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Fox McCloud and the rest of Team Fox return in this new GameCube adventure...
Team StarFox have been with us for about a decade now ever since the very first title, aptly named StarFox (or StarWing as it was known in the UK), was launched with an integrated SuperFX chip on the SNES in the mid-1990s. But whilst subsequent additions to the franchise have been relatively few and far between, gamers still hold the characters of Fox McCloud and his band of animal starfighter pilots in high regard so itâ??s with much anticipation that this second StarFox title for GameCube is released.
The story follows on from the previous two games in the series, namely Lylat Wars on the N64 (Starfox64 in the States, it gets confusing), and StarFox Adventures on the GameCube (thankfully the same name!!!) and is set twelve months after the events that took place on Dinosaur Planet. StarFox: Assault sees the team reunite once again in an attempt to stop the new threat to the Lylat system: the Aparoids, who are determined to destroy everything in their path and assimilate other organisms into their hive mind (can anybody say â??Borgâ???)
The Story Mode, the single-player campaign of the game, opens in true StarFox style with a space battle above the Planet Fortuna as Oikonny, nephew to McCloudâ??s great adversary Andross, gathers together the last remaining fragments of his uncleâ??s forces in a naïve and fruitless attempt to start a rebellion. Oikonnyâ??s rebellion is over very quickly though and the attention of the story quickly turns towards the Aparoids and the various interruptions by rival gang Team StarWolf. As well as the usual Arwing fighters that are the trademarks of the franchise, players have the ability (where possible) to jump into what is described as a â??new and improvedâ? Landmaster anti-aircraft tank, and also travel around the environments on foot in a Mercenaries/Battlefront style. But do these attempts at expanding the gameplay improve progress the StarFox series or do they merely get in the way of the main core shoot-em-up action?
Throughout the game Fox McCloud and the rest of Team StarFox find themselves jumping around from planet to planet in the search of the key to stop the Aparoids, which also has the effect of driving forward the storyline, something that it has to be said is not needed to make a great StarFox game. In fact the storyline is one that has been done innumerable times, and gives the game a â??Saturday morning feature-length cartoonâ? feel. It just seems strained, as if the developers were under pressure to provide a coherent storyline of epic proportions â?“ itâ??s not needed and perhaps the developers should have just focused on creating a fun arcade shoot-em-up instead. The trademark briefing sequences return once again to act as both a means to pass information about the mission as well as pushing the story forward, while various scripted events occur throughout, altering the missions objectives and displayed via the mini-displays of your co-fighters.
As previously mentioned the action is split up in to three different sections: in air, on land, and on foot, and whilst each of those different forms of movement should in theory provide players with a different experience, the fact is that they fail to achieve this in spectacular fashion. All of the vehicles react and move in the same way â?“ even the bipedal Fox runs around in exactly the same manner as the tank to the extent that he feels almost robotic and definitely artificial. Itâ??s almost as if the developers thought mid-way through the gameâ??s creation that it would be a good idea to implement on-foot sections in the most painless and time effective way. This isnâ??t helped by the generic control system that is implemented across the vehicles and Fox when heâ??s on foot; itâ??s true that we donâ??t want a massive difference in the vehicular control system, but with an identical control system for Fox himself the illusion of realism and the creation of empathy for the character is completely obliterated. The controls are also a little unresponsive at time, and this most notable when Fox tries to use a side-roll to dodge enemy fire, which can leave the gameplay frustrating at times.
What is quite sad is that the most impressive feature of the on-foot sections is the impressive range of arsenals that McCloud has the opportunity to use, ranging from Halo style plasma pistols (just called â??Blastersâ??) to the likes of machine guns, rocket launchers, gatling guns, and grenades. Whilst they might not sound like the most original bunch of weapons in the world, itâ??s quite substantial considering that it would have been the easy option just to add a couple of blasters and perhaps a heavy duty machine gun/grenade launcher. That the array of weapons available to Fox is the main positive note about the on-foot sections is just a sign of how poor those levels actually are. The level design of these missions sucks out any fun from the game leaving players trying to complete them just so they can jump back into the Arwing and carry on playing the parts of the game that people actually enjoy playing.
The actual flying sections are actually really good, and perhaps it would be a good idea if the next StarFox title is stripped down to the bones and made into a purely fighter based game. The gameplay of the flying levels is fun and frantic with players flying by wire so scripted events can occur in abundance. These sections certainly donâ??t lack opponents, seeming to appear from nowhere to perform wave after wave of attacks against you and the rest of the StarFox team. Throughout the campaign, Foxâ??s so-called co-fighters are more often than not a complete hindrance as they attract more enemy ships than flies to a jam-pot. Their resulting cries for help leaves you with no option but to destroy the enemies chasing them before your â??friendâ?? calls it a day and retires from the battle. Saving the wingmen has always been prevalent in past StarFox games, but previously the control system never threw up so many frustrations - particularly saving Slippy and Co when in the tanks is an extremely irritating hit-and-miss affair. Also, it would have made for a more interesting campaign if Star Fox: Assault allowed for co-operative play with three other players taking control of the sidekicks; but alas this seemingly simple concept seems a long way behind.
It has to be said that the Story Mode is quite straight forward to complete, and though the developers offer players the chance to complete the campaign through higher difficulty settings, StarFox: Assaultâ??s single-player mode wonâ??t last particularly long in the grand scheme of things. It does include a bonus however; if you complete the game and gather 10 silver badges you do unlock the classic Namco scrolling shoot-em-up Xevious from 1982, although it does smack a little of bribery on Nintendoâ??s part. After completing the first mission, which is classic StarFox, the game does have a bit of a habit of descending into a series of missions that become increasingly repetitive. Thankfully though, StarFox: Assault includes a multiplayer mode, which is sure to keep players happy for a whileâ?¦wonâ??t it?
For players disillusioned with the single-player mode, StarFox: Assault does include a multi-player option that allows up to four gamers to participate in a small range of battles, none of which are original or particularly fun to play and amount to nothing more than a series of deathmatch encounters with variant rule changes (think Slayer in Halo 2 and the mini-options within that like Phantoms, etc.) It could have really improved the main campaign if it allowed for a co-operative mode where a teammate could control one of Foxâ??s wingmen but as it stands the multiplayer mode is not even worth bothering with.
Visually the game seems very much the natural progression of things and you can definitely see how the StarFox style has evolved since the 16-bit days. Fox and the team look really good, and the scale of the various ships compared the one-man (fox?) star fighters does help to give the game some scale â?“ visually at least. It all looks very arcadey in style, in terms of the HUD as well as the actual graphics, and the animation is smooth and fluid with environments saturated in swathes of colour. What has to be a bit of a let down is the audio of the game as both the sound effects and the music, as previously mentioned, gives the game a kidâ??s TV feel (and not in a good way.) Hammy acting, amazingly generic sound effects and music that attempts desperately to create a sense of drama and action, altogether leaves you reaching for the mute button or a pair of ear-protectors.
If Nintendo decide to produce another title in the franchise, they’d do well to take heed from what has been said about StarFox: Assault almost universally: drop the on-foot/tank sections and just concentrate on what made the first title all those years ago great – the Arwing action that was so frantic it gave you thumb ache for days afterwards.