Join our Tom as he runs down the best Star Wars games still worth discovering in 2020.
It’s fair to say that Star Wars has enjoyed its share of ups and downs with fans and critics alike over the past few decades. Some fans are forever let down with each release, claiming the magic of the series died after the release of Return of the Jedi, while others think the franchise is as strong and as pure as it ever was. This lingering divide became a gaping chasm after 2017’s The Last Jedi, with some fans praising it as the best film in the series, while others attacked it with such vitriol that it spilled over into the real world, with several actors deleting their social media accounts over fears of abuse and even death threats.
Full disclosure, I’m one of those eternal optimists (or fanboys, if you prefer) who ravenously consume any and all Star Wars media that comes out. The Phantom Menace was the first film I saw in cinema at the age of 4, and I suppose growing up the films shaped my tastes, interests and dare I say morals in ways that would only become apparent later in life.
Whenever I engage in a hearty debate with someone whose opinion has been soured by the movies, I feel compelled to remind them that Star Wars is more than just what we see on the silver screen. Star Wars is a multimedia universe, crafted by hundreds of creative minds who took George Lucas’ work as a starting point, and developed it beyond what anyone could have expected. So intricate was the extended universe post Revenge of the Sith, that Disney were forced to start from scratch, so as to not trip over the existing story.
Novels, comic books, cartoons and video games have always been as much a part of Star Wars as the films, and here I’ll be focusing on the best of the latter. The first Star Wars video game was released back in 1982, and since then there have been over 140 games set in the galaxy where scifi meets mysticism. As you can expect from such a collection to choose from, there are a few stinkers, but there are also some of the best video games ever made.
So whether you’re an ardent lover of all things Star Wars or a lapsed fan who needs an excuse to get back into the franchise, put your feet up and grab a glass of Blue Milk as we run down the list of the top Star Wars games you should play in 2020.
Star Wars Episode 1: Racer (1999)
I’ll defend the Star Wars prequel movies until the day I die; often thought of as the leperous arm of the franchise, they’re only now finding a newfound appreciation with fans in the past few years. This reputation has always been unfair, with all three films offering moments that eclipse the iconic Original Trilogy, while developing a rich universe and deep lore that until this point had only been touched upon in reference and expanded media.
One of the coolest moments in the Prequel Trilogy can be found in The Phantom Menace. Commonly derided as the worst of the bunch, even its harshest critic will concede that Podracing is awesome. Essentially Roman chariot racing but with rocket boosters and aliens, it gave us 15 of the most exciting minutes found in the entire saga.
That’s why it was a no brainer for LucasArts to release Star Wars Episode 1: Racer alongside the movie in May 1999. Putting you in control of your own Podracer, it’s essentially Wipeout set in ‘a galaxy far, far away…’, where you compete in very fast, very dangerous races across not just the planet of Tatooine, but several hitherto unexplored worlds.
With tight controls, a surprisingly deep upgrade system for your racer and original voice actors reprising their roles, it’s clear a lot of time, effort and love went into what might have otherwise been a throwaway title. It’s no surprise that it’s garnered a cult following that’s persisted to this day, culminating in a 2020 re-release for PS4 and Nintendo Switch.
Besides, where else can you play as Ben Quadinaros?
Star Wars Pinball (2018)
A wildcard entry that almost didn’t make the cut, the only reason Star Wars Pinball is on this list is because I’ve played it more than any Stars Wars game combined this year.
You might’ve played pinball countless times before, but never like this. With different machines for every movie, spin off and main character, there’s a hefty amount of depth and even narrative investment to compliment the responsive, realistic mechanics. Couple this with a competitive multiplayer scene and you’ve got one of the best ‘pick up and play’ Star Wars games to date. Added bonus points for the unintentionally hilarious voice acting!
And with very few people having discovered this hidden gem, I’m somehow ranked in the top 20 players worldwide, which is pretty cool.
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
Oh you thought we were done with the Prequels? Not on this list, son.
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace sees you take control of various characters, including Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn and the true hero of the adventure – Captain Panaka, as you play your way through the events of the film.
