"The Force Is Strong With This One"
This very well may be the end. With the release of Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace (the film, you fools, the film), there will surely be no more 'classic Star Wars' games crafted by Lucas Arts, save for the upcoming Force Commander, which is already nearly complete. X-Wing Alliance is, most assuredly, the last hurrah of the X-Wing, Y-Wing, A-Wing, B-Wing, and all of 'dem naughty imperial crafts, on the PC.
Soon, Laurence Holland will be instructed to turn his talents toward putting Naboo fighters on your monitor, and the indomitable X-Wing, symbol of peace, justice, and ass kicking for galactic goodness, will disappear forever from upcoming PC releases. So rejoice while you may in this: X-Wing Alliance is not only the last of the X-Wing series, it also goes neck and neck with Tie-Fighter for the prize as top fighter ace.
In XWA, the focus returns to single player campaign gameplay rather than multi player online skirmishes. XWA not only returns to the premise of X-Wing and Tie-Fighter, but further expands upon the single player aspect by giving you a persona, a family, and a coherent plot.
You are cast as Ace Azzameen, a member of a family who owns a prominent shipping business. Your family is in direct competition with the nefarious Viraxo shipping 'family' (shades of Godfather here), who conspire to ruin your blood line by sending the Empire and the Black Sun conglomerate (from Shadows of the Empire) after your ass. You resist until finally you end up joining the Rebel Alliance in order to escape the clutches of the Empire. Once in the Rebellion, you set forth on a whole slew of missions (flown from a Mon Calamari cruiser, the Liberty), culminating in the famous Battle of Endor (cute, fuzzy critters, not annoying fuzzy critters, cute... cute). Not to mention the strike mission to destroy the second Death Star from The Return of the Jedi. Yes, you have to kill Commander Jerjerrod, remember him?
Gameplay in XWA, is far better than the previous title in the series, the detrimentally multiplayer focused X-Wing vs. Tie-Fighter. By concentrating on the single player experience, rife with drama and atmosphere, XWA is one of the most compelling space combat games since Wing Commander 4. Being a Star Wars title only aids in this, providing the incredible backdrop and proven gameplay mechanics of the Star Wars movies and the X-Wing games. Adding to this is the inclusion of a craft type never before flyable in an X-Wing game: the Correlian transport. This class includes the YT-1300, the Millenium Flacon (which is a heavily modified YT-1300), and the YT-2000. All three ships handle well, and come equipped with turrets which can either auto-fire at the enemy, or that you may take control of directly. Just don't get cocky.
One problem with the missions in XWA that I found distracting, is that after you join the Rebellion, you still fly missions for your family. You frequently seem to simply take off (forgetting that you are a pilot for a desperate military uprising) and conduct family business, which, eventually becomes revenge against the Viraxo. Although the family missions are not bad in any respect, they lack a certain element of Star Wars drama and they also interfere with the flow of the building Rebel Alliance campaign.
XWA uses an upgraded version of the original X-Wing engine. Even though this engine, at its core, is roughly 9 years old, the graphics are sharp and convincing. There are plenty of 3D accelerated bundles of bountiful joy in the form colored lighting, particle effects, better ship modeling, 3D cockpits (with transparent HUD overalys), and assorted other special effects. To show off the enhanced graphics engine, it even includes an extremely convincing, operational 3D hangar bay, in which you select and outfit you ship, and watch all your takeoffs and landings from a variety of cinematic camera angles.
To add to the drama of piloting your X-Wing through a hailstorm of Turbo Laser fire, past waves of Tie-Fighters, and through the hangar bays of Star Destroyers, XWA has music taken directly from the Star Wars movies. Now, although the John Williams Star Wars scores are some of the very best movie music ever composed, the fact that LucasArts uses the same music now in every "classic Star Wars" game is getting slightly monotonous. Back in the days before CD Audio or high fidelity digital music, they were using their own orchestrations. Unique themes were made for games such as X-Wing, Tie-Fighter, and Dark Forces. The original music, which always had the appropriate ration of Star Wars similarities, helped to distinguish the games to the ear.
And for fans of X-Wing vs. Tie-Fighter, extensive multiplayer options have been included in the form of the world's most customizable skirmish mode. Almost any mission type may be created from the myriad options, although there are no pre-scripted multiplayer missions as there were in XvT. Still, fans of multiplayer Space Combat should sink their teeth into this one. All the updates and improvements to the graphics and gameplay make the multiplayer a kick ass and flog the donkey test of dog fighting skill, joystick quality, and of wrist tendon endurance.
No matter what happens to future Star Wars games because of the new trilogy, XWA is the finest game out there for flying the X-Wing into battle for the 'damn fool idealistic crusade' that is the Rebellion. Which is, (to offer another comparison to the Naboo Fighter) what a Delorean is to a Thunderbird. I'll take the Delorean thank you very much Mr. Niccopapolous).
The force is indeed strong with this one. And the force will be strong with you as well if you actually succeed in completing the sadistically challenging second Death Star run. Good luck... You're gonna need it. And try not to trash the Millenium Falcon, it's the ship that made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs.