This review is written for the Rogue Squadron franchise played on both an N64 with the expansion pack and the Wii.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: If you don’t like Star Wars, you aren’t going to like the Rogue Squadron series. That’s not to say that they aren’t incredibly well made and entertaining in and of themselves, because the simplified flight-sim style of the games still pans out to a hell of a good time. However, this these games are made by Star Wars fans, for Star Wars fans. The Star Wars-iness is so baked in to every facet of the ship designs, environments, objectives and storylines that if you aren’t familiar with what Bacta is or what an A-Wing looks like, your enjoyment will be seriously hampered.
|The original's draw distance is its only graphical blemish|
The core gameplay in Rogue Squadron really only needs to be explained once, as it remains largely unchanged throughout the trilogy. At the beginning of a mission, you select a vehicle, usually predefined the first time a mission is played. These range from your typical X-, Y-, A- and B-Wings to unlockables like the Millennium Falcon, Slave 1 or Darth Vader’s TIE that can be selected on subsequent playthroughs. The missions themselves range from simple dogfights to bombing runs, reconnaissance and the occasional slightly-less-than-awful escort mission. While the core objectives usually remain the same, the varied environments and spacecraft make the gameplay feel fresh throughout. At the end of a mission, you receive a medal based on the targets destroyed, mission time, accuracy and so on, and these contribute to unlocking new vehicles and missions. While getting the gold on each mission can be infuriating at times, the medals are fair in that if you know what you’re doing you can usually attain your goal.
Rogue Squadron on the N64 takes place almost entirely between Episodes IV and V in the original trilogy. The events of the game follow Luke through an assortment of largely unconnected missions to throw a wrench in the Empire’s plans. The story takes a back seat to the gameplay here, despite a few events that are important to the films. On top of this, the plot appears to delve largely into Expanded Universe territory by featuring bizarre Empire super weapons and planets unmentioned by the movies, but it’s easy enough to follow for someone who only really cares about the films. However, it’s the very tactile and visceral feel of flying these familiar ships that matters, and in that regard the first entry in the series is an excellent start.
|The sequel upped the ante in every way|
Rogue Leader takes the above and completely blows it out of the water. The game feels insanely fast by comparison, both because of the clearly increased speed of shooting as well as the incredible graphics and environments that still hold up to this day. Whereas the entirety of the N64 game took place on the surface of planets, the sequel has space missions as well that have you zipping between huge frigates, star destroyers and the like. On top of the improved look and feel of the game is a much better story, mostly because it focuses on the plot of the original trilogy. You start with the assault on the Death Star, then travel to Hoth, Bespin and finally the space over Endor for what is undeniably the best mission in the series. There are also plenty of other missions in between, of course, including the escort of a convoy moving from Yavin to Hoth, and the infiltration of a downed Star Destroyer that stands out because of its use of multiple different Rebel ships to get to the objective.
|The AT-STs are one of the few improvements in Rebel Strike|
Finally, we come to Rebel Strike, the low point of the trilogy. The primary difference in this game is that it is split between two campaigns. One of these follows Wedge and is the traditional Rogue Squadron gameplay, although again using what I assume is Expanded Universe fiction for its plot. This half of the game is solid, and introduces the Jedi Starfighter, which despite the bad connotations of being from Episode II is probably the most fun ship in the series. The other half of the game, however, is flat out bad. Someone at Factor 5 thought that the thing that was missing in this franchise was on-foot action, and man oh man were they wrong. This campaign follows Luke, again through the original trilogy, on missions such as the evacuation of Yavin, the ground battle on Hoth and the escape from Jabba in Episode VI. The simple fact is that the on-foot action consists of running towards the objective while hammering the fire button to win. The camera is bad, the aiming is an unnecessary challenge and the entire addition is utterly pointless. With that said, the AT-ST sequences are a blast, and the Endor speeder bike chase has a sense of speed not even seen in most racing games. On top of that, Rebel Strike includes the entirety of Rogue Leader’s campaign for cooperative play and has a boatload of minor but nonetheless interesting extra features to mess around with.
|So many AT-ATs, so little tow cable|
If you’re looking to get in on this awesome trilogy, you absolutely should start with Rogue Leader. It is without a doubt the highpoint of the series, and has such a tight focus that every aspect is forced to be as well-constructed as it possibly could be. After that, the proposition is dicier. The original game is probably the better of the two remaining entries, but if you can only get one of them it makes more sense to get Rebel Strike. Getting both Gamecube entries gives you the same controls and the same system, and the fact that they follow largely the same story makes them excellent companion pieces (not to mention that Rebel Strike contains co-op for its predecessor).
So there you have it. As far as I’m concerned, the Rogue Squadron series is one of those modern classics that will likely get forgotten due to the explosion of other, more successful genres that occurred in the same time frame. I cannot stress enough that while they are not all created equal, any entry in the series is worthwhile in my book. You absolutely should play these games.
Images courtesy of Gianbomb.com and Google.com
Images courtesy of Gianbomb.com and Google.com