Star Wars: Bounty Hunter

Star Wars: Bounty Hunter is a PS2 and Gamecube game starring Jango Fett that depicts a hunt for the leader of a dark Force cult, which Darth Tyrannus is using as a test to find the greatest bounty hunter in the galaxy for cloning. I played it as a kid, and have been replaying it lately. It’s got the foundations of being a great bounty hunter game, but it’s let down by some flaws and missed opportunities.

Flaw the first: Detective vision hadn’t been invented yet. Jango has that little scanner eyepiece dealy that sticks up from his helmet, and in this game you can activate it to scan for bounties. The problem is that it’s a weapon on its own, so you can’t bring it down mid-combat to see if the person you’re aiming at right now has a price on their head. This means the scanner is only useful between combats, either scanning enemies from outside range or scanning civilians who don’t attack you. Both of these feel really cool, but they’re a puny fraction of the game, 80% of which are close range firefights in which enemies are shooting at you from the moment you’re in the same room as them. Making the scanner a detective mode that allows you to keep moving and fighting while you use it rather than a weapon that locks you in place in first-person view (the game is otherwise a third-person shooter) would’ve greatly improved this and made the secondary objective far more manageable. This is big, because most of what makes you feel like a bounty hunter in this game is the process of marking a bounty, zooming in to capture or kill them, and then fighting your way out of their gang of heavily armed buddies.

Flaw the second: No easy target-switching. In order to get around the limitations of console shooting, the game allows you to lock onto opponents. This is good, but without any way of switching targets, it’s extremely difficult to blast away the non-bounty mooks to isolate and capture a bounty. Instead of just tapping a target-switch button to move to the next baddie, you have to fly around the battlefield until the bounty is no longer the nearest enemy. If the quarters are close enough, you can just switch to your cord and capture them immediately, but the cord has a pretty limited range (and having to zoom in close to capture a bounty alive is an important part of the bounty hunter feel), so most of the time this isn’t really an option.

Flaw the third: Most of the weapons are useless. You’re not just a bounty hunter, but a Mandalorian, so you have beskar armor that gives you a ludicrously long healthbar compared to your enemies and a wide array of weaponry. This is very cool and necessary to carrying the Mandalorian feel (many Star Wars characters might get by with just a blaster and maybe grenades, but not a Mandalorian), but unfortunately most of them are of such niche use that you’re better off sticking to blasters anyway.

The grenades are the “hold button for throwing power” variety, which means there’s a wind-up on them that makes them basically useless except as a sucker punch. You’d expect them to shine in places with lots of bunkers or other rooms to clear, but exactly that situation comes up on Malastare and the grenades are let down by two things, first, the fact that they don’t have a targeting reticule (bear in mind this is a console shooter) so getting them through the window is a toss-up even from very close range, and second, you can just charge in and blast everyone and that usually works anyway.

The flamethrower is really effective against melee enemies, but your regular blasters are also really effective against melee enemies and they’re also good against ranged enemies, who are often encountered together, so there’s no reason to cycle through weapons when you could just use blasters. The flamethrower is effective against the Bando Gora cultists, who are melee swarms so you can set lots of them on fire at once rather than blasting them one by one, but those guys only show up in a handful of levels towards the end, and only in enough numbers for the flamethrower to be noticeably more effective than the blasters in the final chapter of six.

The Kaminoan darts are 1) not things Jango should be using because the whole plot is that this is how he got recruited for the clone project, so he’s not actually living on Kamino yet (I guess it was actually pure coincidence that the dart Obi-Wan used to track Jango down in Attack of the Clones was manufactured on Kamino, and Jango had actually been using them for at least a few weeks before he’d even heard of the place?), and 2) not nearly as useful as you’d expect from a one-hit-kill, because the zoom function on this game isn’t that great and the firing rate is slow enough that it’s not much better than a blaster at close-range. It seems like they’re intended for the monsters like the nexu on Malastare, but while they work for that, so does a blaster.

The Kaminoan darts and the grenades both have actually useful versions: The sniper rifle and the rockets. The sniper rifle is like the Kaminoan darts except it comes with a zoom function that makes it actually useful, although it’s only a one-shot kill with a headshot, which seems excessive considering this is a console exclusive shooter, doubly so since one of the main targets you’d like to use a sniper rifle on – the blaster turrets – are often immune to sniping because of the bulky hitbox on their turret’s tripod. The rockets fired from Jango’s jetpack are TOW-style weapons that you can aim after launching and are useful for ranged crowd clearing or as an overpowered sniper rifle before you get the sniper rifle (when Jango first installs the rockets, there’s a cut scene where he reassures his friendly Voice With An Internet Connection that he hopefully won’t have to use it, and then immediately afterwards you will, if you’re smart, use it to snipe a pair of heavy blaster turrets).

These three, I think, are outright flaws, things where the game tried to accomplish something and failed. The next two are missed opportunities, things the game could’ve been good at, but which they never even tried.

First, the game’s difficulty curve ramps up quickly in the second and especially third chapters, then plateaus for the entire second half of the game. If you’re despairing about your ability to handle the fourth chapter after struggling through the third, don’t worry, it never gets any harder. In fact, the heavy use of the straightforward Bando Gora swarm enemies makes the sixth chapter a huge disappointment. If they didn’t have anywhere left to escalate after the third chapter on Oovo IV, then they should’ve dialed the difficulty of chapters three through five to make more of a curve. I guess there’s some platforming that gets annoying on both chapter 4’s Malastare and chapter 5’s Tattooine, but that’s more annoying-hard than challenge-hard.

