Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 3D

These are good times in the universe of Star Wars fandom. Of course, you've seen the Episode I trailer 200 times now in Real Video, right? So, it's clearly time to move on to Rogue Squadron 3D, LucasArts' new fly-and-shooter that puts you at the controls of Luke Skywalker's very own X-Wing and more.

These are good times in the universe of Star Wars fandom. Of course, you've seen the Episode I trailer 200 times now in Real Video, right? So, it's clearly time to move on to Rogue Squadron 3D, LucasArts' new fly-and-shooter that puts you at the controls of Luke Skywalker's very own X-Wing and more.

Well, not quite so fast. It's not that Rogue Squadron isn't good; in fact, it's fantastic. It aces the main test of any game, which is that it's a hell of a lot of fun. But if you're a hardcore simhead waiting on the next level of brain-busting game difficulty and serious flying after X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, be warned now-this ain't it. You'll have to wait on this spring's X-Wing Alliance for that.

Rogue Squadron is Star Wars, arcade style-akin to the flight level in Shadows of the Empire. It plunks you into the cockpit as Luke in the time following Star Wars, before he started his Jedi training in The Empire Strikes Back. And it's a delicious blend of superb, detailed graphics (with 3D acceleration required, it better be), canny strategic planning, and lightning-fast action.

Each of the 16 missions in the game's four chapters gives you different, story-based objectives, from defense of Mos Eisley in the first mission to such tasks as picking up a high-level Imperial defector or taking out a weapons factory. Whatever the task, the action levels are constant: you get a brief cut-scene, it fades, and bang! the fur starts flying.

Rogue Squadron is extraordinarily addictive. The missions are easy to fly but deceptively difficult to complete. You won't always know why, either. Time, efficiency, and above all, attention to mission objectives are what score you enough to finish a mission and perhaps get a medal (which helps boost your ranking). But you may not know exactly what you need to do until you've flown a mission a number of times. Your wings will help at times, but mainly it's left to you to get the job done. You get three ships for each mission; crash twice, and you're still in the ball game. (We did say "arcade.")

The ships are the standards you're used to-the X, A, and Y-Wings, plus the Airspeeder and a new addition, the V-Wing Airspeeder. You'll use these to pop at TIEs, Walkers, and ground installations. The handling characteristics are just incredible; with good throttle control, you'll be able to turn on a dime and fly the narrow canyons and city spaces. The variety of camera perspectives adds to the fun: cockpit view serves up graphics that make the flight seem realistic, while going to chase camera lets you admire the view while trying to drop onto a TIE's six.

Rogue Squadron does commit one serious, unforgivable sin-no multiplay. In a game of this nature, it's almost a no-brainer to let X-Wings go up against TIEs again. Whether it was time, performance, or something else that caused LucasArts to skip over this, the excuse just won't wash.

Fortunately, the lack of multiplay doesn't detract from the sheer fun of the single-play performance. You'll figure out the broad AI patterns the computer serves up, but the action is so frenetic that there's still plenty of challenge for any level of flier, and the quest for rankings provides tons of replay value. No question, Rogue Squadron tips the needle on the fun-o-meter; don't miss it.

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