Star Wars: Rogue Squadron Review

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I fully admit tie-in games usually turn me off almost immediately upon hearing about them and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. But it’s for good reason. Many games based on movies are just bad and/or feel like cash grabs. Not all, of course, but many. I think Star Wars is one of the exceptions. It’s a franchise that spawned enough good licensed video games to develop a reputation for good games. I would say the same thing about 007. That’s not to say every Star Wars and 007 video game is great but there’s enough good ones that a new tie-in game or game based on the franchise doesn’t immediately turn me off. This includes Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, an arcade-style flight action game primarily influenced by a series of comics.

Developed by Factor 5 and LucasArts and published by LucasArts, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron was released for PC and Nintendo 64 in December, 1998. The PC version is also known as Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 3D. For this review, I played the 64 version. I was going to play 3D but I learned of a camera bug that was never resolved and decided against it. Rogue Squadron is one of the first games to take advantage of the 64’s Expansion Pak which allows the gameplay to display at a higher resolution.

The story plays out in a series of missions across multiple chapters and is set during the war between the Galactic Empire and Rebel Alliance, and most of the plot is set before the events of The Empire Strikes Back. The player assumes the role of Luke Skywalker, commander of elite pilots known as the Rogue Squadron. Each chapter centers on something different and the Rogue Squadron will be required to complete various objectives including search and destroy and escort and protect. This is one of those games where you’ll get a lot more out of the plot if you’re familiar with the franchise but I think you can still enjoy the gameplay even if you’re not. I also think the voice acting is quite good. You can tell some of the characters are not voiced by their original actors but the performances are solid and I never got the feeling anyone was phoning it in.

Rogue Squadron is a game that centers very much on one of the cooler aspects of the films. What does that mean, you ask? It means exactly what I said. The Star Wars films include some cool stuff like lightsaber duels, ship battles, the Force stuff, and I would even say the Podracing is pretty cool. There’s a lot, and Rogue Squadron is a game that centers on ship battles. You fly around the Star Wars universe in different ships, dogfighting over cities and blowing up enemy ships, buildings and structures. I think if you were a kid at the time this released and/or a fan of Star Wars, this game hit all the right buttons. I say that because I was a kid at the time and I would have loved this game if I had a 64 back when it released.

I was one of those kids that would watch the Death Star trench run and The Battle of Hoth and then pretend I was in the cockpit of a ship, shooting down enemies. I would look at the back of my Super Star Wars box and see the screen shot of what looks like the trench run and get to excited to play it only I could never get to that level because that game is fucking hard. But unlike Super Star Wars, Rogue Squadron is a straight up flight action game through and through and from what I understand, the game’s focus on flight combat was inspired by a level in Shadows of the Empire that allowed the player to pilot a Snowspeeder.

Rogue Squadron is a single player experience and I am a little surprised that a multiplayer component was not included. Nevertheless, the game does give the player plenty of reasons to keep coming back and there’s a lot to unlock. You can earn a medal for each mission based on your performance and earning enough medals will unlock bonus missions which, unlike the main missions, are recreations of sequences in the films. Before each mission, you can typically select one of multiple ships to pilot and more can be unlocked by entering passcodes. In fact, there’s a lot of cheats for the game as well which can be activated via passcodes. Rogue Squadron came out less than a year before Episode I released and to take advantage of the marketing opportunity the developers included the Naboo Starfighter, which was featured in the new film, as an unlockable ship via passcode.

As mentioned before, the game plays out in a series of missions and you need to complete them in order. I would say Rogue Squadron is a pretty easy game to pick up and play as long as you take a glance at the controls first and the first mission is actually great for getting the hang of things. You can boost, brake, roll, fire primary and secondary weapons, and change the camera. The game does include a cockpit view which I found to be quite immersive. There is a radar on the HUD which includes useful information like a cone showing where you need to go and where friendlies and enemies are located. What’s odd is you can enter a passcode so the radar displays ships at different elevations via their brightness. Why this isn’t the default, I’m not sure. Objectives don’t always stand out so you should pay attention to what characters are saying and you can bring up a list of objectives at any time.