Second, the game is far too linear. The game uses locked doors to imply much larger buildings while drawing you along a strictly linear path from one firefight to another. There’s even a mechanic for cutting your way into vents to get around locked doors, which is only ever used for flavor, rather than to actually present different routes.

The game would’ve been much more interesting if it had instead been presented as a series of buildings to assault, with the exact method of your assault left up to you. This also would’ve been a good place to peel the game away from its three-levels-per-planet paradigm. While the first chapter in Outland Station probably should’ve remained three distinct areas (the fighting arena, Merchant’s Row, and the hangar), just to keep the opening levels small and manageable for first time players, and the second and fifth chapters just don’t make sense as one big interconnected level (the second chapter takes place in three different districts of Coruscant which would feel weird if they were directly adjacent to one another, and the fifth chapter bounces around to a couple of different locations on Tattooine), the third, fourth, and especially the final sixth chapter against the Bando Gora all would’ve benefitted from being one very large, interconnected level that you have to navigate. Hitman should’ve been the main inspiration, just with lots of secondary targets, less (but not absent) stealth, more weapons, and a deeper reserve of health.

On the note of health, with the “building assault” paradigm I also think it would’ve been a good idea to give Jango a longer health bar but no health pickups. In the game as it is, Jango is pretty durable but can still be plausibly killed in a single firefight, and enemies drop health pickups often enough that you will usually be able to run around the battlefield gathering them up in the aftermath and be at full health going into the next fight. Then you have a limited number of continues when you die. It was basically your standard regenerating health system where it makes no difference whether you executed the last fight flawlessly or scraped by the skin of your teeth so long as you won, just using very generous health pickups instead of automatic health regen. That system makes sense for a linear string of gun battles, but for a building assault I think emphasizing more careful resource management and trying to limit the number of fights you get into altogether makes sense. Eliminating health pickups means you can pack enough extra health onto Jango to really get across just how durable (but not invincible) beskar armor is.

If I could go back in time and design Bounty Hunter from day one, I’d keep the basic plot the same, with only a few tweaks to account for the more open building-assault rather than linear-gunfights nature of the levels. The first chapter would still take place on Outland Station. The arena level would begin nearly identically with the tutorial fighting the bug monster and then cutting through the vents to escape, but after getting out of the vents you would be set loose in a similarly-sized but more interconnected level to track down Meeko’s lieutenant, which is the first major change: Since escaping the arena in this version is as easy as walking out the front door, we have to give the player a bounty to hunt in the arena building before they can leave. We want to hold onto the chapter’s main antagonist Meeko for the third level, so we’re giving him a flunky for Jango to track down.

The second level, Merchant’s Row, is a patrol level. Meeko’s out there somewhere, in some place that can only be accessed with the jetpack, so the player has to find the jetpack, then find Meeko. There’s lots of heavily armed gangsters lying around, but they won’t pick a fight with Jango until he starts one, so the player is free to scan for targets. Some targets don’t have any gangster buddies to spring to their defense when Jango ties them up, but others do. Players will have to decide at some point whether they have enough health left to risk another shootout for a secondary bounty or if they want to focus on Meeko.

The third level is the first building assault of the game. You start out at the outskirts of the hangar holding Meeko’s ship, and you’ve got to go in there and get him out. There’s lots of ways in and out and the most obvious one is, of course, the most heavily guarded.

In the second chapter on Coruscant, Jango can fast travel between the entertainment district, industrial district, and the residential tower freely. They’re still three totally separate locations, but being able to travel easily between them should hopefully make them feel interconnected but not adjacent. The entertainment district is another patrol level where the goal is to find the death stick dealer selling Bando Gora goods and get the location of the distribution center out of him, but with lots of secondary bounties lying around, and nobody starts a fight unless Jango does, and the freeze-packing plant and the residential tower are both building assaults.

The third chapter of Oovo IV is one huge building assault, a single interconnected level three times as big instead of three different levels. I’d also have the rioting prisoners be non-hostile until attacked by Jango, mainly because it helps Thule in chapter six feel more special.

The fourth chapter on Malastare starts off with a traversal level, similar to the levels in the game that exists. The goal is to get from point A to point B, and there’s a bunch of guards in the way. Since the target is a building and not a person, you don’t really have to search for it, which means the level needs to be about getting there through obstacles. I’d still give it more time just traversing the jungle rather than stacking each firefight so directly on top of the other (particularly if we’re keeping health pickups in the game, since they’re so abundant that any given level is only as difficult as its hardest single gunfight, so removing half the gunfights doesn’t even affect the level balance). The second and third levels of the chapter can be combined into another building assault hunting for both the dug king Sebolto and the Bando Gora shipments. Jango has a second confrontation with Montross upon finding the latter, although unlike in the original game, this isn’t necessarily the end of the level, since he still needs to kill Sebolto.

The fifth chapter is the first since chapter two to be split into three small (ish) levels like the game as it exists: The first one is another patrol level looking for Longo Two-Guns in Mos Espa, the second is a traversal level through the Jundland Wastes, and the third is a building assault (sort of, you start out captured and have to escape, get your stuff back, and then access Gardulla’s main computer, just like in the game as it exists, which is sort of a building assault except it starts out inside and disarmed) on Gardulla the Hutt’s palace.

The sixth chapter is where I would make my biggest alteration. In the game, Jango gets captured partway through. Not only is this kind of repetitive after just having done a capture-and-escape in the last chapter, it also interferes with plugging all three of the levels together into one big interconnected level. Doing this would make the burial moon of Thule the largest assault in the game, a huge landscape of interconnected crypts, cemeteries, and catacombs. It’s bigger than even Oovo IV and every single thing in it is trying to kill Jango Fett, specifically.

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