Star Wars: Bounty Hunter is a third person shooter released for the Playstation 2 and GameCube in late 2002. It’s also available digitally on the Playstation Store for Playstation 3 and 4. If you’re my age, chances are you have strong nostalgia for this game. I have the Playstation 2 version. Personally I rented this game a lot. It was one of the first Playstation 2 games I played. I went into it, almost twenty years later, with high expectations. But does it really hold up to my memories?
The Playstation and GameCube versions use different graphics engines with the GameCube having a higher framerate, higher resolution textures, and a higher polycount. The PS2 version has texture mipmapping and full screen antialiasing, and due to two vector unit chips it can have a lot of characters on screen without framerate drop. There are framerate drops in the game, mostly during complex environment scenes. I don’t know if these drops are present in the GameCube version of the game.
The game takes place before Episode II, and goes into how Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison) was chosen as the template to the clone army, how he got his ship, Slave-1, and how he came to work with Zam (Leeanna Walsman). That’s the bounty hunter he kills in Episode II to stop Anakin and Obi-Wan getting any information about him after the failed assassination. After the first mission, which mostly serves as a tutorial, Jango is contacted by Count Dooku and offered a position in a hunt for the leader of a cult called the Bando Gorra, Komari Vosa. The reward is 5,000,000 republic credits. I won’t go too much more into the story as it’s one of the more interesting elements of the game and I don’t want to spoil it.
The game’s difficulty is the most apparent aspect. Early levels are fairly easy, but it ramps up. Each level has a series of checkpoints, represented as floating icons you walk over, and you get five continues before you have to start over. Levels range from 10 minutes to 30 minutes long and this system gets grating. Many of my deaths were due to platforming sections and the jetpack physics. Or Jango simply deciding to fling himself off a beam, which happens far too often. It’s full of difficulty spikes, often in the form of large groups of respawning enemies with heavy weapons. Some of these weapons can kill you in as few as three shots, and most weapons at close range will get you to low health. You’ll be strafing around levels a lot to avoid fire while hoping the targeting system is merciful. Some levels are too cramped to do this and those are by far the worst parts of the game. I genuinely had to stop playing and step away to do something else for a bit due to the frustration of these parts.
The continues system simply isn’t fun, I would have prefered more infrequent checkpoints with an unlimited amount of continues. The only mercy is that enemies don’t always respawn when you continue, so you can chip away at the larger groups. Some enemies always respawn, often the second you look away from their spawn point.
Aside from that issue, which is a big issue, the core gameplay is fun. It uses a lock on system to shoot, though this often results in Jango refusing to target the enemy you actually want. The system is sticky, so if you drop target it tends to always go back to them, even if they’re behind cover. There is a manual aim but it’s not very useful due to poor controls. It’s sluggish and unresponsive and forces you to stay still while using it, which is guaranteed death.
Another time this comes up is with the bounty system. Each level is full of optional bounties that reward you with credits. To get a bounty you equip your scanner and manually aim at someone to check for a bounty, you can then choose to capture them dead or alive, the reward for alive is almost always better and there’s no real reason to kill them. Capturing alive just means equipping your cable weapon and tying them up, then you just press triangle while near them to claim the bounty. However due to the fact you have to equip your scanner and check individual NPCs for bounties, and then mark them, makes this a clunky and useless system. If you kill a bounty without marking them first, you get no reward. Generally speaking you can ignore this system.
Aside from the issues with the targeting the combat is generally fun. Jango is equipped with his trademark dual blasters, along with pickups for his dart, flamethrower, grenades, a sniper rifle, and rockets. The rockets are fun to use but very situational, most of my uses of them was cheesing bosses. Using them inside, which is a lot of the levels, is a good way to blow yourself up. The missiles do track but not fast enough to catch a fast moving enemy. They also don’t have enough splash damage to effectively kill groups, though they will knock down everyone close to the explosion. There’s also a few weapons you can pick up, sometimes hidden, but these have limited ammo and when you run out you drop the weapon. Despite this they can make taking out a group of tough enemies easier. Unfortunately the enemies also have these weapons. Enemies can come equipped with standard blasters, larger gattling guns, mounted guns, rockets, grenades, or melee weapons. The melee enemies are simply annoying. In a pack they can surround you and stop you from moving, and then all bap you in a second. They do way too much damage, and this gets annoying. The grenade enemies are annoying at best. There’s a loud audio queue when a grenade is thrown so they’re generally easy to notice and avoid, but if you get hit by one you’re thrown to the ground, while on the ground enemies can still shoot you which means a lot of health loss, and if there’s more than one grenade thrower, prepare to be stunlocked. The missiles are usually easy to avoid, just do a side jump when it gets close, after making sure you don’t have a wall behind you. Simply strafing can also avoid them, but if the missile is on a downward trajectory it’ll often just hit the ground behind you, so jumping is the safest option.
