Video Game Review: Bounty Hunter
- Minor Spoiler Review -
Though Boba Fett didn’t have much dialogue, his demeanor, armor, and his capture of Han Solo left quite an impression on Star Wars fans. Sure, he kind of went out like a punk in Return of the Jedi, but his EU presence is profound and shouldn’t be missed. So when Attack of the Clones revealed his father and origins, things got even more interesting. Lots of new fans (and old) couldn’t help but be interested in Jango Fett as much as, if not more than, his son. Seeing the potential in uncovering some of the hazy backstory on how Jango became the clone template for the Republic’s army, LucasArts went ahead and made 2002’s Star Wars: Bounty Hunter. The third-person shooter can test your trigger finger, and your patience, but it’s a fun romp as one of the most feared men in the galaxy.
Set just after the events of The Phantom Menace, Bounty Hunter uncovers how Jango got the Slave 1, became the clone template for the Republic’s army, why he chose to have an unaltered clone for himself, and how he met Zam Wesell. Along the way, you’ll travel from the underbelly to the skyscrapers of Coruscant, break in (and out) of the max security prison on Oovo IV, shoot up Malastare, get mixed in some Hutt politics on Tatoonie, and take out the spooky Bando Gora cult and its Dark Jedi leader on the moons of Bogden. Sounds like a busy game, no? It is, and it’s a blast to watch it all unfold, despite the game’s largely repetitious gameplay (Back when I first played this game in ’02, and even this time through, I kept wondering how cool this game would be if ever made into a movie).
Basically, Count Dooku (called by his Darth name, Tyranus, throughout the entire game) gets orders from Darth Sidious to take out a pesky death stick cult called the Bando Gora and finally find a template for the clone army he’s creating. Dooku, always the genius, goes the lazy route and recruits two ruthless bounty hunters to destroy the Bando Gora, effectively knocking out two gundarks with one stone. Jango, working with his female buddy Rozz the Toydarian on bounties, gets the call. Unfortunately, so too does Jango’s nemesis, Montross. Let the hunt begin.
But as busy, fun, and interesting as the story may sound, the gameplay is largely hit or miss. Besides one time where you provide cover fire for Zam, the only real thing to do in levels is pound the trigger button until it’s time for a cutscene. You’ll have to press a trigger button to lock-on foes, but it’ll never pick any one close to you or the one doing you the most damage. On the flip side, having dual pistols totally makes up for it, allowing you to waste all those in your way rather fast. In the end, sloughing through room after room of tons of enemies until you’ve either blasted them all or found your way out of the room, gets tiring after 6 hours of doing it. And what doesn’t help is that enemy AI can be all over the place.
AI seems to all have perfect aim, but lack the brains to match. Everyone marches around, trying to get in the way of your weapons, which is as much a complaint as it is a blessing. With the amount of enemies you’ll face from checkpoint to checkpoint, the game probably wouldn’t be possible to beat if the AI didn’t want to throw themselves at you. Sometimes it happens literally, as any thug vertically above always decides their best bet to beat you is to simply jump off the cliff. Though this might all sound bad, it truly can be fun from time to time, because you’ll get to use Jango’s jetpack, which steals the show.
Having a jetpack allows you to rain fire (blaster, missiles, or Kamino saber darts, oh my!) down on your enemies like a true Fett. Sure, the jetpack has a severely limited burst, but booster power ups and the jetpack’s tactical advantage in the later levels is fun to take advantage of. As a result of the jetpack’s inclusion, level design tries its best to provide variety and verticality. The verticality in levels means the game forces you to platform and that’s when the game’s camera falls apart like a surprise attack on an Ewok. Looking along either the X or Y axis results in the camera focusing on Jango, instead of showing you what’s to the left, right, up, or down. Whoever thought this camera was a good idea needs to be checked for being possessed by an extremely nefarious Sith. Needless to say, you’ll find yourself dying more from falling to your death than by any enemy in the game. Luckily, the platforming sections are few and far between.