The video game adaptation of The Phantom Menace came out the same time as Racer, but comparatively looks dated. With top-down camera angles, blocky characters and poorly cast imitation voice actors, it doesn’t have much to pique interest, at first glance.
So why is it ranked higher than Racer? Appearances can be deceiving, and despite having an antiquated façade, The Phantom Menace introduced many themes, concepts and tropes that were pretty revolutionary for any game in 1999, let alone a movie tie-in. This was one of the first 3D Star Wars games to offer Lightsaber combat, giving you the most authentic simulation of being a Jedi up until this point. You also had a diverse rogues gallery to fight your way through, from Battle Droids to Tusken Raiders, Darth Maul and more; there was enough assortment to keep you playing.
But arguably the most impressive feature on offer was the RPG elements of the game. You could engage many non-combative NPCs in conversation, with dialogue trees allowing you to either be a paragon of virtue, or a downright asshole. Although these decisions are largely inconsequential to the wider narrative, they demonstrate a layer of depth that was rarely seen in 3D titles to this point, and it’s easy to see the influence of these roleplaying elements on an entry at the top of this list.
Star Wars: Empire at War (2006)
As our Drew quite rightly mentioned in our Best Licensed Video Games article, there’s a Star Wars game for every genre, and real time strategy is no exception. Star Wars: Empire at War, allows you to take control of the forces of the Rebel Alliance, Galactic Empire or the criminal Zann Consortium (the latter only available with the Forces of Corruption expansion).
Although Empire at War doesn’t revolutionise the formula set out by more established RTS series, it does a solid job of offering a deep, comprehensive experience that’s easy to lose hours to. You can choose between 3 game modes: Skirmish (one-off battles), Galactic Conquest (the sandbox campaign) and the story campaign. The main campaign sees you control either side of the Galactic Civil War during the time preceding the Battle of Yavin. As a fledgling Rebellion, you liberate systems and discover clues regarding the existence of the Death Star. If the Dark Side is more your thing, you can control the Empire on a mission to thwart the Rebel Alliance and consolidate the power of your spherical super weapon.
With battles taking place on both land and in outer space, throughout an expansive galaxy, there’s a level of variety that’s seldom seen in Star Wars games; so if you’re a sucker for Legends Canon lore like I am, you’re in luck. Want to control Mara Jade? You’ve got it! Ever wondered what the surface of Sullust – homeworld of Nien Nunb looks like? Now you can!
But the most memorable feature of Empire at War is its cinematic camera view. Similar to the cinematic modes of Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption II, the game will swap between camera angles to augment the action taking place on screen, making it feel like you’re directing your own Star Wars story. Best of all, the game is programmed so that any time the camera switches to follow a Star Destroyer, it recreates the opening to A New Hope, with it looming forward overhead – absolute genius.
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II – Rogue Leader (2001)
While Empire at War lets you take an eagle-eyed view over the battlefield, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II – Rogue Leader thrusts you into the thick of the action. A launch title for the Nintendo Gamecube, Rogue Leader sees you assume the role of Luke Skywalker or the supremely underrated Wedge Antilles, over 10 missions that span the timeline of the Original Trilogy.
The gameplay is fast, frenetic and remains the gold standard for starship dogfights. It’s pure fantasy fulfilment to be able to pilot ships ranging from the X-Wing to the immortal Millennium Falcon. The highlight has to be the Hoth level, in which you steer your Snowspeeder towards the hulking AT-AT walkers encroaching on the Rebel’s Echo Base. The Battle of Hoth is often strong armed into most Star Wars games (and for good reason, it’s ace), but this is the best depiction of Hoth to date.
In terms of graphics, Rogue Leader still looks great by today’s standards, and is just crying out for a remaster to introduce a new generation to one of the best, but often overlooked Star Wars games ever.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (2019)
The most recent release on this list, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order offers the most realistic digital interpretation of the Star Wars galaxy yet.
