A Wretched Hive: Where Are All The Good Star Wars Games?

February 20, 2015 by

Star Wars is one of this planet’s most beloved franchises of all time, and has produced some remarkable works of interactive art (that’s videogames folks). But in recent years, we’ve been subjected to some positively dire Star Wars games, and it’s about time it stopped. We ask the question: Where are all the good Star Wars games?

At the tail end of last year, I asked you, dear reader: Where are all the good Marvel games? The response was rather interesting, in that people actually agreed with me for once. Many reminisced through rose-tinted Doctor Octopus goggles about their favourite Marvel games of yore. People clearly miss the days of Ultimate Alliance and Spider-Man 2, and they yearn to experience these flashy comic book tales not just on the big screen, but on their own little screens hooked up to PCs and consoles. This, and the most recent Star Wars Humble Bundle, got me thinking about my favourite cross-media franchise of all time, and how it has been similarly ignored by the videogame industry at large for some time now. 

The short answer to the above question is: they’re on GOG.com, they’re on Steam, they’re in your local second hand games store. They’re out there in the ether for you to track down, oh lucky owners of working PlayStation 2s and cartridge based consoles. They’re bathing in the dust of your PC cupboard, quietly making lightsaber noises and wishing for better days. Great Star Wars games exist – have always existed – but they’re more or less a thing of the past, a remnant of a simpler time before DLC, season passes and… Starkiller. Rather like the Jedi Order itself, Star Wars games are the magnificent, forgotten legacy of another age – a shining example of some of the best and worst the now deceased Expanded Universe had to offer. With Disney at the helm, and EA looking to fill the Star Wars videogame void (I have a bad feeling etc.), the franchise finds itself at a fork in one particularly rocky road. This leads us to the question at hand: where are all the good Star Wars games? Or more specifically, where have they been since about 2008?

SWEAW_SS2
Somebody made this rancor play the “Pull Down the Star Destroyer” part of The Force Unleashed, and he never forgave them.

Outside of dreck like The Force Unleashed series, Angry Birds tie ins and Kinect abominations, Star Wars has rarely graced out beloved medium in the last seven years or so. I generally cite Star Wars: Empire at War (and its expansion Forces of Corruption) as the last legitimately great Star Wars game. It perfectly encapsulated what everyone loved so much about the original trilogy and its iconic battles, all within a simple but engaging Total War-esque RTS game. It’s something of an oddity too, since it was released at a time when very few Star Wars properties were allowed to deal with original trilogy matters or Expanded Universe stories outside of the prequel trilogy/the Clone Wars. Since Episodes I-III and The Clone Wars series’ were still the freshest thing in everyone’s minds when it came to Star Wars, that was what Lucasfilm/Lucasarts gave the green light to, and that was what made bank.

Here lies the biggest problem with creating new Star Wars games. A development studio can pour countless hours and dollars into a new game, but that can all be overridden and shut down by Disney (again) and Lucas as they see fit. If the Abrams movies go in a different direction, narratively or tonally, to a prospective new Star Wars game, the franchise’s parent company can’t have these virtual loose ends lying around just waiting to be tied up – better to nip them in the bud before anyone finds out. It’s likely that this is what happened with the cancelled Star Wars: 1313. It was allegedly going for a dark and gritty tone, but Disney is about as dark and gritty as Barbie and Ken’s laundry basket.

1313
Part of me thinks it’s a good thing we didn’t get Star Wars 1313. I’m not sure gritty belongs in the same franchise as Salacious Crumb.

This, and the effective closure of Lucasarts, has left Star Wars games in a tough spot. How do they pitch ideas that don’t clash with future Star Wars movie canon, if very few people know what said canon will be? The Expanded Universe is in disrepair: Star Wars: The Old Republic, a flawed, MMO take on the much beloved Old Republic era of canon, is still stumbling along in Free-to-Play limbo, even though the powers that be have waved their magic non-canon wand at the game. What do new players gain from starting the game now then? Will BioWare ever be allowed to make another Star Wars game, despite being an in-house EA studio?