Jango also has his jetpack, which is mostly used for mobility and platforming sections. The jetpack physics are weird. It feels like they were going for a realistic style, but often this just leads to frustration. You have momentum, and the jetpack doesn’t cancel it, so you have to take deceleration into account. More often than not this results in flying into a wall at super sanic speeds and bouncing into a death field. I sure hope you like the sound of Jango screaming, because you’ll hear it a lot. The death fields are plentiful and not very well signposted. Something can look like you can jump down to it, but if you try, you’re met with instant death. This wouldn’t be as annoying if there wasn’t limited continues, but there are, so this is infuriating.
The enemy AI is not what I’d call revolutionary, but it passes. The before mentioned explosive based enemies will sometimes blow themselves up, and enemies chasing you ignore all hazards, so you can just lead them into bottomless pits. The normal enemies will often run for cover if it’s available, but sometimes they just run around in circles in the open. They’re not challenging, and only pose a threat in groups. Levels are packed with non-combat NPCs, which you can kill if you really feel like it. You aren’t punished for killing people, which is good because they love to run directly into your attacks. As annoying as this can be, they do help the levels feel more alive.
The levels have a lot of variety, ranging from Coruscant to a prison on an asteroid. A few have areas where there’s no combat and just people walking about. This really helps with immersion. A few chapters are capped off with boss fights. These fights are forgettable and easy for the most part. They’re only really there to cover story beats. Levels also have one secret each, in the form of a floating gold feather. These unlock special features. Sometimes you’ll come across these in regular gameplay, but sometimes you have to go looking for them. They’re a fun addition to the game and encourage exploration. Levels are fairly sprawling, though some are incredibly linear. The game also has a habit of unclear progression, so you’ll find yourself rubbing your face against doors to find out which one opens in order to continue. Respawning enemies also makes this harder, since you can’t always rely on enemies to guide your progression. The best thing to do is look for the checkpoint markers, or items you haven’t picked up. The prevalence of objective markers in modern gaming can get annoying, but some would have been nice in this game. Or maybe a voice line or two telling you to head for the correct door.
There’s also a series of special features, unlocked through various means. A Dark Horse comic filling out Jango’s backstory is rewarded for game completion. It’s an interesting read, though the text is often too blurry to easily read. There’s also concept art, trading cards, and “outtakes” which are various cutscenes where the characters mess up lines, trip, or generally do wacky things. They’re a nice addition. If you’ve always wanted to hear Jango complain about not being able to scratch an itch in his armour, then this is the game for you.
The cutscenes were done by Industrial Light and Magic, and they’re all very high quality. Along with the soundtrack composed by Jeremy Soule, who also did Knights of the Old Republic’s soundtrack, it feels like an authentic Star Wars product.
Ultimately, the fwoosh fwoosh shooty bang bang jetpack gameplay lives up to my memories, despite the repetition, but other things don’t. This game hasn’t aged well. Lives systems were on the way out even back then and it’s by far the worst aspect of the game. It pads its length with big groups of enemies blocking progression until you kill them, and it’s full of frustrating platforming. My strongest memories of the game are the early levels, and now I know why. The early levels are the more fun ones. They don’t do many of the things that the later levels do that I have a problem with. The voice acting and visuals are solid. The actors from the films reprise their roles and do a good job. The visual design is nice, and the graphics are good. It sells the era of Star Wars well and is loaded with atmosphere. It really is a shame that this game never got a sequel. Maybe we’ll see one in the future due to this game’s status as a fan favourite, but I highly doubt it.
It stands tall among the other Star Wars games from that era, easily on the same levels as classics like Battlefront 2 and Starfighter. There aren’t really any modern games like it and it’s easily worth a revisit. It brought me back to 2004, for better or worse.
Playstation 2s are cheap, and so are the games for it. So if you want to give it a go it’s easily worth picking one up. As mentioned before it’s also available digitally on the PS3 and PS4, but I can’t speak for the quality of those versions.