The prequel Star Wars films generally don’t get a lot of love. Most fans eschew them for the original trilogy which cemented Star Wars in the hearts of generations of Sci-Fi fans. However, the timeline which the prequels generated proved far more interesting than the movies themselves. For a brief window, the Star Wars expanded universe produced novels, comics, video games, and two incredible Clone Wars TV series. These two animated shows made better use of the prequel characters than the films did.
Star Wars: Bounty Hunter was a game which was firmly grounded in the time frame between the Phantom Menace and The Clone Wars films. On its surface, it was plain cash in for the Star Wars franchise. It starred Jango Fett, the notorious Episode II henchman who was one of the most memorable aspects of the film. Unfortunately on an initial play through the game seemed to be a rushed title. The visuals were unappealing and the control scheme seems awkward and confusing.
However, persevere through these initial misgivings and Star Wars: Bounty Hunter turns out to be a complete blast. It features a strong narrative and unique gameplay mechanics. Following Jango as he shoots, somersaults and jetpacks through enemies feels exactly how you thought a badass Star Wars character would behave. The superb writing makes Jango an interesting protagonist, grimly pragmatic but not unlikable. If the game had a little more time and polish this could have been one of the best Star Wars games ever made.
Star Wars: Bounty Hunter opens several years before Attack of the Clones when the Bando Gora cult threatens to disrupt galactic industries. This is a major problem for Chancellor Palpatine, whose plans to found an Empire are dependent on having industries available to fuel a civil war. In response, Count Dooku places a five million credit bounty on the Gora’s leader, a Dark Jedi named Komari Vosa. That’s a challenge the notorious bounty hunter Jango Fett can’t refuse – but neither can his rivals, each of whom are racing to get to Vosa first.
When the game begins, Star Wars: Bounty Hunter feels like a fairly average third-person shooter. The action mechanics are functional, but basic in terms of strategy. The color scheme feels faded and grey, which is rather dreary compared to Star Wars‘ vibrant setting. The graphics aren’t much to write home about – even the updated PS4 resolutions can’t salvage that. On top of that are various control issues: Specifically, the button placements are confusing, cycling between weapons is time-consuming, and the camera keeps zipping behind Jango’s head when you’d rather look somewhere else.
But after a mission or two, something strange happens – you start to feel like a legitimate Star Wars badass. Perhaps it’s the auto-aim feature, which points Jango’s weapon at the closest enemy, even when they’re off-screen. Perhaps it’s how Jango’s dual blasters can fire in two directions, letting you fight multiple opponents at once. Perhaps it’s the fact that tapping the shoot button makes Jango fire even more rapidly than holding it, unleashing chaos across the battlefield. Whatever the case, even last-ditched shootouts against a dozen aliens on your last-health point can become victories if you’re quick on the draw. It even counters that camera problem I mentioned – why worry about sightlines when Jango can aim just left of the screen and make a successful kill?
Twenty minutes into the game, Jango gets his jetpack, and Bounty Hunter gets even better. Much like the film, it provides Jango with upward mobility, fast-travel, and lets him shoot in every direction while airborne. That’s exactly as fun as it sounds, and it doesn’t hurt that level designs make good use of the features. My favorite example is the second mission: It opens with Jango exploring a city surface on foot, retrieving his jetpack, and then flying overtop the same buildings while chasing his bounty. Sadly, those camera problems I mentioned make it hard to keep track of your quarry, but overall the jetpack is a great touch that brings Bounty Hunter to life.
Speaking of bounties, Bounty Hunter isn’t some meaningless title – NPCs are scattered across each mission with lucrative bounties on their heads. Scanning them from a distance tells you whether a bounty is available, what they’re worth dead or alive, and any biographical details from the bounty poster. Some targets are civilian NPCs, minding their own business while you complete primary objectives. Others are foot soldiers among your primary enemies, meaning you might kill them by accident if their partners start a firefight.
Whatever you think of the prequel universe, Bounty Hunter capitalizes on its elements in fun and memorable ways. The end result is a solid action game that transports us to a galaxy far, far away, and pays good credits for bringing targets back alive. Now strap on that helmet and jetpack, and find them.