In the short time since we posted the first part of our LucasArts retrospective, Disney has unfortunately applied the one thing that it knows about videogames to the company: full-scale layoffs and product cancellations. Nevertheless, this remains the perfect time to revisit the games of LucasArts.
Making great videogames is no small task, and Disney has elected to punt on nearly the entire endeavor. “Disney Infinity” has slipped from June to the end of August and missed the proposed ‘Monsters University’ release tie-in. Considering that Disney has cleared the decks of several Lucas property-related productions in preparation for a new ‘Star Wars’ trilogy, the closure of LucasArts is not a surprise.
Unlike many developers, however, LucasArts was in business for over thirty years, and in that time made so many memorable games that I was forced to break the list in two even while glossing over several great games.
The last ten years saw the company focus almost exclusively on ‘Star Wars’ titles, and just as I was tricked into thinking that ‘Attack of the Clones’ would be a great movie, the potential for great ‘Clone Wars’ videogames was, for me, never properly realized.
Knights of the Old Republic
The best ‘Star Wars’ game has to be ‘Knights of the Old Republic’. LucasArts worked with BioWare to create a whole new era, and BioWare made players feel the power of the Jedi as an ever-present arbiter, even in a galactic war. Once again, however, the success of the first game caused LucasArts to greedily push forward too quickly with the sequel, which Obsidian was forced to ship basically without much of a third act story. The less said about the ‘Star Wars: The Old Republic’ MMO, the better.
Star Wars: Battlefront Series
Ironically enough, ‘Star Wars: Battlefront’ was a collaborative work between Pandemic Studios and LucasArts. The idea was simple: Take the runaway success gameplay of ‘Battlefield 1942′ and apply it to ‘Star Wars’. The series was immensely popular for a short time. Unfortunately, Pandemic partnered with BioWare before both were bought by EA. Pandemic closed in 2009. LucasArts turned to Free Radical for ‘Star Wars: Battlefront III’, but stood by and let both Free Radical and the project die. Rumors from ex-employees have sworn that the game was nearly complete, and was supposedly under production again with a fresh start when Disney took over, effectively leaving the series in a permanent limbo.
Lego Star Wars Series
‘Lego Star Wars: The Videogame’ managed a number of feats, not the least of which was combining two clunky videogame licenses into something excellent to play with the family. That the first game was based on the frigid prequels makes the achievement even more remarkable. The series really hits its stride with the second game, which was based around the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy, before bottoming out with the first ‘Lego Indiana Jones’ games. What’s worse is that developer Traveler’s Tales was snatched up by Warner Bros. in 2007, a move that must make even Lucasfilm parent Disney sting slightly.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed I & II
The role that Jimmy Smits was born to play, Senator Organa, finally came to some interesting fruition, but unfortunately was wrapped in the promising but ultimately disappointing ‘Star Wars: The Force Unleashed’. With an interesting story about Vader training a secret apprentice, top notch visuals and (at the time) fresh gameplay ideas, ‘The Force Unleashed’ was the last significant work shipped by LucasArts. In a game where players got to fight Darth Vader, pull down a Star Destroyer, and even fight from within a Sarlaac, the title was riddled with bugs at launch. The trouble that LucasArts had in producing a sequel, which then failed to generate the response of the first game, has its root in a dozen different issues, and the relative failure doomed the series.
Sadly, with LucasArts demise, it seems that we are robbed of future grand scale ‘Star Wars’ games, the most obvious of which is ‘Star Wars: 1313′, which was only just announced last June.
Finally, it’s important to point out that there was more to LucasArts than just ‘Star Wars’ games. My personal favorite LucasArts title, ‘Outlaws‘, was released in 1997. The western FPS built on ‘Dark Forces’ tech remains exemplary in its design and feel, but seems to have never breathed hope of a sequel. LucasArts couldn’t even finish a planned expansion, though what was finished was eventually released for free.