Everyone is looking to EA as the saviours of the franchise, and I needn’t tell you what an uncomfortable situation that is. We know that DICE is working on Battlefront 3, which is arguably the best way for that game to live up to years of hype and disappointment, and many are hoping that EA’s other big studios, Visceral and BioWare, will work their magic on a different Star Wars game in a different genre. This is the best way to go, purely because it presents us with the best chance to recapture what it was that made Star Wars games so good. Our virtual adventures in a galaxy far far away have always explored new ideas about the films, and through a variety of characters, themes and genres. The X Wing and Tie Fighter games helped us experience the high-octane dog-fights we loved in the movies. The Knights of the Old Republic games planted us in a typical BioWare-y story, but one that allowed us to explore the history of the saga and how it operated before The Phantom Menace. Even games like Bounty Hunter and the Jedi Knight series allowed us to see the series through different lenses and genre conventions; i.e how does the Star Wars universe appear through the eyes of a bounty hunter, a soldier, a Jedi, a Sith?

233677-kotor2a
Hng.

But where we’re at now, it’s a dark place, a wretched hive of scum and villainy. In the 2010s so far, three Star Wars games have been cancelled (four if you count KOTOR III), but we’ve been subjected to Kinect games, dozens of mobile games, pinball games and a slew of LEGO titles. These might vary in quality, but they all have one thing in common: they play it safe. These games are effectively interactive window displays of Star Wars iconography, each one a “jumped-up, firework display of a toy advert“. They exist to deliver well known images of classic Star Wars figures and scenes – fan service of a sort, but to which fans does this service appeal?

Ten years ago, Star Wars games (and books, and comics) were around to let us experience different stories and character arcs within a familiar, beloved universe. We could explore morality, death, cults, brainwashing, religion, hell even zombies, but we did it all alongside lightsabers and stormtroopers, and all of the other great “stuff” associated with Star Wars. Now though, the “stuff” has become the most important aspect of Star Wars games – a way for the industry to peddle its gross free-to-play microtransactions to anyone who longs to recapture that Star Wars magic. And it makes sense, because, as one astute commenter pointed out on my previous article, mobile games are extremely profitable for big franchises like Marvel and Star Wars, whereas big budget AAA games are something of a gamble. Why risk making a Star Wars 1313 or, say a new Kotor, when you can just sell new Angry Birds Star Wars content to poor, impressionable children.

battlefrontii-20100320-1751476-star-wars-battlefront-these-awesome-features-just-need-to-happen-star-wars-battlefront-can-it-beat-these-sta-69538f79-40cd-4d53-ad1c-3a32181b9540
Who are we kidding? It’s not like Battlefront 3 won’t make all of the money.

Disney is clearly aiming its sights at children and the casual gaming market, a wholly understandable strategy given the current industry climate. The trouble is, in doing so they ignore another sizeable group of Star Wars fans who have begun pining for substantial Star Wars material. Does Disney think that 18-50 year old nostalgia-driven Star Wars nerds won’t spend millions of dollars on well thought out, quality Star Wars products? We do it time and time again, after dozens of disappointments. We did it for The Phantom Menace (although Attack of the Clones is a worse movie), and we did it for The Force Unleashed. We’ll do it for The Force Awakens, even if that sucks too. Because Star Wars fans are masochists. We bitch and complain about Star Wars not being as good as it used to be, but we’d all still fork out our hard earned money for a taste of the Star Wars that we used to know.

We’re sure to be updated on the state of Star Wars games by the year’s end. Battlefront is being released at Christmas to coincide with the new movie, and I’d be surprised if we didn’t hear more about Disney’s future plans at this year’s E3 (just try to stop them making Star Wars Disney Infinity figures). At the moment though, looking back on the magnificent games the franchise had to offer makes me sad. It reminds me that this decade has so far been a barren wasteland of dancing Han Solos and an overestimation of Yoda’s abilities to carry the saga. Now, more than ever, we need a new hope.

About Liam Lambert

Liam lives in York, UK, and is a writer/editor/Social Justice Waluigi. He is currently studying for a degree and drinking an ocean's worth of cranberry juice.
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  • xcovick

    Lets just give it a rest and maybe anytime soon and there will be some major changes that they will provide shortly(hopefully) and they will make it a surprise.

  • Noc

    After that appallingly ignorant assessment of SWTOR, I can guarantee I won’t be back to this site, or recommending it to anyone. Luckily, plenty of other better informed opinions out there!

    • Liam Lambert

      That it was flawed? That it’s in Free to Play? So either SWTOR is perfect or it’s not in Free to Play, and BioWare is just pretending. Opinions are opinions dude, don’t get your knickers in a twist. I love Star Wars, and I though Swtor had some pretty great moments/was pretty okay overall. I can’t possibly be the only person you’ve seen be slightly negative about that game? Just….chill.

    • Guest

      |other better informed opinions out there!

      Read as: “people who agree with exactly the same thing as me, thus we may continue the jerking circle.”

