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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 

 


While the Star Wars series remains the most influential science fiction movies of the past 25 years, the games based on the films have been hit or miss propositions. One of the best titles to come out on consoles in the past few years was Rogue Squadron on the N64, and LucasArts brilliant follow-up arrives at the GameCube launch and lives up to the hype. Thanks to an incredibly highly polished game engine, Star Wars: Rouge Leader Ė Rouge Squadron II takes the interactive experience to a new level with faithful mission-based play, incredible visuals and outstanding design. Effectively recreating some of the series most unforgettable moments in amazing fashion, Rogue Leader is one of the few Star Wars titles worthy of the license.

While many recent games (save Starfighter on the PS2 and Xbox) have fallen far short of the materialís promise, LucasArtsí incredible Rogue Leader delivers and is a dazzling achievement on many levels and showcases how, with intelligent design and technical brilliance, the Star Wars universe can indeed be brought to life on console. Like the acclaimed first title on N64, Rogue Leader is another mission shooter with a near-perfect balance of skill and difficulty, though the intensity has been ratcheted up exponentially thanks to the gameís technical brilliance. The action is very intense yet the interface is simple creating an excellent gameplay environment that doesnít stop. While this is basically a shooter, thereís enough strategy and challenge mixed in to keep things interesting throughout the levels. Taking some bits from Starfighter, Rogue Leader enhances these and adds some of its own gameplay mechanics to create an unmatched experience.

Of course, the first thing youíll notice when you begin playing Rouge Leader are the jaw-dropping graphics, which are stunning throughout. Some of the most amazing parts of the movies, such as the Death Star trench battle, the battle of Hoth and even the air planet Bespin from The Empire Strikes Back have been recreated with meticulous detail. This is quite authentic and since most of the levels and even some of the characters are from the actual movies and not some lame Ďside storiesí, its all the more resonant. Thereís been a great attention to detail and the objects fit in well with the Star Wars continuity which should make even discriminating fans happy. Everything from the authentic movement and appearance of the TIE fighters and the plodding Imperial Walkers on Hoth feels authentic and the detail is astonishing, with many of the sequences seemingly lifted directly from the films. Of course, the ships you use, whether theyíre the classic X-Wing, Y-Wing or the infamous Airspeeders which come in quite handy on the Hoth level, if you remember that famous sequence, all look and feel quite faithful to the original designs, which is remarkable. While its an old axiom that graphics donít matter as much as the gameplay, you canít fail to be impressed by Rogue Leaderís smooth polygons, impressive light sourcing and incredibly realistic ship modeling and stunning environments which immerse you in the action incredibly well. After seeing this, thereís no doubting the GameCubeís impressive processing power has been utilized to a far greater extent than most-launch titles even attempt.

f you played the first title, Rogue Leaderís mission-based gameplay parameters will be familiar but this time, thereís a more direct relationship to the movies themselves, giving it more of an impact. The new element this time is borrowed from Star Wars: Starfighter on the PS2 and makes a faitful transisiton to this title, without interfereing in the action. Instead of having mindless AI drones, you can command the other Rogue Squadron members to perform certain tasks and help you achieve some mission objectives. These include going after the enemy Tie-Fighters or flying in formation defensively or guarding rebel forces from Imperial attack, this adds greatly to the playersí immersion in the game and the cross-communication makes the action in Rogue Leader that much more urgent. The missions in Rogue Leader follow the major events of the films very closely though there are a few transitional episodes and tangents that never appeared in the movie as well, to make the game feel more original. Whatís great about the title is that you arenít stuck waiting for the good stuff. Rogue Squadron doesnít mess around or bore you to death. In fact, the first level is a dramatic recreation of the climactic attack on the Death Star from the first film, complete with the climactic trench battle where you have to drop you photon torpedoes down the hole at the end making the first few minutes absolutely breathtaking. Not long after that experience, youíre battling the Imperial Walkers on Hoth and then flying through the city of Bespin. Later on, youíll eventually face the new Death Star in the gameís climactic battle when your escape from the expanding fireball is just as dramatic and heart-stopping as it was on the screen 20 years ago. There are also several space based levels in the game, most of these are transitional, but they look and play as well as the rest of the game, but it just doesnít seem like it. During the game, the protagonist switches from Luke Skywalker to Wedge Antilles, featuring the original actor who played him, lending even more authenticity.