The variety in level design means each place you visit will have a distinct feel and look. Each planet and the enemy types within make you feel like you’re actually there, doing some bounty hunting. For example, when visiting swampy Malastare, you’ll have the chance to shoot Sebulba’s cousins (or pretend they’re all Sebulba) and take down Nexus (and wonder how Padmé got away with only a kitty sized scratch). But as interestingly unique each location is, the graphics have a rough time making it look pretty. Environments and character models are bland, blocky, and boring to look at. My opinion isn’t just judging them against current graphics, but against those in games released at the same time. The CGI cutscenes, on the other hand, look pretty stunning when not showing human faces. In fact, the Slave 1 looks like it was ripped straight from footage in AOTC due to ILMs involvement with the game’s cutscenes.
Even though the game has its stumbles, it tries a few interesting ideas. One idea is bounty hunting: thugs and civilians you come across in levels have bounties on their heads. The idea of collecting bounties through-out the level (anyone can be a bounty, even Ugnaughts or Jawas) sounds great on paper, but falters in execution. In comes the bounty scanner. To find bounties in a crowd, you have to stand completely still and scan about the screen slower than a Hutt. As you can imagine, standing still with tons of enemies blasting you means you’ll die a whole lot just trying to mark the bounty. Only once it’s been marked can you finally capture them dead or alive. There’s tons of information on each target and it’s a shame you’ll never get a chance to read any of the bio info they made up for every single one. A revamped version of this feature could be amazing in the upcoming game 1313, but as it stands in BH, it’s a failed, but ambitious gameplay mechanic.
Another fun idea resides in the unlockable bonuses. There’s the requisite concept art, which is tied into your payout from bounty hunting, outtakes from cutscenes, which elicit absolutely zero laughs, and Wizard of the Coast trading cards that are virtual and kind of defeat the purpose. But the best and only bonus you’ll find yourself excited for is the tie-in comic of Jango Fett: Open Seasons (which helped retcon the identity of Jaster Mereel) that is automatically unlocked as you complete the game. The part of the comic in the game covers the events surrounding Jaster Mereel’s death and how that caused Montross and Jango to become such fierce enemies. You can still glean this information from beating the game, but the comic is a great supplemental read. Beyond that, its inclusion is refreshingly unique. The EU for Star Wars, and many other properties, is large, and having a taste of it could help bring new readers in. I know after playing BH again for the review, I found myself deciding to pick up the 4 issue comic series. And besides reining in new readership for the EU, including things like comics can give gamers more information/story that they couldn’t fit into the game. Both the Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect series have databanks within the games, providing extra info. Including comics is a great extension/replacement for that.
Other small things I’d like to mention: Temuera Morrison and Leeanna Walsman reprise their roles as Jango Fett and Zam Wesell, respectively, from the films. The entire cast does a pretty good job, especially Corey Burton (Count Dooku in pretty much everything besides the films) and Clancy Brown (Montross and now Savage Oppress on The Clone Wars); Music and general sounds are, as usual, great. However, sometimes atmospheric noises will randomly vanish and the music (mostly from John Williams score) is largely the same song cut into little clips and put on repeat; Rozz plays a great mother figure for Jango, pushing for him to settle down, ultimately leading to the decision to have Boba; You’ll end up destroying the fire button on your controller once you reach the final chapter. The difficulty almost unfairly jumps at this point, as the Bando Gora are more powerful than any single boss; Boss battles are dull encounters that don’t require any real strategy other than to keep moving and shooting; Why the guards go after only you in the prison break-out, and never after the inmates, is a question only Yoda might have an answer to.
No matter the rough edges, Star Wars: Bounty Hunter should be played once amongst your Star Wars focused gaming time. In fact, I’d highly suggest Bounty Hunter over the game I recently reviewed, The Force Unleashed II (a game I largely disliked). Though they are both long trudges through endless enemies, Bounty Hunter has a superior story and more relatable characters. In the end, it all boils down to this when you decide to play the game: Do you want to experience the closest thing to being a Fett and, let’s face it, who doesn’t love jetpacks?
This review was based on a Gamecube version of the game, played on a Wii, using a classic Gamecube controller. The game was developed by LucasArts for both the PS2 and Gamecube.