Set between Episodes 3 and 4, you follow the story of Cal Kestis, a former Padawan who managed to escape the Jedi slaughter of Order 66. Never finishing his training, we find him as a scrapper, surviving on an imperial junk planet. After an altercation with a gang of the Empire’s Jedi execution squad, Cal is saved by former Jedi Master Cere Junda. Together with her surly alien co-pilot, Greez, you’ll soon be whisked away on an adventure to rebuild the Jedi order.
In terms of the story, it’s quintessentially Star Wars. Cal is your typical Jedi who you can project yourself onto, while the supporting cast are left to chew the scenery and steal the best one liners. Whether you like this will be very much down to taste, but it definitely feels like it was written with longtime fans in mind. And as one of those long suffering nerds, I can confirm the story works for me in a big way.
Gameplaywise, it pulls from a surprisingly wide range of inspirations. Lightsaber swings have a weight like the melee attacks in God Of War, the multilayered levels have a Metroidvanian appeal, and punishing yet rewarding enemies could’ve been pulled straight out of a Souls game. It’s a great mixing pot that helps it become something familiar, but decidedly unique.
After a while in the wilderness, this is the game fans have been clambering for. It captures the charm and essence of what makes the franchise great, and combines it with great gameplay. Sure it plays it safe, relying on a lot on the series’ tropes, but dammit the fan service works for me!
Star Wars Battlefront II (2017)
After a rocky start that broke records for all the wrong reasons, 2017’s Star Wars Battlefront II demonstrates that everyone deserves a second chance.
Unshackled from the stigma of pay-to-win microtransactions, Battlefront II has blossomed into one of the most complete, most accessible multiplayer FPS titles of recent years. Having been regularly updated since its release, you can now play out battles from throughout the Star Wars saga, with planets recreated to almost photorealistic standards. Couple this with dozens of different character classes, and comprehensive customisation options to boot, and you’ve got the game that they probably should’ve launched with 3 years ago.
But while multiplayer was always going to be the focal point of Battlefront II, one part of the game that has been largely forgotten is its brief single player campaign. You play as Iden Versio, an elite TIE Fighter pilot in the moments following the Battle of Endor and the destruction of the Second Death Star. The campaign is significant for giving us the most detailed look yet at Operation: Cinder – a plan devised by Emperor Palpatine to ensure that the Empire and its enemies did not outlive him should he ever perish. Cinder saw weather-altering satellites put into orbit above key planets (including Palpatine’s homeworld of Naboo), creating storms strong enough to destroy whatever society happened to be caught up in them.
Through Iden Versio, Battlefront II explores how the Galactic Empire formally ended, and how the apparently arbitrary and spiteful orders that Operation: Cinder comprised of, caused many Imperials to become disillusioned and desert to what would become the New Republic.
Is it a great campaign? Not particularly, but in terms of expanding the wider story of Star Wars, it’s an important chapter and that alone makes it worth playing.
Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Oh you better believe we’re back on that prequel hype! Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith is the most critically acclaimed entry in the Prequel Trilogy, taking a much darker tone as we finally see Anakin transform into Darth Vader. This kudos is also shared by the film’s video game, arguably one of the best tie-in games of all time.
This entry is specifically about the PS2 and Xbox versions of the game, for no other reason than I haven’t played the handheld adaptations. You alternate playing as Obi-Wan and Anakin, hacking and slashing your way through the plot of the film. Think The Phantom Menace further up the list, but with better graphics, better camera angles and MagnaGuards! Speaking of the latter, the enemy AI is pretty good, and requires careful timing to prevail. There’s also a pretty good difficulty curve; as you upgrade your Force abilities, the enemies get tougher to match.
Then there’s that infamous alternative ending. After beating the game, you’re given the option to play the final battle on Mustafar as Anakin. In this reality the high ground offers Obi-Wan no protection, and Anakin slays his former master AND the Emperor to claim the galaxy for himself. It might be nothing more than glorified fan fiction, but it gives us an interesting look at what might’ve been.
