The Jedi: mystics, warriors, heroes… glory hounds? That's the unspoken conceit of the Star Wars: Battlefront franchise, which gives players a grunts-eye view of various struggles throughout the Star Wars saga. In the movies, the "wars" in Star Wars are generally just one war: the abstract battle between good and evil. In the Battlefront games, they're actual combats duked out on the frontlines of Hoth, Naboo, and other war-torn planets where life is cheap and victory requires more than just a lightsaber and the ability to turn backflips. Even when the option to play as a Jedi pops up, winning Battlefront requires controlling the board one hard-fought square inch at a time.
The Battlefront series is part military-strategy game and part shoot-'em-up. The emphasis is on the latter, but mindless blasting won't get you too far. Occasionally outnumbered and often outgunned, Battlefront players have to choose their soldiers carefully and place them well, saving ammo and special ops for just the right moment—particularly in single-player mode, where the AI almost never has your back. The battles are initially chaotic and confusing (kind of like Attack Of The Clones), but they make more sense with repeated play (kind of like… no, that's still a mess.) But only the most skilled players will make it through without wiping out hundreds of soldiers. War is not healthy for clones and other living things.
In addition to the epic ground battles that made the first Battlefront a bestseller, Battlefront II adds space battles. These, unfortunately, tend to be clunkier and less exciting than the ground combat, but the seamless integration almost makes up for it. Players run up to ships, hop aboard, battle enemy spacecraft, land in their cruisers, jump out, and commit acts of sabotage. If the good folks at LucasArts find a way to make the time in the ship as compelling as the action that sandwiches it, Battlefront III will be unstoppable.
Beyond the game: In battles from Episodes I through III, players struggle to defend the Republic in a war waged under false pretenses for hidden motives. Insert your own social commentary here.
Worth playing for: The moment when, after you've blasted and died to gain ground, the game gives you the option to play as a Jedi. "Yes," your answer should be.
Frustration sets in when: That last enemy fighter you need to destroy to complete a level just… keeps… slipping away.
Final judgment: Combining action and deep, open-ended game play, the game, unlike some of the films that inspired it, demands repeated engagements.