Star Wars is a franchise many love and hold dear to their hearts (well… at least the original trilogies). After watching Star Wars on VHS (yes, I am pretty old), then watching the re-released specials in the theaters, I always wanted to be apart of the best thing about Star Wars, the space battles. Now, many probably like the idea of using the lightsaber more, but seriously…it’s just a light up sword. The space battles amazed me, like how the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan amazed me. There was just chaos, but it wasn’t just any chaos, it was beautiful. I wanted to be immersed in that chaos and that is what Factor 5 (the developers) allowed me to do. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron was released on December 7, 1998 on the Nintendo 64 and brought the world one of THE best Star Wars games, ever.
Story was about the Rogue Squadron team taking on various missions throughout the Star Wars universe. The Rogue Squadron is a bunch of elite Rebel space pilots, who are tasked to do the impossible. From assaulting various Imperial camps to protecting or collecting a valuable person, the Rogue Squadron is sent to deal with enemies of all shapes and sizes. Many of the missions are based off the Star Wars books. Of course it would be ridiculous if Factor 5 just put in the only three space battles in the Star Wars (original) Trilogy. So, expanding the game with books was one way to not only lengthen the game, but also put in an interesting story line. To this day, I don’t know anything about the Star Wars universe (except the movies) to this day, but the game still had a great way explaining the various plot points in the Star Wars universe.
As you progress through the game, more missions and challenges are unlocked. Some missions are very fun as you fly around with other Rogue Squadrons pilots and destroy everything in the level. While others are tedious and frustrating like the escort missions as you just babysit a convoy to its destination. Luckily there are more fun levels of destruction, than the crappier levels of babysitting. You have a choice or two on picking your fighters at the main mission screen. Fighters range from the famous X-Wing to the AT-AT destroying Snow Speeders. You had the whole arsenal of the rebel space fleet to destroy those pesky Imperial army. Each mission has a goal for the gamer to achieve, the better your score, the more chances you have the ability to unlock cheats. The best cheat available for this game, was the ability to choose the Millennium Falcon. Who doesn’t want to be Han Solo.
Unlocking new missions gave the game more challenge and you even had access to the famed Death Star Trench Run. There were weapons in certain levels to search for to upgrade your star fighters. Some upgrades such as homing missiles (definitely a must find) and upgraded shields help you progress through the challenges easier. There were codes to unlock special fighters like the aforementioned Millennium Falcon, TIE Interceptor, and the Naboo Starfighter (from the Phantom Menace).
Flight control on a console game would be hard to master, but Factor 5 found a way for console gamers to experience flying at its best. The greatest thing that shined in Star Wars: Rogue Squadron was obviously the flight mechanics. The controls were perfect. I mean for a console based game, there were no complaints about the control. The control layout was thought about thoroughly by the guys/gals of Factor 5, as no button was out of place. You just pick up the controller and play. The various ships you pilot also had their own unique feel to it. For example, when you fly the Y-Wing Fighter, it was slow and not very maneuverable like a B-52 Bomber, but it can take a hit. But pick the A-Wing Fighter and it was fast and nimble like a housefly, but it is as weak as one too. The dog fighting was great as you would pull various flight maneuvers to dodge TIE Fighters and blast all those baddies away.
The graphics were great at the time, if you are specifically looking at each space fighter and the HUD. I mean little details on the star fighters like seeing R2 on the back of your star fighters or the ability to close or open the wings of an X-Wing Fighter. The ships have great engine effects that hypnotize you and the explosions look great. The little details on the HUD, either out-of-cockpit view or in-the-cockpit view, really made you feel that you were really flying a star fighter. But everything else…not so much. The levels looked bland. The land missions, you would look at endless desert or snow, and even if you weren’t on Tatooine or Hoth, there was just not that much details on land itself. Even the tiny stormtroopers or rebel soldiers were made out of sprites that had two frames for animation. They looked paper thin and ugly. The buildings were mostly square and even when you blow them up, they blew up in blocks of squares (the explosions itself were great though). The effects like the laser and explosions were nice, but anything was better than looking at the boring level design. Some levels were open world, and others you were confined to a canyon route system (which were pretty annoying). The level design was one of the weaker aspects of this game, but the dog fighting made you glance over the poor level designs.
The sounds in the game were pretty spot on, as you can hear the various lasers shooting out of the cannons on your fighter or hear the distinct TIE Fighter engines tailing your star fighter. The explosions and stormtroopers scream as you blast them away were all wonderful. The effects were music to my ears, because the music in Star Wars: Rogue Squadron was pretty much invisible. I never noticed there was music, unless I am on the menu screen. But then again, classical style music was never really my favorite.
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron was an amazing experience for me. It wasn’t perfect, but damn, it made Lucas Arts think twice about making some shoddy Star Wars games again. Factor 5 captured flying perfectly and thus re-creating one of the Star Wars experiences on the N64.