Star Wars:  Rogue Squadron
"It's what Goethe said in Faust but which Lucas has dressed in modern idiom - the message that technology is not going to save us." -Joseph Campbell on Star Wars

The Bigger Dick foreign policy theory holds true, even in a galaxy far, far away.
This isn't Bespin, but it's close enough.
Correllia, birthplace of Han Solo and home of the galaxy's largest indoor waterslide.

Star Wars: Rogue Squadron

It would be no exaggeration to say that Star Wars has influenced video games and comics more than any other single source. The appeal is different for each, the sci-fi/fantasy genre that Lucas effectively created is the basis for an untold number of superhero tales, while the epic air battles translated to video games much more smoothly than their real-life counterparts. Sadly, the films' most lasting appeal, the character depth, symbolism and mythological aspects, have been pretty much lost on the games or comics themselves; it wasn't until recently (with the rise of independent publishers, and the release of a certain game I talk about way too much) that the possibility of including these things in video games was even considered.

Because of this, Star Wars games must rely solely on the visceral aspects of Lucas' modern legend, and tend to be a mixed bag. The fact that LucasArts has a more or less unlimited amount of money coming in, regardless of sales, has an understandably odd effect on the software, in that it ultimately doesn't matter whether or not the games sell. The result is that the company tends to be more adventurous, more likely to spend large sums of money on new (and frequently bad) concepts, and much less likely to do the necessary amount of bug-testing. Granted, they're improving, but of all the time I've spent using computers, trying to get LucasArts games to work makes up about one fourth of it.

But that's why we have consoles, isn't it? Rarely does LucasArts create or license an SW-based game directly for a console system, but one such project, the Super Star Wars trilogy for the SNES (developed by Sculptured Software, best known for the bi-polar SNES Mortal Kombat series), ranks as one, or three, of my all-time favorite games for any system. If you're still into 2D (more specifically, 16-bit 2D), you owe it to yourself to pick them up; you shouldn't have much trouble finding them, and Empire Strikes Back is probably the greatest action game ever released for the SNES.

LucasArts first project for the N64 (and, after the exclusivity clause had done its thing, the PC) was Shadows of the Empire, based loosely (very loosely) on the novel and comic of the same name. The game was almost literally a 3D conversion of the SNES Empire, with some nice bonuses like an official licensed Boba Fett jetpack, a play mechanic I'd like to see more of. The game as a whole received mixed reviews (the on-foot sequences lacked the depth of Dark Forces, which was what it was naturally compared to), but everyone agreed that the vehicle sequences, particularly the Battle of Hoth, were amazing.

It was on this that Rogue Squadron was based; a vehicle-based action game, not a hardcore sim like the hugely popular X-Wing series, but a frenetic arcade- style shooter. for the uninitiated, I should mention that Rogue Squadron is the elite group of rebel pilots who we last saw getting their asses kicked at the Battle of Hoth in the beginning of Empire. Good news for those who were disappointed in Shadows, bad news for me. Oh well, I can't expect the industry to adapt to me...then again, everyone else seems to. Hmm.

Anyway, the game's out, and was released in the first wave of Expansion Pak- enhanced titles, a fact that really wasn't a great marketing move, since, after what we've seen from Turok 2, the graphics are pretty pedestrian. Since it isn't required, the Expansion Pak can do nothing to help the framerate, which is frequently inferior to Shadows. The increased resolution allows for less fog and more distance combat (putting a higher emphasis on accuracy), which improves the gameplay tenfold (I'll explain why in a minute), but I would have expected more eye candy, especially after the gorgeous air battles of its pedecessor. The PC version is mostly likely better in this respect, but unfortunately I can't comment, since my desktop is still in repairs.

But, whether or not they're connected, the disappointing graphics are more than redeemed by the gameplay, which shows far more variety than most games of the genre, including the reigning champion, StarFox 64. Yes, you're still basically relegated to shooting things, but there are lots of red herrings, and often targets that must be taken out in a roundabout manner or avoided altogether. Escort missions stagger the attack waves, so you actually have to stand guard at times, waiting for the enemy to come to you: something of a rarity in aciton games. You'll die much more frequently because of failed mission objectives than you will being shot down.

The game contains a total of 7 ships, 2 hidden, and most of them possess a surprising degree of depth; the X-Wing is fairly well-armored with a very effective offense, and can reach impressive speeds by closing the S-foils, which prevents access to the laser cannons; the snowspeeder, although not technically a fighter craft, is highly maneuverable (it's the only vehicle with left and right air brakes) and often better at taking out TIE's than even the speedy A-Wing. The most interesting addition, only required in the final mission, is the all-new V-Wing, a vehicle with no shields whatsoever, capable of insane speed and offensive power for short periods of time, followed by the inevitable burnout. On most missions your ship is chosen for you, but after you've reached certain ranks you'll have the option of replaying them with the death machine of your choice. Nice bells and whistles include the ability to target and blast individual civilians running away from you (Tusken raiders, stormtroopers, imperials, etc.), and the soundtrack, although (once again) not quite up there with Shadows, is the best I've heard on the N64 in a while. As is becoming common in N64 games, there's a lot of speech packed in; your wingmen all sound like their movie counterparts, something only true Star Wars wonks like me and Kevin Smith would care about.

Ultimately, despite the variety and depth, you can't help but be reminded of Shadows of the Empire while playing Rogue Squadron, specifically, that the required 'taking down the AT-AT's with the tow cable' bit doesn't look as good or feel as tight as it did in its predecessor, and that the dogfights, though they have much more freedom of movement, lack the fluidity of the gunner's sequence on the Outrider. If you're looking for a fast, fun, arcade-style shooter, with amazing graphics and more gameplay depth than you would have though possible in the genre, buy StarFox 64. If you've already played that to death and are looking for something a bit more complex, but aren't quite ready for X-Wing, buy Rogue Squadron.

Now that is niche marketing.

The new AT-PT walker doesn't seem to be as "realistic" in implementation as its sisters, but hey, we'll take it.
Now this is more like it. The All Terrain Scout Transport (AT-ST), a very menacing machine indeed, even if it does walk like a chicken.
And, of course, the big guy, the AT-AT, mainstay of the Imperial Army's ground forces. For some reason, the rebels insist on taking these down the dramatic way, even though it seems much more practical to use a Y-Wing.

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