If all this wasn’t enough, you also get a great multiplayer fighting mode thrown in as well. You can pick to play as any of the main characters from the story mode, as well as Darth Vader and Ben Kenobi for good measure. Essentially, you’re given a well balanced Star Wars fighting game for free, and makes The Revenge of the Sith a must buy and a must play.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (2008)
One of the last pieces of extended universe content to be produced before the Disney purge, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is still worth your time. Bridging the gap between the two trilogies, you assume the role of Starkiller (Galen Marek), Vader’s secret apprentice who he kidnapped as a child. You undertake missions for your master (mainly taking out the few Jedi who survived Order 66), before Vader literally kills you to prove his loyalty to the Emperor.
Still considering you useful, Vader brings you back to life in order to sow the seeds of what would become the Rebel Alliance, allegedly to destabilise the Emperor’s control so that he and Starkiller could usurp his throne. However this proves to be a double (triple?) bluff, a ploy to lure potential rebels straight into the grasp of the Empire. Now more rebel than Sith, you’re left with the choice of whether to save your friends from the Emperor, or let them die and exact your revenge on Vader. With everything that leads up to this moment, it’s a genuinely difficult decision to make, and will give you definite pause for thought.
Despite no longer being canon, the plot of The Force Unleashed is brilliant, and it’s easy to see why George Lucas was happy to sign it off as the official origin story for the Rebel Alliance. Your betrayal at the hands of Vader demonstrates a more cerebral side to his villainy, adding substance to his character beyond what we see in the movies. The wider cast of heroes that we’re introduced to in the game are largely fantastic too. Imperial pilot Juno Eclipse, former Jedi master Rahm Kota and your robot pal PROXY are all fully realised characters, and the fact they no longer ‘exist’ in the new canon is a real shame. Fingers crossed they can be woven back into the grand, interplanetary tapestry of Star Wars soon.
While the story of The Force Unleashed might now be ignored, its irrefutable legacy is how it gave us the best portrayal of the Force yet. Whereas other games might let you push, pull and double jump with the power of Midi-chlorians, here the Force is truly unleashed. You can throw TIE Fighters to the ground mid flight, choke an opponent into the sky then throw them against a wall and even pull a Star Destroyer out of space itself. It’s a power trip, and a damn fun one at that.
Bonus fact: Starkiller is modelled and voiced by Sam Witwer, who would go on to voice Darth Maul in Star Wars: The Clones Wars and Rebels.
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy (2003)
If The Force Unleashed is the best portrayal of the Force in video games, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy is by far the best Lightsaber simulator ever. Taking place in the years after Return of the Jedi, you begin as Padawan Jaden Korr, starting your training at Luke Skywalker’s new Jedi Temple, being taught by Legends Canon heartthrob Kyle Katarn. Not long after you arrive you’re sent on missions to uncover a secret Sith cult known as the Disciples of Ragnos, hellbent on resurrecting the ancient Sith Lord Marka Ragnos.
As a Jedi in training, you can choose which Force abilities you wish to develop – either Light Side (healing, mind tricks, etc.) or Dark Side (lightning, choke, etc.). This, along with the fact you can choose Jaden’s gender, species and appearance, all adds to the roleplaying immersion of the experience.
But as good as the story is, it’s the aforementioned Lightsaber combat in which Jedi Academy really comes into its own. It’s unique in that the lightsaber is always active, meaning even when you’re not swinging, it interacts with surfaces (and enemies) it comes into contact, making it feel like a more realistic, dangerous weapon. What’s more, Jedi Academy’s animations play out freely from other agents in the world. There’s no kill animations here like you would expect in Assassin’s Creed or the Batman Arkham Trilogy, instead it’s a more holistic, fully dynamic system that can be more chaotic, but is infinitely more satisfying when you land a killing blow. You can also choose from single, double and dual-bladed lightsaber configurations, offering even more choice when it comes to combat.
And this variety has meant Jedi Academy’s online multiplayer community is more active than ever. Given it was built with the Quake III engine, this is hardly surprising; and led to re-releases of the game on PS4 and Nintendo Switch in 2020.
