LucasArts Strikes Back!
Let's face it, Star Wars games have not always been...how do you say…the cream of the moisture crop. Sure, games like the X-wing series ruled eight ways to Endor, but it's pretty hard to forget mediocre games like Demolition and Jedi Power Battles. And I won't even begin to rant about how I actually spent money on the bantha slobber that was Force Commander and Rebellion. Those games actually make me shudder when I think about them. Every time a new Star Wars game comes out, all I can do is hope that it's not as bad as those are. It really feels like Episodes since a good game has come out.
But like 3XR-259.7 (all of you Star Wars geeks must watch George Lucas in Love), things can get better. Welcome to the next level of gaming, Star Wars fans. Let me introduce you to a little GameCube exclusive called Star Wars Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II.
Back in May, we were treated to an awesome presentation that showcased the stirrings that would become Rogue Leader. It had style, it had class, and most importantly there weren't any stupid Gungans hanging around. With less than a year of development (!), Rogue Leader certainly proves that developers can make a kick ass game in a short amount of time. So how good is it? Let's just say this.
Rogue Leader starts off at the tail end of Episode IV with the Rebel attack on the first Death Star. Players will take control of either Luke Skywalker or Wedge Antilles (depending on the point in the story) and fly through 11+ missions leading up to the destruction of the second Death Star. There's even an unlockable mission where you fly as Vader! More on that later…
Naturally, you'll take to the air in classic Star Wars starships including the famous Incom T-65 X-wing and the Slayn & Korpil B-wing, among other famous craft. With both third and first person views, you'll never have a problem getting into the action.
Unless you've been condemned to the mines on Kessel for the past year, you know that the graphics are simply amazing. I shouldn't need to tell you that the visuals in Rogue Leader kick all kinds of ass, but I will, because it's fun. The detail of the ships, the massive amount of laser fire, the insane amount of on screen happenings at once all contribute to the visual spectacle of this awesome game. There are even some very cool explosions thrown in for good measure. It's funny how people start acting like a Jawa in a junkyard when they see what's going on.
Augmenting the graphics is a very solid framerate. For the most part, you can have several TIE wings, a few large capital ships and a gazillion laser bolts on screen with no slowdown at all. There was only an occasion or two where the framerate dipped noticeably.
Sound also gets a gold star with 5 channel Dolby surround technology. I knew all of those speakers would come in handy some day. Laser blasts come alive and the music we all know and love sound great. We're even treated to the genuine Wedge Antilles - Denis Lawson. The people that play the other pivotal voice roles are good enough, but any Star Wars aficionado will really notice the difference.
Gameplay is exactly what you'd expect from an X-wing game. You fly, you shoot and you save the day. Controlling the different ships is very intuitive and you can even issue orders to your two wingmen. The targeting computer is also a nice touch as it allows you to see enemies in areas of limited visibility. Rogue Leader just combines the best of classic Star Wars with classic action gameplay.
As an added bonus, there are hidden tech upgrades throughout the game that will power up different ship systems. Some apply to all craft, like the Advanced Lasers upgrade, while others are specific, like the Seeker Concussion Missile upgrade for the A-wings. Find these, and your quest for gold will become much easier.
Like the original Rogue Squadron, a medal system is implemented to evaluate your performance. Taking a long time, missing a lot of shots, or earning too few kills will result in no awards, but if you're able to become one with the Force (which seems damn near impossible), you'll earn the gold. Each award will give you a certain amount of points that can be used to unlock other bonus levels. One of the levels has you controlling a laser turret in the Millennium Falcon, another involves the Falcon's escape into an asteroid field, and the last turns the tables by allowing you to fly as Lord Vader during the Battle of Yavin. Sometimes, it's good to be bad.
Levels aren't the only things you can unlock, though. Rogue Leader carries with it some DVD quality extras. Pass the game and you'll be treated to a nice little documentary that goes over how Rogue Leader came to be. There's also an audio commentary toggle that will let you hear the Lucas folk discuss the level you're playing. Of course that's not all, but I wouldn't want to give it all away.
The major problem with Rogue Leader is its length. It shouldn't take you much more than a single evening of play to pass the entire game. Getting all the golds and unlocking everything will definitely take a lot longer, but it's really disappointing when a game ends just as you begin to warm up. Even though I'm amazed that such a good game came together in such a short amount of time, I would have preferred to have waited for a few more levels.
It's really a bummer, too, because the game is so much fun. But after we've played a game like Colony Wars, it's a little hard going back to such a short, linear experience. While in show business you should always leave 'em wanting more, this doesn't work so well when it comes to game design.
Also missing is any kind of multiplayer game. Though it wasn't very deep, Star Wars Starfighter included a small multiplayer that turned out to be pretty fun. It would have been extremely cool to split-screen in such an awesome looking game - and with X-Wings, no less! But instead, Rogue Leader leaves us all by our lonesome.
Even though the experience is a short one, Star Wars Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II still ranks among the top Star Wars games I've played. It's got great space and planet based missions, all the classic Star Wars elements we love, and graphics that never cease to amaze me.