Version tested: GameCube
You don't need to see his identification
Tatooine. Bespin. Star Destroyers. Luke Skywalker. Darth Vader and his TIE Advanced. The Death Star. Twice. X-Wings. TIE Fighters. Stormtroopers. AT-ATs. R2D2. Rogue Leader is Star Wars the way you remember it. Except this time you're piloting the ships and fighting for the Rebellion, in the struggle to overcome the evil GALACTIC EMPIRE. We often compare games to movies, but from the archetypal star screen introduction right the way through to the game's monumental climax, this is the ultimate accompaniment and tribute to those three original Star Wars movies we all cherish.
Rogue Squadron fans have been rewarded with a superb continuation to the N64's best Star Wars game. Rogue Leader begins with players taking on the guise of that whiny runt Skywalker, and as a warm-up budding pilots must down the original Death Star, first taking out laser towers and slaying a number of TIE Fighters. With a little help from Han Solo (and of course the Force) Luke puts pay to deplorable imperial machinations. And then the game gets interesting.
Visually this is Star Wars as you saw it on the big screen. Scenes from the films are remodelled in the crisp game engine and look almost perfect, accompanied by John Williams' inimitable score and virtually any of the films' sound effects you might care to mention. From the intricately detailed planes of the Death Star with TIEs swooping this way and that, to the sight of Bespin emerging from the haze, and the inevitable approach and decimation of the then imperial-laden city, Rogue Leader leaves little to the imagination. This is Star Wars. You will feel like you are there. Is this now clear?
Absolutely your worship
Good. Then I can start telling you about the rest of it. The mission structure is deadly simple. You have ten regular missions to complete, some of which intersect with the films and some of which do not. You play either as Luke or Wedge depending on the mission (so for instance, while Luke's off giving his right hand for a tussle with Vader, Wedge is busy carpet-bombing something), and you can play from either third person or cockpit views.
The whole game could be over in a day if you race through the narrative, but the idea is to fight for the bronze, silver and gold medals, which demand increasingly difficult objectives, and then play with the prizes. Success could mean unlocking some of the game's secret ships, levels or modes of play, and when you have access to more of the ships it becomes easier to get the silver or gold on earlier levels. Hidden ships range from the obvious to the peculiar, and for those of you with a Fett-ish, Slave 1 is among 'em. You even get to play as the Falcon, which is a selling point in itself.
The objectives are similarly diverse, including the aforementioned Death Star run, the Battle of Hoth and bits and bobs in-between. The missions often feed into one another, and you get to down Star Destroyers as well as the smaller TIEs and imperial shuttles. Some of the missions seem a bit unnecessary, like the jailbreak mission in the middle of the game, but it's good to see that they all stand up to repeated play and give you a little breather now and then. For instance, although you can pull down your targeting computer to help you pick TIEs out of a particularly dense nebula on the way out of Hoth, later on you can toggle the thing on or off without holding down the relevant button and skewering your concentration.
Would it help if I got out and pushed?
The control system itself is very responsive and early reports suggested it went a bit far, but as the game wears on you start to appreciate it. Over-responsive controls are obviously not conducive to fine-tuning manoeuvres, and bouncing around the bowels of Bespin in a Y-Wing can be maddening, but conversely, spinning 180 degrees on an imperial credit and blowing the hell out of a pursuing TIE Fighter can be the adrenaline rush to end them all. Overall though the twitch-this-way-twitch-that-way feel of the system conflicts with the game's principle virtue: its authenticity.
That said the ships all behave differently. The Y-Wings, while pretty frail, are very handy for bombing runs (for which the game switches to an elevated view to help you find your targets) and the B-Wings, while less manoeuvrable than an X-Wing, can make themselves quite small and happily scamper about the nose of a Star Destroyer without getting caught by too many laser blasts. All of the ships are very much as they were in the films, thanks to some detailed design which blows recent efforts like Jedi Starfighter right out of the sky, and the bigger ships lose none of the detail you might expect. Indeed, flying past the bridge of a Star Destroyer you will feel a twinge of fear at the sheer size and imposing sight of the thing. And there are bigger things to come.
The fact that Rogue Leader crashes now and then has been the subject of much discussion lately, but to us it's a minor niggle. The game seems to save itself before it crashes, so there isn't much harm in it, even if it is unfortunate that Factor 5 didn't bother to fix it in the months since its American release. On the other hand, without question the PAL conversion here is excellent, with a full screen 60Hz mode and only slight borders at 50Hz, all of the DVD-like extras that complemented the American release of the game, and MusyX-powered Dolby Pro-Logic II surround sound. The game also supports progressive scan mode if you happen to own a Death Star of a TV, and the spectacular FMV cutscenes which punctuate the levels blend together seamlessly with the gameplay elements. There's a bit of slowdown here and there, particularly noticeable when you're tow-roping AT-ATs on Kothlis, but you'll be so busy concentrating on the action that it won't be all that apparent.
Who's scruffy lookin'?
Rogue Leader is the absolute pinnacle of Star Wars games. It's bloody hard in places, but it pampers the nostalgic and conveys so effortlessly the beauty of the galaxy and the sheer tyranny of the evil Empire that you will Force your way through it until there's no stone left unturned. Some have said that it wouldn't be as good without the Star Wars aspect, that it's a fairly mediocre space combat game, but to me that's a ridiculous argument. Rogue Leader is the embodiment of Star Wars in a videogame. That is the point. This is a game charting the progress of Luke and Wedge through the Star Wars trilogy, and it's the perfect vehicle for fans of the series who have always wanted it to be real.
At a slightly higher asking price than your average Cube title, you might argue that it's a bit short, but it's the quality of the experience which makes it worthwhile. ICO was pretty short, and that's one of the best games of all time, well worth the outlay. Rogue Leader falls under the same heading, but with replay value to boot. The only truly major criticism I can level at it is the lack of a multiplayer mode, which would have capped off an otherwise superb package.
Some games don't need a license to be good. Rogue Leader is good because it lives up to its billing. You can argue with me about that until we're both blue in the face, but the only deciding factor here is whether or not you like space combat games. Do you? Because everybody loves Star Wars, right? And this is that. Buy it. Buy a Cube for it.
9 / 10