The mission designs are incredible with multiple tasks in each giving the player simultaneous tasks to watch over the same time. Most of the action is offensive, with most of your time spent trying to destroy enemy fighters or take out targets. Even though the missions are a bit too linear in spots, thereís some variety even within each one, since you can switch vehicles during each mission. This makes the game more challenging and adds a solid strategic layer to the action as well. Rogue Leaderís interface only enhances the play since itís so intuitive and yet remains highly faithful to the original modes seen in the movies. For example, you can target the enemies with your naked eye or use an enhanced heat-scope, as seen in the movies for more accurate positioning. Players can also switch from a first-person in the cockpit mode to a third person mode as the situation warrants and each of the fighters has two different weapons. The game just feels right, with the perfect combination of sophistication and simplicity. This goes quite far in giving RS and instant appeal thus allowing the player to jump right into the action. You can learn some of RSí more complicated maneuvers as they go along, though nothing here will challenge experienced pilots. Rogue Squadron uses the GameCube controller effectively and most of the commands are intelligently placed on the controllerís face, with more commonly used actions more accessible and simpler than the lesser used ones. Force feedback is used to create a satisfying effect when you fire a missile or crash the vehicles as well. Overall, the game has an excellent interface and control scheme that fits the action-based approach perfectly. Even though the combat missions themselves wonít tax the player, the game is loads of fun and the replay value is quite high.

Having a high replay value is a good thing, because while the levels are brilliantly designed and quite enthralling there arenít enough of them to make a single play through that satisfying. Fortunately, LucasArts compensates for this flaw by making it worth your while to complete the missions faster. Once you have completed the missions, you can go back and replay each one to earn a medal, doing this unlocks secret missions and vehicles, including none other than the Millennium Falcon. While this doesnít compensate for the gameís short length, it does make the replay value quite high. Thereís a good mix in the design, achieving a good balance between all-out thumb-blistering action and thoughtful, though not excessively so. Some of Rogue Leaderís missions are more strategic, where you have to guard rebel forces or use your wits to defeat an imposing enemy. However, this is almost a straight arcade game, reminiscent of the classic Atari and Sega Coin-ops. For the most part its all about reflexes - shoot first, then shoot some more and thatís what makes the game is so successful.

Another problem is that, despite their simplicity, some of the missions are quite long, and you have to complete multiple tasks to beat them. This wouldnít be a problem except that saves are scattered too far apart. This means that a mistake in the second or third segment of a mission means you have to play through the same areas youíve already completed, which can get old after awhile. Being forced to replay them many times to earn medals also adds some tedium to the game, though the rewards make it worthwhile to some degree. Still, it would have been better if LucasArts could have made some of the individual sequences take up multiple missions or broken up some of the longer levels into easier snippets. Still, this is all small potatoes compared to the big picture. Rouge Leader emphasizes most exciting action of the series and is intense and relentless throughout. While the balance isnít perfect itís still addictive and enjoyable enough to warrant the hype. The level are really cool, and the overall design goes a long way in making for an exciting experience that should keep you at the edge of your seat throughout your journey.

While itís not perfect, it comes pretty close in most areas. Overcoming the checkered history of console Star Wars titles, Rogue Leader is an incredibly impressive title that stands head and shoulders above the pack from a technical standpoint. It has intense visuals that are highly-polished and effectively showcases the power of the console with a sleek appearance throughout with remarkable fidelity to the aesthetics that dramatically recreate the exciting atmosphere of George Lucasí classic films. Despite some lame transitional levels and a disappointingly short-length, Rogue Leader immerses the player inside the Star Wars universe with style and intensity that few games based on the series have come close to matching. An outstanding interface makes flying through the unforgettable Star Wars universe intuitive and makes the action that much more intense. Rogue Leader isnít without its flaws but considering itís a launch title, it is absolutely stellar in quality and design through and through, making it an absolute must for all gamers, making it an immediate classic early on for the new Nintendo console. Rogue Leader is absolutely spectacular and convincingly transport you to that galaxy far, far away via your GameCube controller.  - M. Palisano

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