By Matt James
It has been a couple days since Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike hit shelves and in those days I have spent a lot of time with the game. I have probably spent more time with this game then any other in the last six months. Yet after all that gameplay, hours of debating Rebel Strike with fellow Gamesfirst! staffer Jeremy Kauffman, and several minutes of staring blank faced at this computer monitor, debating with myself, I am still unsure of how I feel about this game. Maybe that is because Rebel strike is so many things. At least it tries to be many things. I think there in lies the problem. There are parts of this game that are absolutely beautiful. I am not just talking about the graphics or the music; I am talking about the whole sum. The story, the gameplay, the set-up, all of its parts are just beautiful. There are mediocre places, wherein trying to give us more they give us less. No big deal right? This happens with most, if not all, games. Then there is the worst of Rebel Strike. There are parts of this game that are so bad that I can hardly reconcile the notion that they could be part of the same experience as those parts of the game that leave me in awe. This game contains some of the worst that videogames have to offer. There are parts of this game that have zero gaming value. I mean none whatsoever. So I am left confused, conflicted, and down right flabbergasted. It would be so much easier if it were three games, or even two.
I have such an affinity for the Rogue Squadron series that I was ready to give it five stars before I had even unwrapped it. I had played bits of it already and was frothing by the time it was finally released. I was leery of the new out-of-ship elements that they added, but that all melted away as I held it in my hands for the first time and gazed upon the cover art. Reading the back of the jacket, it would seem that Rebel Strike contained everything you could ask for,multiplayer gaming (not just your average versus games but the entire Rogue Leader game available for cooperative play), Game Boy Advance connectivity (Nintendo's favorite thing at the moment, no matter if it's justified or not), all sorts of new vehicles, and the ability to climb out of the cockpit as Luke, Han, and more. Factor 5 and Lucas Arts seemed to have gone all out on this one.
Having said what I have so far I feel as if I have front loaded this review with a bit of negativity. For that reason I want to start out by talking about the truly brilliant parts of Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike. The multiplayer portion is a five star game all the way. Ironically, the best part of Rebel Strike is really Rogue Leader (Rogue Squadron II). They have taken the entire game and transformed it into one of the coolest co-op experiences thus far. The complete lack of a multiplayer mode was one of my few quibbles with the otherwise near perfect Rogue Leader. Not only did they fix that problem, they took it up a notch. It is cool to beat down your friends every now and again in a good versus battle, but nothing compares to beating the computer down along side your friend. I can hardly convey just how much I appreciate that they did this. It is only too bad that they didn't make the Rebel Strike levels co-op as well.
That is only the beginning of the multiplayer experience. There are four versus game types: Dogfight (one on one), Rampage (destroy everything), Tag and Defend (capture the base), and Special (which includes races). Each mode offers a variety of options. You can use a personal profile, pick between different ships, pick different weapons, and much more. That is just the first of your options, you can pick from a large number of scenarios, whether or not you want wingmen, power-ups, and/or additional AI attackers,not to mention the usual options such as time limit, the number of kills to win a match, and so on. I don't want to brag but I played through each of the multiplayer levels and never lost a match (OK I guess I did want to brag).
It is in the multiplayer modes (except co-op) that the Game Boy Advance connectivity comes in. Each player can have a regular controller and a GBA. With the GBA you control your wingmen without alerting the other player of your actions. To me it seemed a little silly. First off, the game is so fast paced who has the time to look at the other player's screen to see where he is sending his wingmen? Secondly, does it matter to your overall strategy that much? Third, and most importantly, how do you take your hands off the controller long enough to grab the GBA and select an action. On the other hand it is there if you want it, and there is no harm in that.
The multiplayer portion of the game offers a well-rounded gaming experience. It is full of variety and special features and all of it is done very well. It really is like an entire game in and of itself.
The single player half of the games is truly a mixed bag. There really is the equivalent of three types of gameplay in this part of the game. First are the classic Rogue Squadronesque dogfight levels. These are all done pretty well and are by far the best part of the single player experience. Still it lacks something. It doesn't fill the player with the awe that Rogue Leader did. I chock this up to a number of things. The fact that this is the third game, the fact that these missions are not a closely tied to the movies, and the fact that the action is constantly broken up by cut scenes. It is hard to match the thrill that one receives from playing Luke in the trenches of the first Death Star or Lando flying into the second Death Star. But even the more original levels in Rogue Leader where far more inspired than the new ones offered up here. As for the cut scenes, they are pretty, but there is such thing as too much. Just as the game is starting to develop a mood it is interrupted by a long period of inaction. There are some levels that feel as if they are divided equally between cut scene time and gameplay. It is just too much and it keeps the player from even getting really engrossed in the skirmishes. On the other hand, there is a great diversity to Rebel Strike that Rogue Leader lacked. You can expect different types of missions and lots of new vehicles including the AT-ST (Chicken Walkers for the less geeky), speeder bikes, ships from the prequels, and tauntauns (I know, not technically a vehicle). The speeder bike levels are fast and furious. The tauntauns are well?kinda goofy looking. Not too mention, every time I look at one I can't forget the disgusted look on Han's face due to the smell as he shoves Luke inside one of them Tauntaun guts, yuck! But hey it's still got to be better than riding around inside the R2D2 costume.
Then there are the levels where you are forced to play part in the ship and part on foot. Some places this works and some it does not. Mostly it depends on how much time you actually have to spend out of your vehicle,the more time on foot, the less fun. It really isn't bad and graphically it looks real nice but it is all pretty basic and usually the ground stuff just interrupts the flow of the vehicle battle. These first two parts of the single player game I would have to give four stars. It is good but far from the perfect (or near perfect) that five stars suggests.
The last part of the single player game I would give a single star. That is only because it mostly works (in other words, it didn't make my Gamecube blow up). These are the levels that contain no piloting at all. How can this be? This is supposed to be Rogue Squadron. There are a sea of titles out there for all shades of Star Wars fans. The Jedi Knight series is for the swashbucklers, Knights of the Old Republic is for the RPG fans, Galaxies for the MMORPG fans, and Rogue Squadron was best of the vehicle based games. If they would have just left it at that it would have been great, but they have over extended themselves. I am all for trying something new but this betrays the spirit of the game. Furthermore, it is done poorly. Imagine the original Pitfall with better, but still not impressive, graphics and a lightsaber. It is just lame. It lacks any value, and it literally makes me angry. I have to stop and play through this crap to get on with the game? Unbelievable! Even if this was just a bonus feature it would lack value but as a part of the game it seriously detracts from it. Just wait until you finally get to the end of this abhorrent level and on one of the last jumps before the finish the camera lags and Luke jumps smack into an invisible wall. Then you play all the way through the level again, screaming and cursing, and finish it only to find that the next level is more of the same. I just don't know what they were thinking. The only thing that comes close to redeeming this part of the game is the little sneak previews of what Star Wars would look like on DVD. Damn gorgeous!
What is a reviewer to do with this menagerie of gameplay? I took five stars, four stars, and one star and added them up: Ten. Divided that by three and it equals three point three three three and on into infinity. But I really do like this game. So I round up a bit (a bunch), and come up with 4 stars. Is it worth picking up? For me, definitely. For you, maybe not. Can you put up with a little garbage along with true greatness? If you are a Rogue Squadron fan I think the answer is yes. The co-op mode is worth it alone. If are willing to put up with a couple of levels of Luke Skywalker as The Prince of Persia than I respect you. I am right there with you, and may the Force be with you!