Rogue Squadron can be a brutal game. I’ve heard some say it’s not that difficult and if that’s the case, I just suck. But I don’t care because I enjoyed it anyway. I found several missions to be very challenging and the game will make you work for those gold medals. Despite being part of a squadron, you will have to do most of the work but it is cool seeing your squad mates shoot down enemy ships. It’s not uncommon for lasers to be coming from multiple directions and flying every which way and in addition to engaging enemy ships like TIE Fighters and Bombers among others, you’ll also have to contend with ground troops, turrets, AT-STs, AT-ATs, and Probe Droids. You’ll have to destroy buildings and structures, escort ships, and defend areas all while dodging the numerous lasers and missiles coming your way. I think Missile Turrets are the real bitches in Rogue Squadron because they fire homing missiles that can be a pain in the ass to dodge, especially when you’re up against multiple. Learning how to dodge and dogfight will go a long way and some missions may be a trial and error experience. You may die or fail repeatedly until you get it just right. It is that kind of game. You do have a limited number of lives and failing an objective means you fail the mission and must start over.

The action in Rogue Squadron can be fast-paced and satisfying. Even as challenging as I found some missions to be, I was always eager to jump back in because the gameplay is so much fun. Ships will often go down in a blaze of fire before exploding and pursuing enemies in the skies can be an exhilarating experience. You can actually take down AT-ATs with a speeder’s tow cable just like in The Empire Strikes Back. To alleviate some of the challenge are upgrades. These are hidden in the missions and once one is collected and the mission is completed, it is unlocked and automatically applied. Upgrades includes better secondary weapons and one is a better shield which allows you to withstand more damage. I would highly recommend finding these because they can make certain missions easier and less frustrating.

While I would say the game is mostly fair but also challenging, I do feel some missions are just outright frustrating and the unstable frame rate would fuck with my aim every now again which was annoying. Chapter III is probably my least favorite because it includes two of the most frustrating missions in the game in my opinion. The first is “Escape from Fest”. Your objective is to escort and protect a trio of AT-PTs from ground and air forces and of course they’re extremely fragile so it’s very easy to fail this mission. The second is “Raid on Sullust”. You need to destroy a bunch of shit with the Y-Wing and turrets are everywhere. Other than these two missions, I can’t say any others were as bad in the sense they were more aggravating than fun. Most missions give you enough breathing room to try different things even if some objectives call for speed and/or efficiency. Rogue Squadron is one of those games where you will get better the more you play and that became noticeable when I replayed previous missions, especially early missions I felt were challenging on my first attempt.

When I fired up the game for the first time, my Expansion Pak was already inserted so the gameplay was being displayed at the higher resolution. I figured it was taking a performance hit as a result so I set the resolution to normal and the difference was certainly noticeable. Rogue Squadron does look significantly better in the higher resolution. I actually think this is a pretty good looking 64 game. The ships, themselves, look excellent in my opinion and in general, the presentation is a good reflection of what you see in the films. The environments haven’t aged quite as good. Some areas look a little bland and the short distance fog can be an eyesore but if I’m being honest, I stopped noticing after a while, especially as the missions got more and more intense and challenging. On the audio side, you’ve got some classic Star Wars tunes here which is not unexpected and that also means the soundtrack is great. Ultimately, audiovisual presentation looks and sounds like Star Wars. The developers really nailed the audio work. On the technical side, it performs like shit which is also not unexpected for the hardware it was designed for. The frame rate is very unstable and as I mentioned before, it did fuck with my aim every now and then. Other than that, I cannot say I encountered many problems.

I love Rogue Squadron. It’s a game that centers on one of the cooler aspects of the films and it does it well. It’s simply fun to pick up and play. And while it doesn’t come with many game modes, it is a game with a lot of replay value. Trying different ships, trying to find all the upgrades, trying to unlock everything, trying for better medals, and even the amount of cheats available are all good valid reasons to return. It’s also not a game that will hold your hand from beginning to end. You will have to work to earn those gold medals. I think it does a great job easing you into things but things will ramp up and while I feel some missions do spill over beyond challenging and into sheer frustration, most of the game is fun and feels fair especially once you’ve got the hang of what you’re supposed to do. Be prepared for practice and repeated attempts. It is that kind of game.

I would absolutely recommend Star Wars: Rogue Squadron. I think it’s a great flight action game and one of the better Star Wars games out there. I do think the sequel, Rogue Squadron II, is better but this is still great stuff. If you’ve ever wanted to pilot some of the ships or experience ship battles like you see in the films, this might just be the series for you. This or the X-Wing series of games although those lean more into space combat flight simulator territory. Rogue Squadron is pure arcade-style action and still holds up pretty well today. Definitely check it out.

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