Star Wars Battlefront II (2005)
2005 was a stellar time for Star Wars games, with no less than 4 titles released that year making it onto this list. Of this impressive crop, it’s hard to argue that Star Wars Battlefront II doesn’t have the most impressive legacy. The sequel to what was up until this point, the best-selling Star Wars game of all time, it takes the formula of eliminating enemy factions and capturing command posts while adding in some new features.
The most significant update was the inclusion of space battles, high above the surface of some of the series’ most iconic planets. Being able to pilot ships from both the Original and Prequel Trilogies was phenomenal, offering a much faster, kinetic experience than ground offensives. It also helped to broaden the scale of the warfare taking place; what was once a blurry animation of a Star Destroyer in the distant sky in the original Battlefront was now an enemy command post that you could either drop bombs upon, or force your way into to destroy from the inside out.
Aside from the usual graphical and model touch ups, the other significant inclusion was that of playable hero characters. Whereas in its predecessor, characters such as Luke, Vader, Obi-Wan and Count Dooku would randomly spawn as NPCs to help you, in Battlefront II you can occasionally take control of them. Their added strength can really turn the tide of a battle in your favour, not to mention the cathartic joy to be found in mowing down swarms of enemy troops. In fact, Hero Assault Mode, in which you play in a goodies versus baddies match consisting of only hero characters is what I remember most fondly about playing the game.
Another thing that Battlefront II had over its forebear was a full story mode. Presented as an autobiography of a veteran Clone Trooper, who would go on to be part of the infamous 501st Legion of Stormtroopers, it takes the player on adventure throughout almost the entire film series. From aiding their Jedi superiors to eventually wiping them out, and even forming part of Vader’s personal army known as Vader’s Fist, we’re shown how the 501st have been present at many of the key moments of the Skywalker Saga. As Clone Troopers, it was they that inadvertently recovered the materials needed to build the Death Star. It was they who stormed the Jedi Temple during Order 66. It was they who helped Vader capture Princess Leia aboard the Tantive IV during the opening scene of A New Hope. As you can probably tell by this point, I’m a sucker for lore. And although like most of this list, Battlefront II is no longer considered canon, it’s interesting to explore the transition from the clone army of the Galactic Republic to the ruthless Stormtroopers of the Empire – something that is seldom seen in the new timeline.
Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga (2005/2007)
Star Wars has left an indelible mark on pop-culture, and of all of its video game adaptations, it’s hard to argue that Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga hasn’t had the biggest cultural impact. Effectively starting its own genre, it spawned countless LEGO games based on popular film properties, remaining as popular with players young and old to this day.
Although the first Lego Star Wars game dropped in 2005 (there’s that year again), this entry will focus on 2007’s The Complete Saga, which combined the Lego Star Wars: The Video Game and its sequel Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, spanning the first six episodes of the Star Wars saga. You play through key scenes from the films, all told with the irreverent humour the series would become famous for.
And behind the cutesy art style and the jokes, there’s a legitimately excellent game. Developers Traveller’s Tales make good use of the LEGO medium, throwing puzzles at you that require contraptions to be built out of everyone’s favourite Danish toy company, providing enough of a challenge for kids and adults alike. The spirit of creativity permeates throughout the entire game; if you want to play through a level with a different character, you can pick from over 160, all with their own animations and special abilities.
There might be a LEGO game for every major film now, but none of them have managed to top the original. Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is scheduled to release in 2020, and it’ll be interesting to see if it offers enough to take top spot. Until then, you never forget your first.
Star Wars: Republic Commando (2005)
The best game from the best year for Star Wars, Star Wars: Republic Commando is the closest we’ll get to a narrative-driven war game set in the Star Wars universe.
Putting you in the role of Clone Trooper RC-1138 (Boss), the stoic leader of the elite Delta Squad, you follow the journey from your birth in the labs of Kamino, to your training and eventual missions with your clone brothers.