  • This is a pretty negative take on the situation. Flip it a bit and remember that we have nearly every old PC game on Steam and GOG for pennies, , including the long-lost, much beloved Xwing series. We have the still-wonderful KOTOR on mobile (!), a new Star Wars arcade game (!!), and the giant, sprawling, well voiced MMO is free to play. No one who plays games should care about “canon.”

    We will get a high quality Battlefront game for Christmas as well as a new movie. The new Marvel comics are of high quality, with relevant, interesting plots. There are more blogs, podcasts, and punditry to read than ever. The novels are slowing down and are focusing on quality over quantity. This is not a problem.

    We have literally never had it this good. Most of the old stuff is still available and theres more on the way.

    • Liam Lambert

      I think we do have things pretty good now in many respects, but I don’t think the state of Star Wars games is anything close to where it was in the 80s/90s/2000s. And though I usually dismiss canon as something fairly trivial, as someone who poured countless hours into Expanded Universe comics, books and games, it was a pretty huge blow to find out it was all “erased” overnight. I’m also reluctant to assume that the new Battlefront will be high quality at this point; I’m psyched for it, but we’ve seen very little of it so far considering its release date, and y’know, EA.

      As for SWTOR, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. I didn’t think it was bad, but it was a far cry from Kotor in almost every way. Kotor made you feel like a hugely important figure at the centre of this amazing universe, whereas SWTOR just made you feel like one of a huge group of people with Star Wars-y jobs.

      I’m excited for future prospects, but I just wanted to reflect on how dire things have been in recent years. I know I can be a bit of negative Nancy when it comes to Star Wars.

    • nivekious

      Not only do i not buy that “less is more” tripe, none of the stuff you listed counts as Star Wars, because it all contradicts the established universe fans have lived in for the past 30 years. Anything that Disney calls “canon” over the EU won’t see a dime of mine, and that means they’re missing out on thousands of dollars a year.

      • Your contribution to the franchise will be replaced by a kid with less pocket money but a better attitude.

        Seriously, you’re so hung up on “canon” that you won’t even try it out? Was the 2009 Star Trek reboot hard on you, too?

        • nivekious

          No, but I was never as into Star Trek, and that was a totally different situation. They established that the new movies were an alternate universe, through in-universe events. The old time line is still there, and can still be continued in other products, unlike with Star Wars. Honestly, I wouldn’t care what Disney did with the movies as long as all other products, which they have shown they don’the cate about anyway, continued to be consistent with the EU.

          • A good story is a good story, and it’s all fairy tale stuff anyway, so I’ve bever bent bent out of shape over “canon.” None of the “Han and Leia’s Modern Family” stuff ever rang true to me and I don’t mind a bit that it’s “gone” (pro tip; it’s not really gone)

          • nivekious

            True the stories still exist, but there won’t be any more, which you sort of take for granted after 30 years of continuous publishing. To me at least characters like Mara Jade, Jaina Solo, and Ben Skywalker as integral to Star Wars as Han, Luke, or Leia, so a new universe where they never existed would be closer to remaking Star Trek without half the Enterprise’software crew.

          • That makes sense, I suppose, if you’re a huge fan of the books after 2000 or so. I pretty much quit on the EU stories around the time they killed Chewie, before the offspring started having lots of adventures of their own.

            I have no more sentimentality for those characters you love than you would have for Jaxxon, Crimson Jack, Valance the Hunter, Kiro, or Shira Brie. If you don’t know or care about the characters I’m talking about, that’s exactly my point. These people were big in the Marvel Comics series but are similarly irrelevant to the sequel trilogy.

            Personally, I would much rather see Jaxxon the giant rabbit in Episode 7 than Jacen and Jaina Solo. Lucky for you, I don’t get to have my wish granted, either!

  • Bongo1138

    I’d love a Titanfall-esque Star Wars shooter. Also, you totally forget to mention Star Wars: Republic Commando and Tiny Death Star.

    You obviously don’t know what a Star Wars is.

    • MehImGood

      Little fun fact for ya:

      Tiny (little), or la petite mort, is a French idiom for an orgasm.

      SO yeah, Orgasm Star does sound like a pretty great Star Wars game, why the hell did you leave it out, Liam?

    • Liam Lambert

      Oh Tyler. :—-O
      I actually brought up Republic Commando in a previous draft of this which was lost to my crappy internet, and I guess I just forgot to put it back in. That game is class though, and an example of how great SW games were back in the early/mid 2000s.