extends all the way out to a great tactical map showing every planet in the galaxy and the units and skirmishes on each.
This should be helpful, as land and space units will often be fighting at the same time, and players will need to coordinate land and space attacks accordingly. We saw one battle where Imperials attacked a rebel base, then arranged Star Destroyers in orbit to net fleeing transports. Rebels will have fewer materials to work with, but may rely on secrecy, while the massively funded Empire can afford most expenditure but can't keep many plans secret.
As for resources, each planet is essentially a resource, so that capturing one will deliver a steady stream of material. Certain units or advantages might be included in the resource list as well, so you might not be able to build fast freighters without taking Corellia. Building larger capital ships—not to mention a unit like the Death Star—becomes insanely expensive, so control of planets and their materials will be the focal point of the game.
A small feature which almost glossed by us was the graphic engine's ability to dynamically generate a cinematic view of space battles as they occur. So while your units are slugging it out in vacuum, a more dramatic view of the action will be available to those who can't get enough dogfights in space.
Those three Star Wars titles made a surprisingly small showing for LucasArts, which in years past has shown games at the show only to pull them from development (Sam And Max, Full Throttle). There was one other tease—a video wall with footage advertising a next-gen Indiana Jones game…for 2007. Until then, we'll have to keep rolling with Star Wars.