We’ve all heard the following saying at least once in our lives: “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.” But what should you do if you’ve already succeeded? The success was Rogue Leader and Factor 5 had to find a way to answer that question by beating a formula they largely perfected. In 2003, two years after Rogue Leader’s release, fans and gamers alike got to find out if they managed to succeed again. For the most part, Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike outshines its predecessor, but for every step forward, it occasionally takes two steps back.
As with Rogue Leader, Rebel Strike covers the familiar timeframe from Episode IV–VI, taking you on classic and brand new adventures along the way. The storyline, a tad more focused this time around, follows two branching and intertwining paths. You’ll play as either Luke Skywalker or Wedge Antilles (and other characters in bonus missions) doing everything from rescuing besieged scientists, training with Yoda on Dagobah, flying through the asteroids around Geonosis, to zooming through the forest moon of Endor on a speeder bike. If you’ve dreamt of doing it, this game seems to have it all.
Thanks to the branching storylines, the tighter story allows events in one level to affect events in the next level. It all starts with picking up an Imperial defector, Tycho Celchu (any fan of the Legends X-wing book series will enjoy this inclusion), who knows about scientists also looking to defect on the planet Ralltiir. They have information the Alliance leaders would kiss a Wookiee for, but thanks to the new-ish Rogue Squadron member, Sarkli(who should just be called Snarkly due to his attitude), defecting to the Empire, the Rebellion’s rescue plans and any future endeavors are put at risk. All the while, we get cryptic conversations between Vader and the Emperor about Rogue Squadron’s progress. As nice as this story-focus is, it’s largely forgettable, but it at least helps drive you through the missions.
Speaking of the missions, variety is the name of the game. However, variety doesn’t always mean better, and it’s within this new found variety where Rebel Strike stumbles. But, I’d like to start with the good stuff. The space/upper atmosphere battles are not only a perfection of Rogue Leader’s already great combat, but the shining achievement of this game. The AI controlled wing mates are tougher, faster, and better shots this time around, meaning you’ll feel like you’re actually not alone in most missions. In fact, you’ll be even happier they’re vastly improved, because if you thought the Battle of Endor was insane in Rogue Leader, think again. Every level in Rebel Strike is just as crazy…and then some, with more enemies, tougher scenarios, and varied objectives keeping every ship mission a blast to play. Enemies, though immensely increased in on-screen number, no longer need that advantage to blast you out of the sky. Their AI is brutal at times, but makes for some real nail-biting dogfighting and forces you to rely on skill more so than luck. Being behind the cockpit of a starfighter has never been more fun.
It’s not just famous ships like X-wings, Jedi Starfighters, or A-Wings you’ll be controlling, but also ground craft. Missions including speeder bikes, AT-STs, Tauntauns, and even an AT-AT are intriguing additions, but also where things start getting murky. Take speeder bikes: you’ll have fun blazing through Endor as Luke, but the controls and linear path (basically on-rails) can make or break the experience. Piloting speeder bikes while escaping Dantoonie with Tycho can be a chore if you mistime the boost to make large jumps, and it will either be the easiest thing you’ve done or the hardest. The best ground vehicle is the AT-ST thanks to intuitive controls that make “deadly” an appropriate word to associate with the AT-STs. The only problem with the several AT-ST levels is the stormtrooper AI, as they’ll usually stand still so you can shoot them. I found myself yelling at the screen, “Aren’t you a little under-developed for a Stormtrooper AI!?” Seriously, they won’t even shoot at the giant chicken walker headed their way, as if they don’t even realize you’re there until they’re dead. Which leads me to the only thing you’ll surely dislike about Rebel Strike…
The oddest inclusion to mission types are on-foot levels, where you’ll pull off the Death Star escape, train with Yoda, destroy Jabba’s sail barge, and try to get Han before Boba blasts off from Cloud City. All these events, some playable in this form for the first time, sound awesome on paper, but in reality and execution, suffer badly. From the camera, which doesn’t seem to realize you’re playing, to lousy lock-on targeting, which is totally not like targeting wamp rats, you’ll have a hard time enjoying these segments. Character animation is stiff, as if everyone learned how to walk doing the robot dance, making everything just look uncomfortable. As noted earlier, the enemies are under-developed. Instead of seeking cover or doing anything remotely smart, they’ll run around the levels like chickens with their heads cut off, providing the only real difficulty to the on-foot missions: hitting targets with wonky targeting. Thankfully, they aren’t the major focus of the game, and only comprise roughly 20% of the gameplay. It was just 20% too much, but there’s enough hope for this game yet.
