Rogue Squadron

Star Wars fans will readily join the Squadron on their adventures this holiday season, and even casual flyers will enlist. Rogue Squadron takes you to new heights in the Star Wars universe!

Who hasn't wanted to be a pilot for the Rebel Alliance? Although Rebel Assault and Rebel Assault 2 actually let you fly through various mission-based levels with different craft from the Star Wars universe, Rogue Squadron takes it a step further and loses the track-based gameplay, letting you completely immerse yourself in a 3D flying adventure. You can swoop, barrel-roll, loop, and bank with some ships, all the while shooting down enemy vehicles and protecting Rebel Alliance installations.

From Rogues to Riches
You start the game learning the basics by piloting an X-Wing fighter through a few training missions, but you'll soon gain access to four other ships, including the Y-wing, the A-wing, the snowspeeder, and the experimental V-wing. Each vehicle is fitted with both a primary and an auxiliary weapon--and you'll need both in this high-flying, fast-shooting game. Taking the best part of Shadows of the Empire (the Hoth sequence where you face the AT-ATs), the developers at LucasArts have enhanced the flight model with true pitch, roll, and bank mechanics for each craft. Because every ship is a uniquely designed vehicle, they have individualized machinery--some are faster, some have better shields, and so on.

Taking place between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, Rogue Squadron sends you on different missions to far-reaching areas of the universe, most of which are known only by the most avid Star Wars fanatics (see sidebar, "Follow the Bright Yellow Rogue"). But there are some more generally known areas, like Tatooine, Luke's home planet, and Corellia, birthplace of both Han Solo and Dash Rendar.

You play as some familiar (and some not-so-familiar) Rebel leaders, like Dack (Luke Skywalker's backup snowspeeder pilot on Hoth) and Wedge Antilles (the only Rogue pilot other than Luke to survive all three films). You must help protect the Alliance from the forces of the galactic Empire, which is tightening its hold on the Rebels after the latter's stunning victory over the Death Star.

The Rogue Not Taken
Graphically, the game will dazzle you in the hi-resolution mode (which requires the N64 Expansion Pak) with sleek ships, fairly fast flying action, and blazing battles and explosions. In the standard low-resolution mode, the game is still a fine-looking shooter, though the jagged edges of the ships and the terrain will eventually force you to spend some bucks on the Pak.

The game's even more impressive in the sound department. Using a proprietary sound compression system, LucasArts has found a way to squeeze over 80 minutes of audio (40 minutes of speech and 40 minutes of music) into the cart. You'll hear the symphonic mastery of John Williams' classic score resonate throughout, changing its tone and urgency as dictated by the action. You'll also be privy to extensive cockpit chatter amongst the squadron, which heightens the realism of the game.

Two areas where the game is tempered are the control and speed. The controls, while intuitive for the most part, have a definite learning curve. Handling the pitch and sway of a fighter is no easy task, and if your frustration threshold is low, you may find yourself going AWOL with the Rogue. The game's jittery speed is also apparent from the start. Although not as fast as StarFox (which, in all fairness, was on rails for the most part), you could contend that if Rogue were any faster, the enemies would be harder to target.

Rebels Yell
Another area that would have made this game a five-star hero is the inclusion of a multiplayer game. It was included early on in development, but was removed to enable the development team to focus its creative energy solely on producing a great one-person shooting game.

And that's where Rogue Squadron sits--as one of the best games out there this year. It will challenge Zelda and Turok 2 for your money this holiday season--but if you're a fan of Star Wars, there's no replacement for Rogue Squadron.

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