These brothers happen to be some of the most fleshed out characters we’ve seen from the Clone Wars period. As RC-1138 (Boss), you’re the stoic leader with a level head. RC-1262 (Scorch) is the cheeky explosive expert who’s as fast with his quips as he is with a rifle. RC-1140 (Fixer) is your hacker, a true jarhead who’s as loyal as he is fearless. RC-1207 (Sev) is a sniper who takes pleasure in racking up kills, but who you can always trust to get the job done. Each has their own character traits, and you’ll spend an even amount of time with each, allowing you to become fully acquainted with each member of your squad.
And this connection goes beyond mere narrative attachment. Republic Commando employs some pretty impressive team AI, and you’ll be responsible for giving them orders. From getting them to set explosives, hack doors or replenish their health, they’ll do as you command. It all adds to the realism; the sense that you’re a real outfit in the heat of battle.
This realism extends further than just your military operation. Republic Commando offers a fairly nuanced case study on the psychological strain of warfare. Even clones bred for battle for battle show both mental and physical scars, and while you’ll start the war brimming with idealism, eventually you’re fighting for your brothers as much as for the Republic. And while the ineffectiveness of Battle Droids is commonly the butt of jokes in Star Wars, they’ve never been more threatening as they are in Republic Commando. As a Clone Trooper, you won’t be mowing your enemy down with a Lightsaber, instead you’ll have to duck and cover your way to victory like you would in any Call of Duty or Battlefield game.
When it comes to story, character design and gameplay, Republic Commando is a Star Wars FPS head and shoulders above the rest. It’s a dark, gritty take on a world that oftentimes feels more magical than grounded, and following the tale of a disposable grunt is something very rarely explored in the universe.
Plus Clones by Ash plays during the end credits, and that’s a certified banger.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003)
It might be a bit of a cop out putting it at the top of the list, but it’s hard not to. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is widely regarded as the best Star Wars game for good reason.
Developed by BioWare, one of the titans of modern RPG titles, Knights of the Old Republic takes place 4,000 years before the events of the Star films, a time in which the Sith plague the galaxy in great numbers. One such Sith, Darth Malak has launched an armada against the Republic, and it’s not long before your create-a-character is caught in the middle of it all.
This game single-handedly fleshes out the Star Wars universe more than anything that has come before or since. You can explore the galaxy, learn about the ancient Sith and discover why Tusken Raiders hate outsiders so much. It’s no surprise that several novels and comics expanded upon some of the characters introduced in Knights of the Old Republic. And as you can expect with any BioWare RPG, each character has a deep, fully fleshed out backstory. Bastila Shan, Jolee Bindo and the Assassin Droid HK-47 might not be names that mean anything to you if you haven’t played the game, but if you have you’ll know them just as well as all the main cast of the films, and I wouldn’t blame you if you preferred them – they’re that endearing.
Gameplaywise, all the RPG mechanics are there; you choose your class, level up your stats and make your character your own. Combat is round-based and you can have up to two companions at a time, all of whom are fantastic and memorable. This might all sound fairly standard when it comes to roleplaying games, but as is often the way, it’s the characters and dialogue options that offer the most lasting moments. Knights of the Old Republic boasts over 300 speaking characters and 15,000 lines of dialogue in total, a ridiculous level of detail, given it’s nearly 17 years old. This makes it the most organic, lived in Star Wars world committed to video game, and necessitates multiple playthroughs to experience everything – something that is definitely worth your time.
Then there’s the plot twist near the end. I’m not sure how much spoiler protection I should give to a game that’s almost old enough to drink, but suffice it to say your character isn’t who you think it is, and when your true identity is finally revealed, it’s one of the few genuinely jaw-dropping moments in gaming history – up there with Aerith’s death in Final Fantasy VII and Bioshock’s ‘Would you kindly…’ payoff. If you’re lucky enough not to know the plot of Knights of the Old Republic, do yourself a favour and play it immediately, and prepare to lose several wonderful hours to not just the best Star Wars game ever, but one of the best video games of all time.
And that’s a wrap on our list of the top Star Wars games you should play in 2020. Have we missed your favourite? Let us know in the comments below, and may the Force be with you!
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