|Star Wars: Rogue Squadron
|Factor 5, LucasArts
|N64 – Nov 17, 1998
PC – Dec 2, 1998
|Action, Flight Simulator
|Nintendo 64, PC
|T for Teen (ESRB)
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron for the Nintendo 64 was simply brilliant. The devs at Factor 5 managed to combine flight-simulator, action-adventure and storytelling in such a way that it provided an experience rarely achieved in any Star Wars media. They pushed the N64 hardware and gave us a much desired glimpse of the events between episodes IV, V and VI.
Rogue Squadron takes us on the adventures of our favorite farm boy and company as they traverse the galaxy, protecting the innocent and dealing as much damage to the Empire as possible. The story starts us off after the destruction of the first Death Star, in which you fly your way through 16 missions involving the protection of rebel assets, the destruction of imperial targets, the rescue of personnel, and a myriad of other problems that typically arise during a galactic war. Players are quickly introduced to a number of key gameplay elements, such as listening to pilot chatter (either in-game or during cutscenes) and using the radar to reach and complete specific mission objectives.
Controlling your fighter is both easy and satisfying. The joystick provides for quick, responsive movement and the different control layouts are an appreciated added touch. I would recommend staying with the default “Luke” scheme, as I find it the most intuitive. This layout puts acceleration and lasers on the A and B buttons respectively and you will be using these the most. C-left fires secondary weapons (torpedoes, missiles, and bombs) and C-right is for the special ability (closing your s-foils on an X-wing or a massive speed boost in the V-wing). C-up and down change camera and perspective, which you will rarely change during missions (if at all). With this setup, you’ll never find yourself fumbling over the controls to hit the right button, allowing players to focus exclusively on gameplay.
For the most part, players are restricted to the X-wing, but as more missions are completed, more craft become available. Each craft has its own characteristics, most notably the differences are in speed, shields, and armament. These can be upgraded with various bonuses, such as the seeker torpedoes that allow you to lock-on to enemies or stronger lasers and shields, which are all found in certain missions. There is also a rewards system in which players are awarded medals for completing a mission within certain parameters. The differences in the ships play a key role here, as the default ship for a mission may not always be the best choice for attaining a medal. Besides bragging rights, achieving all bronze, silver, and gold medals unlocks up to three extra levels. Finally, the game sports a passcode system which allows players to unlock more ships, cheats to make the game easier or harder, and the ability to unlock all the ships or levels immediately if it gets too tough.
Whether you are a casual fan of Star Wars or a player looking for a solid adventure, this game won’t disappoint. Just going through the main game is very satisfying, as the story fills in much of the space the original movies leave open. If you ever wondered what Luke, Wedge, and the others from the fragmented Red Squadron were up to, here’s your chance to find out. Players will get an in-depth look into the emotions and thinking of both rebel and imperial personalities though sound clips of mission briefings and pilot conversations, which nicely add to a player’s immersion into the game. The devs really do a fine job of introducing us to characters and environments either not seen or only mentioned in the films, while also providing fan-service in the form of references and throwbacks to the expanded universe. For example, an entire mission takes place on Corellia, the birthplace of Han Solo (who shows up to help you!), where you need to save the city and rescue the future rebel general Crix Madine as he attempts to defect from the Empire.
We’re also introduced to new characters, one being Kasan Moor, an Alderaanian survivor and TIE Interceptor squad commander who defects and provides Imperial targets. Through the storytelling, these targets become a number of satisfying missions in which you pretty much destroy everything (seriously, the mission Assault on Kile II, you literally have to destroy everything standing……..it’s awesome). Great story-telling, paired with varied gameplay, upgrades, and rewards produce a very worthwhile experience that you’ll find yourself wanting to revisit many times over.
Now while I think this game is one that stands far above others in its genre, there are a number of noticeable flaws. Perhaps the most glaring of issue is the level design. Too many of the levels are downright bland. Sure, we’re talking about the N64 here, but the detailing across levels is too inconsistent. This is only highlighted as many environments either feel way too big as you fly over empty, dreary plains to reach objectives, or they feel too constricted with an overabundance of valleys and trenches. I realize this may have been an attempt by the devs to make it easier by keeping players on a specific track, but it definitely feels like lazy programming. Unfortunately, the in-game music is as forgettable as these environments. Although there are a few classic music scores used from the films, the devs simply did not take advantage of the vast library of music nor the talents of John Williams when producing the soundtrack for the game. Sound effects are also hit-or-miss; while it is very satisfying to hear the screech of a TIE’s engines as it plummets to the ground or the sound of bombs raining on targets, the sounds of your laser fire or the sounds of explosions are unremarkable. Very little variation in explosion volume or duration is present between destroying small and large targets.
Laziness by the devs is again obvious in the most overused of objectives; protection. You will find yourself covering, escorting, and rescuing everything from people to transport, to entire buildings. This typically means you are restricted to a very specific area and always on the defense. It gets old real quick. Another drawback is the inconsistency in difficulty. While many of the levels do provide a good challenge that gives players satisfaction upon completion, some are just downright evil. Missions that have you combating seeker missile-turrets stand out, as you will die. A lot. So much so, it goes from challenging to annoying (…have fun earning gold on those missions…).
Finally, my last complaint would be the lack of references to the movies themselves. I would have liked to have seen more tie-ins, since the movies are the cornerstone of the Star Wars universe (Rogue Squadron is directly mentioned in episode V). Yes, the Death Star trench run and the Battle of Hoth are there as bonus levels, but they very much feel just like that; bonus, as the lack of fleshed-out objectives is evident. Now, despite my complaints, none of them will ever really have you quit out of frustration or disgust. Unlocks, passcodes and practice go a long way to overcoming many of the flaws, as you will become faster and more powerful. If you can overcome these flaws, you’ll reveal the real magic of Rogue Squadron.
Overall, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron is a fantastic experience that any fan will enjoy. It provides ample story and drama for the casual fan while also sporting diversity and challenge for the diehard. Now, cut the chatter and get ready for your next attack run!
Review copy purchased by author