You can call me Wedge. Preview

You can call me Wedge.

It's kinda funny how some things in life just sneak up on you. One minute, you're a normal, everyday person and the next minute you're describing the anatomy of a Krayt Dragon to your boss.

In all honesty, I have no idea when I became a Star Wars nerd. Sure, I liked the movies (well, the first three at least), but after reading the 15th book and the aforementioned Krayt Dragon experience, I knew I was in deeper poodoo than the last guy to fall into the Pit of Carkoon. Damn, I gotta stop doing that.

But just this once, my extreme nerdage allowed me to do something very cool, something that could only happen to a select few geeks and Ben. So what's this wonderful event? How does a visit to LucasArts to play the awesome upcoming Gamecube doozy Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II sound? Star Wars fanboys, eat your heart out.

Before I get started, I want to make something very clear. Star Wars games have traditionally been a mixed bag. Some games, like the X-Wing series, have performed well at retail and with fans alike, while others like Force Commander and Rebellion have just sucked big time. But this time, there is really no question about the result. Rogue Squadron II looks to be one of the best console games this year. Make no mistake about it my friends; this one's gonna be more addictive than glitterstim.

So what's the big deal? Well, how about a game that puts you right into a cockpit of a classic Incom T-65 X-Wing with two loyal wingemen at your side? How about the highest amount of detail you've ever seen in a Star Wars game? How about a ton of enemies to blow up? Sound good? Well, that's just an appetizer.

You'll also be able to pilot a slew of familiar craft, including A, B, and Y-Wings with controls that almost exactly mimic those of a "real" starship. Let's take the X-Wing, for example. We all know that you fire your laser cannons and shoot off a few proton torpedoes every once in awhile. That much you can expect in a video game, right? But how about the ability to use a first-person targeting computer? Well, it's in there. The option to switch your Taim & Bak KX9 laser cannons from dual to quad fire? Yeah, that's here, too. The ability to lock S-foils into cruise position and kick your quad Incom L4L fusial thrust engines into overdrive? Yup. Pretty much all that's missing is the ability to divert power to different ship systems. I doubt that will make it into the final build, but I guess I can still hope.

Rogue Squadron II begins at the Battle of Yavin (the end of the first movie for you "normal" people out there) and walks you through the major battles of the original trilogy. There are even a few missions that were created especially for this game and naturally, they fit right into the continuity of the Star Wars universe.

I could bog you down by repeating facts that you've found elsewhere, but instead I figure it's more interesting to discuss my hands-on experience with the game at the LucasArts office.

The first mission out of the hangar is the attack on the first Death Star. Tons of lasers were firing, TIEs were everywhere, and in the midst of it all a flight of X-Wings began the infamous trench run. It's simply amazing just how much stuff goes on around you without the slightest hiccup. As I entered the trench, I wondered if there was a ceiling to it, much like in the canyon levels of Star Wars: Starfighter. So I pulled back and, lo and behold, I was out of the trench. Naturally, I was blown to bits by the laser fire from a gazillion turbolasers, but the ability to move freely was very cool.

The next mission I played was the defense of Hoth, straight out of The Empire Strikes Back. The detail in this one blew me away. Flying around in your T-47 snowspeeder, you'll come across giant AT-ATs, the smaller AT-STs, a few turbolasers and even individual Rebel and Imperial troopers running around. By use of an intricate shadowing system, every object throws an active shadow - even the flaps on the speeder! It's definitely a very cool level and using the tow cable was never so much fun. It makes the original Rogue Squadron Hoth level look like the wrong end of a Womp Rat.

Winding down my time at LucasArts was the Cloud City level and boy, was it cloudy. I mean seriously, the game actually has volumetric clouds, which means that as you fly through them, your vision diminishes. Why? Because you're actually inside the cloud. None of that pixel nonsense here.

Besides the cool environmental effects, I also got a chance to see a vehicle swap. Certain levels allow you to hop into another ship on the fly, which can mean the difference between imminent death and continued success. At Bespin, I was able to land my beat-up A-Wing and blast off in a fresh cloud car! Take that, Lando.

Rogue Leader is all about details. For instance, Denis Lawson, the original Wedge Antilles, handles plenty of voiceovers. There's also a bunch of clips from the movies thrown in to help round out what already looks to be an immensely immersive experience.

Many gaming systems have come and gone, but few have had titles this impressive for launch. I've never bought a system for a single game, but it looks like I'm going to break from tradition. The game looks that cool. Whether you're a Star Wars fan or not, Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II is the Gamecube game to watch. It could be the best Star Wars game yet. May the Force be with us all.

Prepare to have four lit and in the green this November.