I think that Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron retroactively ruined my childhood. If I grew up with this game, I would’ve been over the moon, especially during the period of my life (around Renegade Squadron’s 2007 launch) when I would play Star Wars Battlefront II literally every day after school. Alas, I didn’t have a PSP. I still don’t, but for whatever reason I do have a PlayStation TV. On a whim, I decided to break it out and play Rebellion’s overlooked Battlefront II follow-up. Now that I have, I’ve become genuinely inconsolable at the thought of how good my youth would’ve been with this game in it.
Now, I suppose that I ought to slow my excitement down and discuss Renegade Squadron from forty-thousand feet. Unlike the two original console Battlefronts and DICE’s modern reboots, the handheld Battlefronts rarely get mentioned. There was a trio of PSP titles, a port of Battlefront II, Renegade Squadron, and Elite Squadron. The latter actually cross-released on DS, and I did play that one as a kid. However, the DS version was completely different from its PSP counterpart gameplay-wise, but both versions still drew upon ideas from the cancelled Battlefront III. From my perspective, if either handheld title gets mentioned ever, it’s Elite Squadron, and often because of its ties to Pandemic Studios’ infamously-unreleased title.
exploring new corners of the galaxy
Renegade Squadron undeservedly gets short shrift, especially because the game is quite good. This isn’t just my lifelong Star Wars fandom talking either, although it certainly plays a notable role as we’ll discuss. Nonetheless, Renegade Squadron is an authentic extension of Pandemic’s console Battlefront formula that introduces some unique ideas into that framework. Perhaps the greatest addition is the game’s customization system. It extends to both aesthetic customization and loadout customization, effectively replacing the rigid class-structure of Battlefront and Battlefront II.
I found this element of the experience to be impressively rich and far better than even what DICE’s Battlefronts feature customization-wise. This is a facet of any Star Wars experience that I really appreciate. Getting to play as various alien races here in Renegade Squadron from the Mon Calamari to the Rodians is just great fun that captures the breadth of the galaxy. As does the intricate armor customization for the other factions – I especially enjoyed the Republic armor options as a child of The Clone Wars. But the real meat comes in the form of Renegade‘s flexible loadout system that gives players 100 credits to allocate toward various pieces of your kit.
You can pick two main weapons alongside equipment and battlefield perks, all of which can be dynamically changed at a command post to fit the tempo of battle. You could always swap classes at a command post in the console titles, but those classes were so static. Sure, you’d eventually unlock stronger guns for hitting milestones, but there was basically no depth to that system. By contrast, Renegade Squadron gives you so many tools to cycle between as needed. From anti-vehicle ordinances to Arc Blasters, I was constantly ducking back into a command post so that I could try out a new kit when the situation arose.
And, as a diehard Battlefront fan, I was very excited to see how many new toys were at my disposal. A lot of these weapons and customization parts are lifted from Battlefront II’s classes, but there’s plenty new here also. Getting to experiment with all-new weapons like the Guided Rocket was a real treat. I was far more excited to skirmish across Renegade Squadron’s unique maps though. Like the weapons, several of the maps are recycled from Battlefront II and others reuse map portions or planetary motifs from the console games. But plenty more from Korriban to Bos Pity and Ord Mantell are new to the Battlefront series and take the conflict beyond prominent Skywalker Saga locations.
My favorite PS2 Battlefront maps were always those that took place off the beaten path, like Rhen Var. Maps like these were few and far between as the games favored iconic places like Hoth’s Echo Base or Geonosis. I’m always down to fight there, don’t get me wrong. But, there’s so much galaxy to fight over, and seeing that conflict extend to a place like Sullust in Renegade Squadron is great fun.
a good blaster at your side
Beyond the new planets and customization system though, Renegade Squadron is simply more Battlefront. This is the same familiar experience that largely rips off Battlefield that we’ve all loved since 2004. Yeah, Battlefront’s core gameplay has never been especially original, it’s always just been solid. That’s the same here – Renegade Squadron is a mechanically-sound shooter that leverages its IP to succeed. Capturing command posts and shooting down scores of enemies is all good fun, but it’s never been particularly unique fun.
The reason Battlefront works is because it presents endless Star Wars battles on the scale of Empire’s Hoth siege or Attack of the Clones’ Geonosis ground assault. These games really are the epitome of fan service, inviting the player to imagine their own Star Wars campaigns and live them out. Renegade accomplishes that handily, presenting the player with a great sandbox that features a fresh arsenal and new settings to have fun with. The gameplay isn’t deep but it doesn’t need to be.
When I’m jumping around as Kit Fisto cutting down Magnaguards (great selection of heroes in this game, by the way), I’m not overly concerned with the gameplay design. I’m thinking about the overarching experience. Renegade Squadron spoke directly to both my Star Wars fandom and my childhood nostalgia. I felt like I was playing an extension of Battlefront II, which is certainly one of my most treasured games. That’s a really special feeling.
But, does that fandom and nostalgia mean that I overlooked some pretty critical flaws here? Weeeeeell, kind of. Firstly, Renegade Squadron is definitely content light. Its big claim to fame back in 2007 was its online multiplayer, which I did not get to try, not that I would’ve personally played the game that way, either now or as a kid. I’ve always been more of an Instant Action with bots type of guy anyway. I’m not even sure if the servers are still up – but there are definitely some dedicated fans finding a way to play together nonetheless. Even factoring in multiplayer though, I would’ve liked some more maps and modes.
There is a campaign here that explores the titular Renegade Squadron, but it doesn’t have much staying power. I beat it easily within two hours, and the plot is nothing to write home about. It does tell a clever story that nestles itself into the Original Trilogy’s narrative, but it’s just over too quickly. This is certainly no 501st drama like Battlefront II. But the mission variety is pretty good here which make the campaign worth an afternoon. Beyond that, you’ve got the expected Instant Action modes and Galactic Conquest, Battlefront’s staple offering that combines RTS strategy with traditional action-packed matches. It was never my speed personally, but it’s a good addition regardless. Had each of these pillars been bulked up a bit more, then I would’ve been happier with what’s offered content-wise.
Then, there’s the PSP-shaped elephant in the room: Renegade Squadron‘s control scheme. For those who may have forgotten, the PSP only had one stick. Or well, one thing resembling a stick. There was no right stick for aiming, which is something of a sticky wicket (yub nub!) in the context of a third-person shooter. Rebellion’s solution was a lock-on system that mostly takes aiming out of the equation. This isn’t a bad idea per se, but it certainly dumbs down combat to a degree. This hardware limitation also means that the sole movement stick rotates the player camera along the X axis too, leading to a pseudo-tank control scheme that feels a tad clumsy.
It’s easy to fall into the game’s rhythm, but it’s certainly a flawed setup. The nature of the controls means that moving the camera can feel pretty disorienting when you’re either standing still and panning around, or when the lock-on magnetizes you and spins the FOV someplace unexpected. It’s all just a bit jarring, although the controls are simply a function of their time. I can hang with lock-on shooters like Star Fox Assault, so I caught on here before too long.
In spite of these qualms, Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron really surprised me. I was genuinely skeptical of this title when I began. In actuality, it’s a really great little shooter for Star Wars fans, and a worthy successor to Battlefront II. Is it anywhere near as good? No. But Battlefront II is a 10/10 through my biased eyes, and very few games will ever surpass it. Renegade Squadron stands on its own though, and I do anticipate playing more of it beyond the context of this retrospective. Kicking back with a DualShock in hand while running this game through a PSTV just makes it all feel grander, and closer in line to the Battlefront days of my youth. I’m so glad that I gave this one a shot, because Renegade Squadron deserves far more attention than it gets.