– Minor Spoiler Review –
If you ever played the N64/PC game Shadows of the Empire and felt like the Hoth level was the best thing in it, you were not alone. Factor 5 and LucasArts felt the same way and thus created Rogue Squadron, released in 1998. Critically acclaimed and a sales juggernaut, it warranted a sequel not only in the developers eye’s, but also the fan’s. Three years later, and on the start of a new console cycle, Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader was made as a flagship title for Nintendo’s newly released system, Gamecube. Frustrating, fun, and a tad short, Rogue Leader makes me never want to actually have to get caught in a real space battle and happy I can pretend to do so from the safety of my basement.
Let it be known that playing Rogue Leader without playing the first Rogue game won’t leave you feeling left out. Both games cover stories in the same timeframe, Episode IV–Episode VI, but each game has its own self-contained adventures. That being said, story isn’t a huge focus, seeing as the only real expository information you’ll get is from the miss-able pre-mission briefings. The 10 main missions (not including five bonus levels) cover everything from the attack on the Death Star, moving the fleet to Hoth, stealing the Imperial shuttle Han and Leia take to Endor’s moon, and culminates in the Battle of Endor. The movie-like quality of each battle truly sets this game apart, making not only battles you know seem more epic than their movie counterparts, but also making battles you don’t know feel like a giant action scene from a movie.
As exciting as some of the Star Wars lore sounds to experience, it’s easy to forget the reason why you’re even in some levels thanks to the fun and sheer madness that can pop up at any given second. In fact, I’d argue it’s exactly what would happen if you were truly in one of these engagements in space: you lose the bigger picture to help focus on keeping yourself and your teammates alive. And in Rogue Leader, you’ll die or fail a level numerous times, making your main concern more about the “how do I survive this battle?” than the why. The answer to survival lies within three aspects of the game: the fighter you’re flying, your familiarity with the level, and the unpredictable AI of both enemies and friendlies.
Each level throws you into the cockpit of some of the trilogy’s most famous vehicles, including X-wings, A-wings, Y-wings, B-wings, Snowspeeders (and some fan-favorite unlockable crafts). No matter which craft you’ve been assigned to fly, they all handle roughly the same. The differences are mainly speed and shielding, for example: the A-wing is the fastest, but the weakest craft shielding-wise, while the Y-wing is the slowest and most powerful with its bombs. Flight controls are pretty responsive and you’ll find yourself pulling dives and loops like in an ace in no time (shut off the auto-leveling and auto-rotate, where the game automatically puts you upright, and you’re in for one heck of an experience! Unless you get queasy easily). The game decides which craft is viable for each level, but I found myself questioning the choices from time to time. Having the A-wing as the default fighter for the liberation of Cloud City made sense due to all the small spaces, but its weak shields make the level nearly impossible to complete due to all the incoming fire from turbolasers and TIE Interceptors. After completion of the game, you can select different craft for each level, but this should’ve been a feature accessible from the start.
Thankfully, you won’t go into most levels solo, but that comes with its own merits and problems. Being the Rogue’s leader, whether that’s Luke Skywalker or Wedge Antilles, allows you to command two wing-men. The D-pad has commands mapped to each direction, giving you the option to keep your friendlies close, have them blow up TIEs, or go after turbolasers. The wing-men’s AI can be helpful when you sick them after TIEs, but they only fly circles around turbolasers/gun emplacements and having them form up on you makes them target practice. No matter what command you give, you’ll end up doing most of the work, which is just one of the ways this game can and will find ways to frustrate you. As noted, they can be helpful with the TIE situation, but once bombers, gun towers, or other mission specific targets appear, it’s all on you. Most, if not all of those targets aren’t truly an issue to deal with alone, but you’ll fail levels time and time again because of the lack of help.
The biggest threat to beating levels comes in the form of enemy AI. While the developers seemed to skimp a bit on the programming the friendlies, the TIEs won’t have any trouble making short work of you. It doesn’t become an issue until halfway through the game, with the level (that’ll forever mean agony when I hear it) ‘Razor Rendezvous.’ The mission has you escorting a frigate with valuable intel that is suddenly attacked by a Star Destroyer chilling over Kothlis. Tasked with covering the frigate from TIEs and taking down the Star Destroyer, only luck seems to help beat the level (which doesn’t exist, according to Obi-Wan). After having finally defeated the level, I can safely say I’d rather attack a Death Star with just an air bubble as my ship then take a fighter up against a Destroyer. Bouncing back between protecting the frigate and attacking the Destroyer may sound simple, but that would be a lie. Having your wing-mates harass the TIEs allows you to stay on the Destroyer, but that kills you quicker with its turbolasers and TIEs, while keeping the wing-mates on your six allows you to die less easily. It was definitely an unexpected difficulty spike that nearly turned into a controller throwing moment.
