Star Wars Battlefront II

Dum. Dum. Dum. Dum-Dee-Dom, Dom-Dee-Dum. John Williams' Death March melody is etched onto the mental jukeboxes of three generations of cinema-goers. In the Star Wars films, the ominous orchestral stabbing flags up approaching danger, inspiring fear and whispering portentous, impending doom. It's musical menace, tuned terror and aural achtung personified. So when Battlefront II's start-up screen raises a stylus sized baton and conducts the PSP's speakers to pulse in time with the this most recognisable of melodies, you wonder if the effect is meant to lend the game epic widescreen ambience or just warn you that it's not very good.

To begin with, it's the former. Battlefront II throws a plethora of game modes at you, enabling you to step into the Star Wars universe and relive some of the bigger battles from its mythology. In the main game you play as a lowly nameless infantryman (specialising in either rocket launchers, sniper rifles, engineering, or special weapons) and you must join in your army's mad-dash efforts to overrun the enemy capture points littered throughout the map. Once captured, each base becomes a spawn point for you to restart at when and if your character dies. Killing off the enemy's soldiers and capturing all their bases wins the map and you can move on to the next fight.

The game's wonderfully good looks, combined with the exhilarating feeling of being just one tiny element in buffeting waves of the battlefield, perfectly capture the spirit of the films and the sheer number of modes of play gives the appearance of this being a wide and deep title. However, as with so many of the PSP's shooting games, the control scheme is where the problems really start. By default your character's movement is mapped to the analog stick, while the four face buttons awkwardly control aiming. This makes running and lining up shots very tricky and, as the D-pad has to be tapped to switch between weapons, ensures the flow of battle becomes frustratingly erratic. For example, to throw a grenade you must: stop running; tap the D-pad to select 'grenade'; then aim and throw your tiny bomb before moving out of the way; repeat the process to reselect a blaster or light saber; and continue the fight. Trying to wrap your fingers around the controls becomes a challenge in itself, a gauntlet no handheld game should ever lay down.

The game's other main mode, Galactic Conquest, is played out like a grandiose game of space chess. Taking place on a board game-style universe, ownership of the planets is divided between each player. You must then build a fleet and take turns to move around the galaxy. Should you land on the other player's planet then a stock land-based battle ensues, whereas if your fleets meet head-on in space, the game then switches to a dog-fighting space combat game. The space battles provide an excellent counterpoint to the staple land-based fights and see you piloting X-wings, Y-wings and even TIE Bombers through the infinite blackness. The sense of occasion in these fights is magnificent and easily the best part of the game. The wider aim of Galactic Conquest mode is, through a series of mini-victories, to eventually control all planets on the map. It's great fun for a while but, as there is little variance in gameplay, it quickly becomes repetitive, not least because the PSP-controlled enemies don't pose much of a challenge.

In order to level the playing field a little you'll soon want to play against human controlled enemies, something that Battlefront II's PS2 and Xbox cousins tirelessly encourage. However, inexplicably, any online mode has been cut from this game leaving just the four-player local area ad-hoc multiplayer mode to satiate your appetite for more intelligent warmongering.

Ultimately, you'll soon find the game too basic and repetitive to spend prolonged time in. And that is the true warning the Death March signals loud and clear from the start.

Star Wars Battlefront II is on sale now.

Star Wars Battlefront II

Battlefront II is a mixed package. The 13 maps are expansive, detailed and exciting but, disappointingly, the control system is broken almost beyond repair
Simon Parkin
Simon Parkin
Simon Parkin is an author and journalist on video games. A core contributor to Eurogamer and Edge, he is also a critic and columnist on games for The Guardian. He is probably better at Street Fighter than you, but almost certainly worse at FIFA.