Thanks to The Mandalorian, Now It’s the Perfect Time to Play Star Wars: Bounty Hunter
Yes, I know this is one of the most tiresome opinions on the internet nowadays, but I’m one of those nerds who are fed up with Disney’s Star Wars expansion over the past few years. Mainly due to disappointing movies released yearly (I still like Rogue One, though), underwhelming TV shows, the whole Battlefront II fiasco, and the extinction of the old Expanded Universe. Admittedly it was filled with garbage, but had some excellent stories that a lot of people have always cherished, such as Shadows of the Empire, Knights of the Old Republic, the Thrawn Trilogy, and Legacy. Hell, Episode IX is coming out this week and I couldn’t care less about it. With that being said, two recent events helped reignite my previous dormant passion for Star Wars over the past few weeks: Respawn’s Jedi: Fallen Order and The Mandalorian TV show.
The Mandalorian is a show that, while not mind-blowing, manages to simultaneously retain a classic Star Wars vibe. It provides us with a brand new take on the franchise’s world as it focuses on the galaxy’s underworld of crime. The focus isn’t on Jedi Knights, the Force, or anything like that. The focus is on a mercenary, a cold space cowboy only known as The Mandalorian, or Mando for short. Most of the episodes actually feel like levels from a video game, as they involve treasure hunting, base infiltrations, a fight against a giant walker, and so on. A lot of people are currently asking for a game that feels like the Mandalorian TV show. The good news is that this has already been released seventeen years ago for PS2 and Gamecube. I’m talking about Star Wars: Bounty Hunter.
Star Wars: Bounty Hunter was originally released in 2002 by LucasArts, a company that was riding on the success of their recently released Rogue Leader and Episode I: Racer, with games like Knights of the Old Republic, Jedi Outcast, and Republic Commando coming out soon after. The company was unstoppable at the time, releasing one great Star Wars title after the other. Bounty Hunter is no exception, and even though it’s a lot more flawed than other games released at the time, it’s certainly one of the most ambitious.
Bounty Hunter provides the same exploration of the depths of the galaxy’s criminal underworld. It goes even further on that, as the plot basically revolves around getting rid of a terrorist cult that uses mind-altering drugs to enslave people into their ranks. Bounty Hunter features confrontations not against this terrorist cult led by a fallen Jedi, but also Coruscanti mafiosos, Hutts, and even literal drug cartels. It’s basically the closest Star Wars and Narcos have ever been.
Story-wise, Bounty Hunter explores the past of the actual cool Fett, Jango. The one that actually did something onscreen and only got the second stupidest canonical death of his family members. You learn how he got the Slave I, how he ended up meeting Count Dooku, the reasoning behind him becoming the template for all Clone Troopers, and why Boba ended up not receiving the same age acceleration modifications.
The game also explores the culture of bounty hunters teaming up in order to achieve a higher goal, with Jango eventually meeting Zam Wessel (that one chick he would eventually kill at the beginning of Attack of the Clones). You’ll also learn some Mandalorian traditions, as well as the rivalry between him and fellow Mandalorian /bounty hunter Montross, voiced by Clancy Brown, who’s also in The Mandalorian. In terms of setting and story, Bounty Hunter is deep as the Marianas Trench. I like to think that this story is still somewhat canonical, as Disney hasn’t released a book to retcon it yet.
The gameplay is where Bounty Hunter falters a bit. It’s equally complex and revolutionary for the time, but it also suffers from a series of issues caused by the fact that it was a game released in 2002. This was a time when developers still thought that using the right analog stick to properly control the camera was taboo.
The game’s main gameplay inspiration is Tomb Raider. Jango can move, climb, roll, jump, and do backflips just like Lara Croft did back in the day, but with an added degree of athleticism, as he can run faster and jump higher. Levels are linear, but huge, with lots of secret passageways that can lead you to hidden bonuses and more bounties to collect (more on that later). Jango can also use his jetpack for a few seconds at a time, not only allowing him to reach higher platforms, but also allowing him to cover distances much faster, as a dash mechanic of sorts.
The combat mechanics also took some inspiration from Tomb Raider, as Jango’s weapon of choice is a pair of pistols with infinite ammo. The game allows you to lock on targets, not unlike Ocarina of Time, but it automatically shoots at the two closest enemies when you’re not doing that. Letting you shoot two enemies at once is very cool, making Jango look even more like a fearsome space cowboy. You can also use other weapons such as instakill darts (just like in Attack of the Clones), rifles, flamethrowers, that big ol’ missile attached on top of your jetpack, and more. The fact that you can fly around on your jetpack while aiming at you enemies at once with your pistol and then instantly changing to a flamethrower or rocket launcher when you land makes you feel like you’re a Mandalorian god of death. It is rewarding beyond explanation.
The game also features a neat, if not a bit undercooked, bounty hunting system. You have a scanner attached to your visor that allows you to check the criminal record of every single NPC in the game. You can find out if said NPC is wanted, the value of his/her bounty, and whether you can or cannot kill said target. You can then accept the bounty hunt, capture the target, and get a reward. It’s a very shallow system, as you don’t get weapon upgrades, and most targets end up being stationary and frightened, but it’s a neat concept nonetheless. You’re a mercenary always looking for multiple jobs, it makes a lot of sense.
A few things drag Star Wars: Bounty Hunter down a little bit. The controls are a bit slippery and the camera acts completely against your will, something pretty common from games from that era. The framerate is a bit wonky as well, even though I have to commend LucasArts for actually achieving 60 frames per second throughout most of the campaign. The framerate drops considerably whenever you activate your jetpack, as that means a lot of flame particles will show up onscreen, completely torturing the PS2’s poor CPU. The Gamecube version doesn’t suffer from the same amount of performance issues, instead featuring grainier and more compressed FMV sequences. The PS4, available for dirt cheap on the PSN store, is based off the PS2 version, upscaled to run at a sexy 1080p resolution.
Star Wars: Bounty Hunter is the perfect companion piece if you want more of what The Mandalorian is currently offering. It is easily the most violent and vile Star Wars game ever released, perfectly showcasing the not-so-beautiful criminal side of the galaxy, with terrorists to defeat, drug cartels to dismantle, and maximum security prisons to escape. It might have aged in the gameplay department, but it’s still very playable and feels very fresh and innovative compared to every single other Star Wars game featuring Jedi Knights or starship battles. The fact that you can actually play this game on a modern console, thanks to the PS4 port, makes me appreciate it even more.