With a level of surprise equal to the shock of finding out Princess Leia's sibling relationship to Luke Skywalker, we bumped into a fully playable demonstration of the newest Star Wars game at Sony Gamers' Day event last week.
Exclusive to PlayStation Portable, Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron aims to kick the series into light speed on handhelds with a slate of tweaks to gameplay, as well as brand new single- and multiplayer modes.
Renegade Squadron's single-player campaign is set in the classic Star Wars timeline, drafting you into a strike team under direction from Han Solo. Your ragtag team of space warriors starts the 11-mission journey by evacuating Yavin 4 and concludes with the Battle of Endor.
Adding to the solo player experience will be a galactic conquest mode emphasising strategy over action. Sadly, LucasArts was keen on keeping details on this mode under wraps until the game's release – it sounds intriguing.
But then you could argue the real appeal will come from the wealth of multiplayer modes, which include conquest, capture-the-flag, hero capture-the-flag, and several others. Multiplayer maps have been designed around locations featured in the campaign, ranging from planet-side battles on Ord Mantell and Korriban to space battles at Hoth and the remainder of Alderaan.
In our hands on session we explored the outskirts of Korriban in an online game populated with a dozen or so players. Blasters blazing, we ran about the forested world shooting at opponents by bashing on the X and Square buttons for primary and secondary attacks, respectively. Vehicles helped to vary the action and ranged from mountable turrets to fully operational tanks that really tear up the battlefield.
The environments are quite large, but given the large number of players you should always have someone to gun down. A maximum of 16 fighters can hook up online via infrastructure mode, while eight can join in ad hoc mode – a huge (and much welcomed) jump up from the PSP port of Star Wars Battlefront II, which only allowed four players to connect with each other locally.
Enabling more players to join in the fun has made space battles much more engaging, too, as we saw firsthand. There was an obvious sense of a lot more going on in space, with added players, cooler ships, and generally more activity.
And in a move sure to satisfy ardent fans, LucasArts will enable you to fly as Han Solo in the Millennium Falcon, Darth Vader piloting TIE Advance, and others. Buckled into the captain's seat on the Millennium Falcon, we had no problem finding another spaceship to fire upon, tapping the Triangle button to have our ship auto-pilot itself within firing range. "Yee-haa!", as the great man once said.
Playing as a classic Star Wars hero definitely has appeal, but LucasArts also wants you to utilize the game's robust customisation system for crafting an original character. Creating them involves selecting from four factions, each with three body types and three different heads. Additionally, you can change clothing colours, and as you earn credits you'll have the freedom to upgrade your avatar's attributes, equipment and appearance.
A number of community features are also planned, including full leaderboards and individual profile pages housing your battle statistics, earned medals, and other pertinent information. Expect to see the ability to start or join a clan and create insignia identifying your membership. Too bad there won't be support for the USB headset though, as it would be fun to commiserate with clan members and trash talk competitors. But let's not get greedy – Renegade Squadron is at least giving us a chance to take the action online.
Indeed, the efforts being made to take advantage of the specific strengths of PSP hardware promise a vastly superior experience to what previously emerged as a slapped together console port. While we're a little concerned that it won't necessarily rock the boat with any real core innovations with regards to gameplay, Renegade Squadron could nevertheless prove to be a new handheld hope for the Star Wars franchise.