Star Wars: Rogue Squadron review
Rebelling Against The Trend
Star Wars - a franchise so popular that you would need be have been living in a galaxy far, far away to not know of it. Combining the concepts of sci-fi with the more unreal ideals of magic lore, it is a tale of where even a simple farmboy can become a great hero over time. The games associated with the franchise have the distinction of mostly evading the curse of game tie-ins by not majorly sucking everytime they come out.
Rogue Squandron is based on the time period where Luke was a pilot for the rebel forces of the game's name and offers command of the famous jedi himself to you. Your feet won't touch the ground - literally - as you get to pilot various rebel crafts across various planets in your fight against the empire. The basic backstory is really just to tie the events together from the end of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back (except for the last few missions, which are scattered through the timeline), where Rogue Squandron go across the galaxy fighting off the Empire forces. The game does make use of some quite impressive set pieces, like getting an Imperial double agent out of danger and discovering prison installations. You'll truely be interesting in the conflict as the battle sways one way and then another. There isn't really much of a conclusion though but rather just an end to the game, which seems a little weird although perhaps that was to allow the game to tie into the film better.
There are a number of ships you get to use in the game. Initially you can only use a predetermined one on each level, but as you progress you get access to more ships to take onto the earlier levels, allowing for a slightly altered experience. The X Wing is the most common choice, boasting an all around performance with some standard weapon options. The A Wing is similar in design, but trades off defence for increased mobility. On the opposite end, the Y Wing is slow and bulky but is ideal for launching high damage bombing raids. The V Wing is light on shielding but can reach speeds the others can only dream of. Then there's the speeder, a craft that is inferior than the others in normal dogfights but is the only one capable of bringing down the towering AT-ATs.
For the most part these crafts have some similar abilities. You can turn in all directions, shoot forward, reduce speed and hammer A to unleash a hail of laserfire on what lies ahead of you. I can't help but feel that moving the craft is actually more stubborn than it should be, which can make chasing enemies or losing pursuers harder than needed, but it's not too bad.
In additions to the standard lasers, each ship also comes equipped with a secondary weapon. Except for the harpoon of the speeder, these secondary weapons have a limited supply of ammo, and therefore become useless when depleted. Your supply is refilled before you start any given level, so managing the ammo is done on a level by level basis. As well as the harpoon for those pesky AT-ATs you can play with regular missiles, bombs and scatter missiles for damage potential.
Needless to say you will have need of those offence options, as you will be up against some serious opposition. While early stages will have a few scattered ships to shoot down, the later stages will have the air and ground swarming with troops. It's not uncommon to be fighting off entire groups chasing you, and so it takes so deft handling of your ship to shake them and turn your own weapons on them. The enemy can also be pretty aggressive, as they will open fire the moment they spot you and will give chase until one of you crashes. In addition to the swarms you also have a few behemoths to worry about. Speeder missions will pit you against those massive AT-ATs, where the unusual but cool mechanic of wrapping wires around its legs to bring it down comes into play.
The gameplay is more than just shooting at targets though. Each level has its own objectives to complete that range from search and destroy, defence, rescue and escort missions. That might sound pretty basic but get into the game and you'll soon realise it's not. Defending a city from an attack involves intercepting enemy forces as they enter the vicinity, taking out enemy factories means navigating maze-like valleys and launching bombing raids while watching the skies for aerial resistance and rescuing some crew members means finding the downed ship and taking out incoming forces as the rescue carrier arrives. Each level will also throw a number of objectives at you, including mid-mission. You might have just finished mopping up one set of baddies only to receive intel that another wave are approaching the city from the other side.
The main problem with objectives is knowing where to be for them. You're given plenty of instruction on what you need to be doing, but the exact location for them is another matter entirely. In some cases you might find yourself failing a mission before realising where you needed to be, so it comes down to some guesswork and memory to know where to go. Unfortunately, the radar is only semi-useful in this regard and doesn't always help you to track down mission objectives. Completing the objectives is fun past that though, as taking on the enemy and working out the best strategy has a lot of depth to it.
You're not flying the missions alone though, as you are joined by several other pilots in their own crafts. You'll find them darting around trying to shoot down a few targets, but mostly they are little more useful than decorations. They will manage to bring down a few fighters or something, but their skill levels are often way off your own and so tend to spend most of their time just flying around in circles. Thankfully, there are no consequences for them getting taken out by laserfire, which is not only ideal when focusing on the missions but it also means less moral conflict when you decide to turn your weapons on them for fun.
The game gives you three lives to play with. Get shot down during a mission and you'll re-enter at that point quickly if you have a life to spare. Losing all three isn't as bad as you may think either. You'll be kicked out of the current mission but all the game progress will still be retained in the save file and you will have a new set of three lives to pledge to the cause.
When you complete a mission you are graded on a number of factors, such as enemies killed, time taken etc. If you score well enough you may be rewarded with a medal of bronze, silver or gold. As well as bragging rights, these medals are the key to unlocking some later features of the game. Getting even bronze can be rather tough though, as it takes more than simply clearing a mission.
There are quite a lot of missions to play through, and the ability to replay any level with a larger choice of ships (except speeder missions, since you need the harpoon for those missions) adds to the lifespan. If even that isn't enough then there are quite a few extras that you can unlock, either by completing set conditions during gameplay or by putting passwords in. A few extra ships can be opened, so if you wanted to pilot the large Millennium Falcon, an Imperial Tie-Interceptor or even try your hand at a Naboo Starfighter then now is your chance. There's also a few extra missions that recreate famous battles, like the trench run on the Death Star and the Battle of Hoth.
Then we have some of the more odd extras tucked away in the game. One code gives you an AT-ST to control and throws you into a simple area with a variety of targets to blow up. You can turn the V Wing into a flying car. You can even change Luke's head on the title screen to various other ones.
The gameplay alone sells the game as a winner, but the presentation really does seal the deal. The production values seem quite high as a tremendous amount of detail is put into every craft. On the ship select screen alone you are in the hangar looking at the crafts up close, and the detail is immense. During missions the landscape itself looks quite impressive and the game runs along at a reasonable rate even when the enemy forces close in as groups. There's a real sense of realism captured in the visual style that really does compliment the license the game is based on. There are even some neat extra touches, like watching the ant-like stormtroopers on the ground below.
One problem here is the draw distance. Sometimes (mainly in the more open stages) you will find the level elements popping up. The pace of your ships is rarely fast enough for this to cause any actual gameplay issues, but it does lessen the impact of the visuals when objects just appear ahead of you.
The music is as epic as you would expect from a Star Wars game. The style of the music is taken right from the movies and the sweeping orchestral scores help to set the scene for the action. It's definitely a winning music selection. The sound effects are as good as the films too, with the classic laser fire sounds and the explosions when weapon fire hits the target. What impresses most about the audio is the amount of voice work. In addition to an initial briefing you will receive reports through every level, and even random chatter from the other pilots as they comment on the missions and enemies. It's a level of immersion that excels at its aim.
Rogue Squadron is a tie-in game done right. Even without the license to back it up, the game is a lot of fun and very challenging to plough through. The replay value is amazing as well. Aside from a few nagging flaws, this is an ideal game to look to if you're after a gritty
space air craft shooter.
About the author