Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader
Okay, so George Lucas isn’t the almighty sfi-fi/fantasy deity that everyone thought him to be. His cruel and heinous decision to unleash the abhorrent Jar Jar Binks on millions of his most faithful followers has proven that much. Still, his recent lapse (or as some would argue – collapse) in judgment does nothing to tarnish the genuine excellence of his earlier work, namely the original Star Wars trilogy. Striking a perfect balance between personal struggles and epic military conflicts, as well as between mindless action and thought-provoking wisdom, the original trilogy stands as three of the most widely loved movies of all time. It is for this reason that I was truly excited to hear that Factor 5, the developer behind the excellent Nintendo 64 flight/shooters, was working on a GameCube launch title based on the original Star Wars films. Factor 5 heralded their upcoming game as not only the best looking Star Wars game to date, but also as a chance to play the original movies like never before. So did these boastful prerelease statements turn out to be more than just hype? Thankfully, the answer is an emphatic yes.
The trusty TOW cable is always a good choice for taking out pesky Imperial AT-ATs
Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader (henceforth: Rogue Leader) is a flight-based shooter and nothing more. Don’t expect to be able wield a lightsaber or perform the force choke on hapless Storm Troopers in this game, as you’ll never find yourself outside the cockpit of your spacecraft. Well, that’s not entirely true; you are able to run around in a hangar when choosing a spaceship, but you get my point. The meat and potatoes of Rogue Leader’s gameplay is using your X-Wing to blast down hordes of Imperial TIE-Fighters while completing various mission objectives. If you are not a fan of twitch-based shooters, then quit reading right now, for this game will most likely not appeal to you. But if you are a fan of this type of game, then be prepared to experience one of the best efforts in the history of the genre.
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the game takes place during the original Star Wars trilogy. This means all the great spacecraft like X-Wings, Y-Wings, TIE-Fighters and Star Destroyers are present in the game, not the particularly weak looking ships from the Episodes I & II. And, not only does Rogue Leader take place during the timeframe of the original movies, you actually play scenes from the first three films. The Assault on the Death Star (Star Wars), Escape from Hoth (Empire Strikes Back) and Battle over Endor (Return of the Jedi) are just a few of the game’s missions that simulate scenes from the movies. Factor 5 really went the extra mile to make sure these missions played out exactly like they do on the big screen, so expect to see details like Vader pestering you during the Death Star trench run and Admiral Ackbar babbling out, “It’s a trap!!” during the Endor space battle. Rogue Leader does a better job of straddling the line between great gameplay and cinematic appeal than any title in recent memory. Truly amazing.
Impressive volumetric fogging
The mission objectives in Rogue Leader range from covert escort operations to the typical blow-up-everything-that-moves varieties. Some will have you in wide-open space dogfights, while others will take place just above the surface of a planet, and some will require you to use one spaceship or another. This diversity in objectives, locales and situations keeps the gameplay feeling fresh all the way through the game’s ten levels. There is also a medal system in place where you are graded depending on how quickly and efficiently you complete a mission. Getting gold on each of the levels is extremely difficult, but definitely rewarding, as you’ll unlock some pretty dang cool secrets (trust me Star Wars fans, they are very cool). I’ve seen quite a few people complain about the game’s difficulty being too stiff, but since I prefer my games challenging I have no objections.
An intuitive control set-up is vital for any twitch-based shooter’s success, and, thankfully, Rogue Leader delivers in this area. The A button fires your ship’s standard lasers. The B button launches proton torpedoes or ion cannons (depending on the craft). The X button switches to cockpit mode (which provides is a stunningly realistic rendering of the craft’s interior) and the Y button brings up a targeting display screen that outlines enemy ships for easier tracking. The targeting display is greatly useful, but since the Y button needs to be held down at the same time you press the fire buttons, it can take a while to get used to. Luckily, the GameCube’s unique controller makes this task fairly easy, so you’ll eventually have it mastered. The D-Pad on the controller serves as a command console of sorts, as you can order your wingmates to use tactics such as attack TIE-Fighters or regroup. The AI for your wingmate buddies is not too shabby, as they will actually manage to shoot down an enemy ship or two without your help. Just don’t leave them on their own for too long.
The Force is strong with this one…
The actual maneuvering of your craft varies depending on the type you are piloting, but is quite responsive to your commands overall. The L trigger serves as a brake, while the R trigger accelerates your craft. When you completely depress the R trigger, your craft will fold up its wings and travel at its maximum speed (you cannot fire while in this mode). The Z trigger allows you to perform barrel rolls, but they don’t serve much purpose in the game other than style. All of the braking, accelerating and maneuvering will quickly become like second nature, and I tip my hat to Factor 5 for completely taking advantage of the Cube’s unique controller. The only problem with controlling your craft occurs when you attempt to fly straight up or perform flips, because the auto leveling can often can get a bit spastic and point you in a direction you don’t want to go. Luckily, this problem is rarely experienced, and 99% of the time the control will be hassle free.
The thing most people mention first when talking about Rogue Leader is its stunning visuals, and for good reason – they are mind-blowingly stupendous. Not only is it one of the best looking titles on the GameCube; It could be considered one of the best looking titles on the Xbox. I have no idea how Factor 5 managed pull off the volumetric fogging, particle effects, dynamic lighting, bump-mapping, blur effects and enormous levels on the GameCube’s hardware.all at 60 frames per second! Go ahead and take a gander at a screenshot for this game. The chances are you will not be able to tell it’s not a still from one of the Star Wars films. And how about all the little details? Blaster scoring on the outside of ships. Shimmering heat waves near the craft’s exhaust. I could go on and on, but I’d rather you just went and saw it for yourself. There is one last thing I will say though, this is easily the best looking Star Wars game to ever be released, and will most likely stay that way for a while. Well, until Factor 5’s sequel comes out later this year.
There’s nothing quite as satisfying as taking out a massive Imperial Star Destroyer
Most Star Wars games feature fabulous audio and Rogue Leader is no different. The game just sounds exactly like Star Wars. All the blaster shots, explosions and other sound effects are lifted straight out of the films. John Williams’ score is still the best that was ever composed and reacts dynamically during actual gameplay. When performing the famous Death Star trench run you hear Obi-Wan tell you, “Use the Force Luke” and the Force theme begins to play, making you feel like you are Luke at that particular moment. While many of the voice bytes are taken straight from the movies, some of them (such as Lando and Ackbar) are done by sound-alikes. The good news is these voice actors do a wonderful job staying in character and keeping you immersed in the game. Overall, the aural presentation in Rogue Leader stands up to, and even surpasses, the high standard established by previous LucasArts releases.
Ever since playing Star Wars: The Arcade Game I have wanted another chance to strap myself into an X-Wing fighter and perform the exhilarating Death Star trench run. Now Factor 5 has made it possible with their fabulous Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader. Not only have they created the best reproduction of the trench run ever attempted in a video game, but they also did nine other fantastically fun missions to boot. Top this off with some of the best graphics I have ever seen in a console game and an audio package that stays true to the movies and you have an absolute must-have title for the GameCube. If you despise the genre, then this game probably won’t convert you. But if you love Star Wars and flying/shooters, consider Factor 5’s offering as nothing less than pure gaming nirvana.
Flying through the beautiful Cloud City of Bespin