If there’s any one feature that will totally mask the on-foot mission blunder, it’s the inclusion of multiplayer. You can either dogfight against your friend in several versus modes or conquer the Empire together in co-op. Versus modes include dogfighting, races (like trying to be the first down the Death Star trench), and the weird, but fun tag and defend are all definitely a welcome plus. Co-op, however, is the real shining light for multiplayer as you get to, minus two levels, play the entire Rogue Leader campaign with a buddy. Whether or not you read my review of Rogue Leader, in it I complained a little about the difficulty ramping up too harshly, but flying it’s missions with a wingmate makes them easier and is easily one of the greatest experiences you’ll have with a friend in a long time. It’ll make Han suddenly not shooting first easier to forget.
But don’t forget about the wealth of bonus content! That’s right, passcodes return for those too weak to resist the dark side. When not unlocking all the levels, take some time to try out the fun audio commentary for every level (one of my favorite BTS content from the last game returns!) or check out the art gallery. If those things don’t appeal to you, how about playing the original Star Wars arcade games? Yes, you read that right, the three original arcade games have been included in all their old-school glory. While Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back are pretty fun to play, you’ll not miss much by playing Return of the Jedi (which is only unlocked via code, so don’t bother). It is fun, however, to see how far we’ve come and these should not be missed. So in case you didn’t realize they’re there, now you simply don’t have an excuse for not playing them.
Here are a few other things to note:
• Sarkli is actually seen, briefly, in Ep. VI, as one of the officers watching the Emperor arrive on the Second Death Star. Though in this game and official canon he dies by Han Solo’s hands in the Endor bunker raid, he gets his chance for revenge in the non-canonical Endor DLC for The Force Unleashed II (the only redeeming part of that game). I didn’t know or realize this until I found his extensive Wookieepedia page. Whether or not the random Imperial officer in background is still Sarkli post-Legends and Canon split remains to be seen.
• The graphics were already stunning, but Rebel Strike beats out its predecessor. In fact, Rogue Leader looks even better thanks to running in this game’s improved engine for co-op.
• Again, the game teases your lack of skills with how close you were to obtaining the next medal level, but they don’t seem as tough this time around. In fact, I frequently found myself scoring silvers on first playthroughs, more so than in the previous game.
• DVD quality clips of the films are a nice inclusion and make me wonder why they weren’t used before.
• The musical score isn’t as offensively horn filled and just generally sounds better all around.
• In the on-foot segment inside the temple on Yavin IV, my AI partner got lost in a room and was stuck there for the entire rest of the mission. I guess he didn’t know what a door was.
• One of my favorite sound effects and weapons from the Saga is Jango Fett’s seismic charges. I don’t know how they ever got on Obi-Wan’s apparently abandoned Jedi Starfighter, but getting to shoot six successive charges in a row and hear that awesome explosion sound overlap is simple bliss.
No matter how much the on-foot missions feel like Vader Force choking you, there’s more than enough content here that any fan of the Rogue Squadron series should already own this game. Not only do you get a new, and mostly improved, campaign, but you also get the practical entirety of the previous game, and tons of unlockable content making for lots of replay value. It’s more features than a Rancor could eat, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. In fact, there is no try, only do. Do go out and get Rebel Strike if you haven’t already experienced it.
+ Graphical improvements
+ Bonus content
– On-foot missions
– Enemy AI in on-foot missions
– Friendly AI in on-foot missions
– Ground craft
Ryan is Mynock Manor’s Head Butler. You can follow him on Twitter @BrushYourTeeth.
ROGUE SQUADRON SERIES REVIEWS:
Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader