By Drew D. / October 13th, 2016
|Title||Star Wars Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II|
|Developer||Factor 5, LucasArts|
|Release Date||Nov 9, 2001|
|Genre||Action, Flight Simulator|
|Age Rating||T for Teen (ESRB)|
Star Wars Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II for the Nintendo GameCube is a continuation of brilliance from the devs at Factor 5. A sequel to the highly acclaimed N64 title, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, you are once again thrust into the adventures of the infamous Rogue Squadron as you pilot your way across the galaxy and fight battles taking place throughout the original trilogy timeline. The Factor 5 devs definitely stepped up their game with this entry into the Rogue Squadron series. Smoother flying, amazing graphics, elaborate environments, formidable mission objectives, mid-level ship swapping, and a handful of other additions make Rogue Leader stand out above most others in the genre. But what’s truly amazing here is that Rogue Leader was a launch title, meaning that right from the start, Factor 5 pushed themselves and the GameCube hardware to its absolute limits. Impressive is an understatement.
Rogue Leader colors in the space between the films as players are once again given the opportunity to fly with Rogue Squadron and wage war against the Empire. Rogue Leader sports ten main missions brimming with action that will satisfy both newcomers and veterans of the series. Mission objectives once again include hunting down Imperial targets, destroying Imperial facilities, and stealing Imperial assets, as well as many escort/ protect style tasks. This time, the devs build around three major battles from the movies; the first Death Star Attack, the Battle of Hoth, and the Battle of Endor (broken into two missions). They do an excellent job of incorporating major story elements from the movies, providing a solid foundation for the game’s story. We are also treated to some expanded storyline that directly relates to the films, which is always appreciated by the fans. For example, in Imperial Academy Heist, you steal the Imperial shuttle Tyderium, the very same shuttle used by Han Solo’s landing party to sneak onto Endor’s forest moon in Return of the Jedi.
With new hardware power comes a slew of major overhauls and additions to the game’s mechanics. Controls are once again solid and intuitive, making it easy for players to focus on gameplay and not on controls. With the added processing power, flying is made smoother than it ever was on the N64. You’ll also never lose control of your craft with the built-in Auto-Roll (which rights your ship if on its side) and Auto-Level (which levels out your ship if you’re pointed up or down) features. Button configuration is no-nonsense since weapons are assigned to the A and B buttons and speed controls are relegated to the shoulder buttons, keeping everything simple. The C-stick and X buttons control camera options and the Z button rolls your craft. The Y-button brings up your Targeting Computer, a new feature that highlights enemy craft and distinguishes between normal and objective critical targets. Along with the Auto-Roll and Auto-Level settings, a new setting called the Enemy Camera has been added. When you have an enemy on your tail, this feature will pull the camera away from your ship, revealing that enemy and allowing you to evade accordingly. All of these features can be toggled off to conform to anyone’s preferences.
Overall, missions and gameplay are far superior to their N64 equivalents. Levels are made much more dynamic with massive, detailed environments and full use of the 3D axis, so much so that a new 3D radar is used to help a player track enemies that are above or below. Another new gameplay feature is the command cross. By using the D-pad, you can give orders to ground and air support. For example, you can command your wingmen to form up with you for additional firepower, or you can command them to go after specific targets (TIEs, guns, etc.) on their own. Players will once again have access to a number of ships, such as the familiar X-wing and A-wing fighters, but will also have the chance to fly fighters new to the series, such as the B-wing and a few hidden unlockables.
Missions are now loaded with objectives, some of which span the functions of different ships. Though only in certain missions, the devs really outdid themselves by making mid-mission ship swapping possible. For example, the mission Vengeance on Kothlis starts off in an X-wing to pick off TIE Interceptors, then has you switch to a Snowspeeder to down three AT-ATs, and then has you swap again into a Y-wing to bomb the hull of a downed Star Destroyer. With this ability to swap ships during a mission, it opens up gameplay to a whole new level and expands the possibilities of objectives within a single mission. Finally, everything gets more challenging with the return of medal acquisition. In Rogue Leader, medals are now tied to a points system. Bronze gets you 3 points, 6 for silver, and 10 for gold. These points are used as currency to unlock five secret missions. It becomes paramount to practice, plan ahead, choose the right fighters, and determine when and how often to swap ships in order to earn gold in every mission. All of this results in a fast-paced, action packed experience that will keep you very busy.
Now despite all the additions and advancements Rogue Leader sports, it does have a few significant drawbacks. The one that players will immediately notice is that the difficulty is far greater than Rogue Squadron. Plain and simple, this game is hard. For many, just getting through the missions will be a challenge. Add to that the difficulty of earning gold medals and you’ve gone from fun to frustrating pretty quickly. A second issue I had was the lack of usefulness of several of the game’s mechanics. The command cross becomes somewhat useless when going for gold, as you’ll find yourself commanding your wingmen to flee so they don’t become casualties (friendlies lost can make or break a gold medal run). You’re also penalized whenever you bring up the targeting computer, as efficiency decreases and many missions require 100% efficiency for gold, so get used to never using it. A third issue I had was with a feature that went completely underutilized; the use of the GameCube’s internal clock. While it was a very cool idea to have a level’s environment, default ship, and enemy layout change depending on what time you played the level (daytime or nighttime), the devs only used the feature on one main mission. Also, that mission didn’t even have two distinct sets of objectives. I would have loved to see the devs utilize the clock in more missions and add or vary objectives based on time, as I believe it would have expanded the overall experience immensely. Finally, the game’s audio does not do it any favors. Factor 5 and LucasArts once again failed to take advantage of the masterful scores Star Wars is known for. While sound effects are far improved, from explosions to laser fire to the screech of engines, the soundtrack is bland and forgettable. It really is unfortunate that John Williams’ works are not employed in greater measure.
Even with these drawbacks though, Rogue Leader is a solid game. Playing through the events during the films is more than enough for any Star Wars fan. It’s a very engaging experience and truly satisfying when you do earn those medals, unlock new ships, and open the bonus levels. This game will keep you pleasantly immersed throughout despite the difficulty. I think you’ll absolutely find yourself coming back for more. Whether you’re a diehard fan or new to the series, Rogue Leader is a fantastic game and definitely worth playing.
Review copy purchased by author
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