This is where most of the frustration from the game comes from: The fifth level spikes in difficulty and continues on an upward slope till the end. Upon losing all three lives (which you’ll do quite a bit), the game boots you all the way back to the start menu, as if punishing you for failure. It’s only if you fail the mission, like letting the Millennium Falcon or a medical frigate be blown up, that you get a chance to replay the level. However, if you just want to beat the game barebones, all bronze medals, then you’ll have no trouble. But if you want to access all the bonus levels, bonus ships, and great behind the scenes (BTS) content, then you’ll have to sacrifice time and hair to gain gold medals on each level (I say hair because I nearly pulled all my out trying to get just bronze medals for later missions). At the end of a level, you’ll get graded on several aspects, including completion time, hit percentage, lives lost, and targeting efficiency (whether or not you use the targeting computer). The game will show your current scores and how they stack up against the next medal level, taunting you with your lack of skill. You’ll frequently look at the requirements for the next medal and think to yourself, “How?!?”
Mercifully, it seems the developers realized the game was hard and they have included passcodes to unlock all the bonus content. Of course, only a Sith would take the quick and easy….ah, who am I kidding, I used the cheat codes (Only to experience the extra levels and BTS material). Bonus levels include surviving the asteroid field as Han and crew do in TESB or playing as Darth Vader trying to rewrite the Death Star’s fate. For the BTS bonuses, you’ll get a wealth of content. There’s audio commentary on every single level (which barely any game does at all, if ever), a documentary on making the game (lots of interesting footage here), a small art gallery, and the entire score, track by track, in the music hall. Missing out on all this material would be shame, and if you don’t want to use cheat codes, it might take you awhile.
But all that extra time with the game is easy on the eyes thanks to the rather stunning graphics for its time. While ground terrain in the game isn’t anything to write home about, the ship, debris, and explosions in combat are truly things of beauty. Whether flying through a nebula, asteroid field, or a swarm of TIEs, it’ll seem like each moment was ripped right from the big screen. Keeping with that aesthetic, the ships are detailed and look exactly like they do in the films. The real problem with the graphics is the frequent starry backdrop and the grey and black coloration of any type of TIE fighter. It’s easy to lose TIEs to the background when in space and the radar tends to be more confusing than helpful when trying to locate the enemy pilots. Well, remember the Rebel flight controllers asking Luke why he switched off his targeting computer? The game gives you the option to use one once you jump into the inside cockpit view. The computer highlights enemies and objectives in bright and obvious colors, but using it guarantees not obtaining a gold medal. Instead of using it, there’s always squinting. The choice is yours.
Here are a few other things to note:
- The Battle of Endor level is an easy stand out. It truly feels as epic-ly large as the film wants you to believe. Alone it’s worth the price of admission.
• Denis Lawson, the actor who plays “True Wedge” in the films, reprises his role for this game (though he’s now famous for turning down a role in the upcoming Ep.VII). Bob Bergen continues his stint as a terrific Luke, but Admiral Ackbar gets a disservice from his voice actor
• My favorite line spoken in the game: “The incoming fighters are incoming.”
• Darth Vader’s character model looks like an animated version of the original Kenner action figure. I’m not sure if that was on purpose.
• Craft descriptions, which you can hear while running around in the hanger area before a mission, are extremely informative.
• The music, when not borrowing from John Williams’ score, can sound out of place with too many horn instruments (or something).
Despite Rogue Leader‘s length, which will only take most gamers no more than 5 hours, the movie-quality experience of the game is definitely not to be missed. Sure, you’ll find frequent bouts of frustration very common while playing, but really, what game doesn’t have those? It’s all worth it, just to deliver the final shot to the second Death Star and escape before it explodes its guts all over the Ewok’s night sky. Picking up Rogue Leader shouldn’t be a hard choice for any Star Wars gamer.
+ Movie-like quality battles
+ Battle of Endor
+ Crafts are great to handle
+ Bonus content
– Bouts of frustration
Ryan is Mynock Manor’s Head Butler. You can follow him on Twitter @BrushYourTeeth.
ROGUE SQUADRON SERIES REVIEWS:
Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike