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by LucasArts

5-01.jpg (9124 bytes)The people at LucasArts have done it now. They’ve managed to entwine two of the hottest debates raging today among 18-35 year-old pop-culture know-it-alls (we know who we are): PS2 vs. Xbox vs. Gamecube, and Old Trilogy vs. New Trilogy--or, in simpler terms, Rogue Squadron vs. Starfighter. The convergence of these ongoing wars will cause a ripple effect that will be felt by…well, pretty much only those of us who choose to dip our toes into the strange, bubbling pond that is the home of red-eyed Warsies and pasty-faced gamers.

2-02.jpg (4693 bytes)Star Wars Rogue Squadron 2: Rogue Leader (apparently, Lucas and his cronies revel in creating titles that would make Fiona Apple jealous, and they appear to be getting longer) brings the original Star Wars Trilogy to the Gamecube as no other game, on any other system, has done before. In terms of presentation, Rogue Leader is unmatched, even by the PS2’s Episode I shooter, Starfighter. I could go on forever about the graphics and not say enough. One simply has to look at Rogue Leader’s version of the Battle of Hoth to understand that this is as close as we have come to adequately portraying the splendor of the Star Wars universe on a game console. Levels such as the Ison Corridor Ambush, with its nebulas background, richly rendered planets, moons, and bright sun, are works of art. The levels are vast; the perspective rolls on for what seems like forever. The ceilings are high, even during canyon runs. Yet none of this takes away from what is right in front of you. In fact, the closer you get to things, the better they look, as when a TIE fighter pulls ahead of you in a dogfight, perfectly rendered and textured, with shadows moving across its surface according to a nearby sun. Then you fire upon it and a red glow shines upon its surface as your lasers pass by. Cut screens mirror scenes from the movies exactly. All of this and there is only occasional slowdown and very rarely, some glitches and pop-up. Also, the menu screens feature actual movie clips from each of the films. This is an incredible cool touch, and, oddly enough, represents the first time that the Holy Trilogy has been on DVD format. File that away in your bank of useless trivia.

5-02.jpg (5276 bytes)The sound is, as we have come to expect, Skywalker Sound perfect. All of the sound effects are delivered in true form, as are many of the original orchestral pieces from the films. Denis Lawson (Wedge Antilles) is the only original cast member to provide voice acting for the game, but all of the other actors provide spot-on impersonations that are nearly indistinguishable (with the possible exception of Luke Skywalker).

16-01.jpg (5422 bytes)Like its N64 predecessor, the levels of Rogue Squadron take place both within and around the events of the original Star Wars Trilogy. You take on the roles of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Wedge Antilles in order to aid the rebellion against the evil Empire. This time, however, the levels are less tangential and more closely related to the actual events of the movies. Some levels place you directly inside of some of the greatest moments in Star Wars history. The Death Star Attack gives you the chance to join in the climactic battle of A New Hope, shooting down TIEs, dodging cannon fire, and eventually performing the harrowing trench run. Other levels include the aforementioned Battle of Hoth and the Battle of Endor. Bonus levels have you manning the guns of the Millennium Falcon during the escape from the Death Star, and playing as Han Solo as you evade a Star Destroyer by flying into an asteroid field. There are also original missions that take place between the scenes of the movies. One level has you escorting rebel forces to Hoth. Another puts you in charge of stealing the shuttle Tiderian. While other levels make broader diversions from the movies, the overall connection remains much stronger than those of the original Rogue Squadron, the Battle for Naboo, or Starfighter. With the familiarity of the movies acting as a connective tissue for the narrative, this provides Rogue Leader with the appearance of a complete story arc, rather than that of a bunch of unrelated missions. It also has the added effect of giving die-hard Star Wars fans chills when they hear Darth Vader say "the force is strong with this one" during the trench run, or Han say "don’t get cocky" as you take out your enemies.

3-01.jpg (6398 bytes)As in just about every other arcade dogfighter/shooter out there, the mission objectives are mostly limited to destroying things, protecting things, destroying some things while protecting others, and the occasional infiltration of an enemy stronghold. However, unlike most games, Rogue Leader manages to rise above the formula. First of all, as any fan will tell you, the spacecraft in Star Wars are bar none the best there are in any movie, in any game, period. In Rogue Leader you will pilot the X-Wing fighter, the Y-Wing bomber, the faster A-Wing, the B-Wing, Snow Speeder, Millennium Falcon, Cloud Car, TIE fighter, and others. Like the Battle for Naboo, Rogue Leader often allows, sometimes requires, you to switch craft mid-mission. Sometimes it is merely for show. Other times it is strategic, as in the Imperial Academy Heist, where killing a TIE fighter pilot and taking his ship is a viable strategy for infiltrating the Imperial base, though not necessary. Occasionally, however, it is crucial, as in Vengeance on Kothlis. In this mission you must first protect a transport as it attempts to deploy troops to enter a fallen Star Destroyer. Once it has landed, a group of AT-ATs emerge from crash site, and you must quickly switch to a Speeder to take them out. Then you must open the hull of the Destroyer by switching to a Y-Wing and using its bombs. For further diversity, some levels change according to whether you are playing them in the day or night. In one case you pilot a Y-Wing through a canyon, underneath Imperial radar by day. But by night you will play the mission in a Snow Speeder, and sure enough, through the fog step a group of AT-ATs that weren’t there when you used the Y-Wing.

13-01.jpg (6440 bytes)If you are coming to Rogue Leader having only played Rogue Squadron or Battle for Naboo on the N64, the control system will be an improvement on what you are used to. The right control stick steers your ship. You pull the right analog trigger to accelerate, and click it down for turbo boost. You pull the left to slow down, and click for a hard brake. The A button fires your blasters—pressing it fires a single, more powerful shot while holding it down fires a less powerful continual burst. The B button fires special weapons. The X button switches to the cockpit view, while Y activates your targeting system and the C stick moves your head to look around the cockpit. This is by far the coolest addition, as the interiors of the ships are exactly as they are in the movies, and the targeting system comes in handy on many levels. The Control Pad gives various commands to your wingmen, allies, and R2 units, such as to form on your wing, attack certain enemies, and repair your ship. The downside to the control system is that it still moves according to the same stilted physics as the previous N64 titles. You move up and down normally, but your ship turns left and right while vertical, and on a dime. The Z button rolls your ship, but it is almost useless as banking left and right is not intuitive. It is also made nearly impossible with the camera system, which is constantly fighting to right your ship so that you can turn left and right vertically. Although less pronounced, this is the case even when you have supposedly disabled the auto roll and level in the options menu. There are no words for the frustration I have felt as I was in the middle of a dogfight, about to put down a particularly troublesome foe, when the camera suddenly decided to right itself, causing me to lose my target. And that happens a lot. Those who have played Starfighter or Ace Combat 4 on the PS2 will be especially disappointed. Both of those games managed to pull off dual joystick flight control that enabled players to bank and turn with finesse according to more realistic physics. And they were still able to yaw left and right for minor corrections, and, in the case of AC4, switch to cockpit view and move your head around. Both of those games were arcade dogfighter/shooters as well. Rogue Leader’s controls just plain suck by comparison.

9-01.jpg (7544 bytes)The AI in Rogue Leader is split down the middle. The TIEs tend to swarm in that odd triangle pattern of theirs, but they are not suicidal. If you are taking pot shots at a TIE, or one of its wingmen, it will break formation and evade. In the case of a TIE Advanced, the methods of evasion can be downright graceful. Your wingmen on the other hand can be annoying to the point of making you want to kill them yourself. They are constantly requesting orders, even when you have just given them a command or it is just plain obvious what they should be doing. And half the time you have to do everything yourself, no matter what you tell them to do. This seems especially true when you are trying to take out something particularly troublesome, like a Star Destroyer. About the only time you are aware that they are doing anything at all is when they are gone (either dead or fled), or when they manage to destroy that last target you needed to take out yourself in order to get a gold medal.

6-02.jpg (7810 bytes)Unfortunately, Rogue Leader is also pretty short. There are ten regular levels, a few bonus levels, and a training mission. Like its predecessor, bonus levels and spacecraft are unlocked by attaining bronze, silver, and gold medals according to certain criteria in each of the main levels. Also, once you beat a level you can go back and play it with a variety of different ships. Many of the levels are fun enough to keep you going back to play them over and over, as are many of the spacecraft. The game is also incredibly intense. The sheer number of Imperial ships you will encounter at times is astounding. And the difficulty of navigating the infrastructure of the second Death Star, or taking down a Star Destroyer with only handful of torpedoes and a couple of lacadaisical wingmen at your side goes without saying. So, while you may be able to beat the game in a few days, getting all of the medals and unlocking all of the options will take considerably longer. I can safely say that you will get a lot of playing time out of this game. In fact, I have had to pause while writing this review more than once because I couldn’t write about it without getting excited to play it. I only wish LucasArts would consider how much even the simplest, Starfox 64-style 4-player skirmish would add to the Rogue Squadron series. Sure, Starfighter’s multiplayer levels stank, but that is another game, another movie. Imagine trying to evade three of your buddies and take them out in your Millennium Falcon or X-Wing.

8-01.jpg (8157 bytes)Rogue Leader is an incredible game, the best the original Trilogy has been on any console, and a must buy for any true Star Wars fan. Yes, it is a bit short, the control system is not the best LucasArts has ever given us, and there are camera and AI issues, all of which prevent this game from receiving a perfect score. I will also admit that the Hoth battle has been milked for all it’s worth, after being more or less the same for three games now. Fighting the AT-ATs as they walked through the waters of Kolith is much more original, challenging, and fun anyway. And yes, you have to destroy two Death Stars within ten levels, but hey, three out of four of the movies end with a climactic space station run of some sort, so what do you expect? Just sit back, live the Trilogy, and enjoy.

Jeremy Kauffman   (12/21/2001)


Ups: Cinematic feel; amazing graphics; lots of fun.

Downs: Control could be better; AI (especially wingment) is poor.

Platform: Nintendo Gamecube