Having released a string of lacklustre spin-offs in the wake of The Phantom Menace, the once mighty Lucas Arts are hoping that their GameCube debut Rogue Leader will mark a return to form. As the title suggests, this is a follow-up to the popular N64 action game Rogue Squadron, in which you played a member of an elite group of rebel pilots, fighting both in the depths of space and in the air over a variety of alien planets. We took a pre-release version of the sequel for a spin at the recent Nintendo Show in London to find out whether it's A New Hope for the ailing publisher or just another heartless clone...
That's No Moon
Once again the setting is the timeline of the original trilogy, with a story that takes in many of the movies' most memorable scenes and fills in a few gaps along the way. This naturally means a return for all the familiar X-Wings, Tie Fighters and Star Destroyers we have come to know and love, and none of that Gungan nonsense. All of these vehicles are rendered in impressive detail, with some looking almost indistinguishable from the models used in the movies. When the first screenshots of the game were released we were a little sceptical, but we're happy to report that since then the game's graphics have come on leaps and bounds, and anything that it loses in raw polygons is more than made up for in atmosphere, scale and real-time lighting effects. Flying low over the Death Star, blasting away at towers and sparring with tie fighters, the sheer attention to detail is stunning. Your laser bolts light up nearby walls as they flash past, and when a ship is destroyed it catches fire and gracefully spirals out of control before smashing into the surface of the giant space station with a satisfying explosion. Not only this, but the whole battle is perfectly recreated from the classic Star Wars arcade game, right down to the death-defying flight through the trench, dodging and diving to avoid obstructions and incoming fire from the distant turrets. It's a real nostalgia trip, but with the sparse 3D wireframe graphics of yore replaced by millions of texture-mapped polygons.
Go For The Legs
Another classic scene getting a make-over is the battle for Hoth, with your character leaping into a snowspeeder to take on the mighty AT-AT troop carriers as the Empire assaults the rebels' hidden base, before switching to an X-Wing to fight off tie bombers attacking the landing field. As in the film, you must use the tow cable on your snowspeeder to tangle the legs of the AT-ATs and cause them to trip up. In the version we played this looked a little goofy, because the tow cable was far too slack as it wrapped around an AT-AT's legs. But even so, the sight of one of the vast grey machines toppling over on to its side or falling to its knees was a heart-warming one. And as this is Rogue Leader, you also get the opportunity to use the GameCube's D-pad to give basic orders to your wingmen, deciding whether they should follow you against the AT-ATs or hold off the smaller AT-ST walkers, for example. What really brings the game to life though is the sense of immersion and a cinematic feel that lives up to the grandeur of the movies. There is an entire battle taking place around you, with rebel turrets firing back as the bipedal AT-ST walkers and hordes of tiny stormtroopers in their winter cloaks march across the snowy plain below. Imperial gliders bring in reinforcements, while the rebels' orbital cannon fires in the background to clear a way for the troop ships to evacuate the planet.
As you may have guessed by now, Rogue Leader looks like another Lucas Arts classic in the making. It's one of the most polished and visually impressive titles we have seen on the GameCube so far, from the sun glinting on the canopy of your snowspeeder and the sight of tiny ships dogfighting around a vast Star Destroyer, right down to the clips from the movies used in the menu system. Most importantly though it has that indefinable Star Wars feel, and while the actual gameplay is fairly simplistic, it's also a lot of fun.