Have you ever wondered why a bestselling console title didn’t have the same impact on PC? Factor 5’s and LucasArts’ collaborative arcade action game Rogue Squadron might have been great for the N64, but Rogue Squadron 3D isn’t remembered that well, so is it still worth playing?
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 3D (PC)
(USA 1998, developers: Factor 5/LucasArts (defunct), publishers: LucasArts (defunct)/Disney), platform: PC)
Formed by Luke Skywalker, the Rogue Squadron goes on dangerous missions, fighting for the Alliance against the Empire, helping defectors, destroying bases and trying to survive against attacks by World Devastators and Moff Kohl Seerdon.
Less than epic story of the saga
If one is looking for a great story with memorable characters and plot twists, one should look elsewhere (for example to the Jedi Knight series). While the idea of having mission-based set-pieces in which the Rogue Squadron can show off their talent is sound, the connection between them is flimsy at best. This might have to do with narrative gaps or because the chatter during or after fights is rarely character development material, because it’s mostly gung-ho bro attitude with some pretty bad dialogue and dramatic scenes which don’t work that well. Feeling as part of the Rebellion, the story partly works.
A few cameos from Chewbacca, Han Solo or Luke Skywalker aside, actively sabotaging the Empire’s inner workings and battling it out against foes who stayed in the background in the movies feels right, although it never comes across as epic as it should be, something the console-only sequels did much better. Well-known locations like the desert planet Tatooine or the city in the clouds Bespin contribute to this cinematic feeling, while in-game cutscenes further enhance it.
Hard arcade feelings
The missions are nicely interwoven in the story with some varied goals which can also change during play, e.g. when one has to protect a civilian city or destroy specific targets. While it never gets complicated, the difficulty curve is quite steep at times. Even with three lives, enemy fire can quickly bring down the various ships one flies, as controls aren’t always responsive. Even more aggravating is a camera view bug that makes ships almost disappear in the distance. This can only be prevented by switching to the cockpit or very-close-to-ship view. Taking into account that switching between various views takes time one usually doesn’t have in the heat of the fight, it’s a technical hiccup that always crops up and makes a difficult game unnecessarily more difficult.
Variation in gameplay goes hand in hand with the ships, each of which has their own weapon, shield and maneuverability systems. The use of secondary fire is often essential for completing certain goals, e.g. when bringing down the walking war machines AT-ATs using a cable and then flying around in circles until they stumble (not made any easier with the camera controls) or by using missiles or bombs to destroy ground targets. Sometimes objectives aren’t clear enough, though, so flying around and finding a specific spot or being quicker about dispensing with certain enemies becomes vital for survival. Especially troublesome are dogfights, as throttling speed isn’t as nuanced as in the more simulation-heavy X-Wing or TIE-Fighter series. But it’s an arcade game, and for this it does a pretty good job of delivering no-nonsense fun, especially with the medal system. It requires players to accomplish specific goals in a specific time frame in addition to the main objectives, which is often extremely difficult but then again also very rewarding.
Technology waits for no Rebel pilot
Graphically, the game hasn’t aged that well. The ground missions are the most basic-looking with low-res textures and quite bland backgrounds. It’s unfortunate that these take up most of the playtime, as missions in the sky (read: Bespin, the cloud city) look quite good. One shouldn’t expect lots of animations in the environments, although the ships are recognizably detailed. Slowdown rarely occurs, so despite the graphics not being impressive, they’re also not distracting from the fighting sequences.
The music and sound effects are obviously taken from John Williams’ memorable score, but due to a low audio quality, they’re not as immersive as they could be, another testament to time not having been kind to the technology it was based on. Voice acting is also quite bad at times. Even if Star Wars always had a tongue-in-cheek approach, some lines come across as too campy, which might either have to do with the inexperience of the actors or with the technology.
Not a classic, but an enjoyable sci-fi romp
Being an arcade game, Factor 5’s and LucasArts’ Rogue Squadron 3D is easy to get into. Next to the Rebel Assault games, this is the best way to experience the Star Wars universe without learning all sorts of keyboard configurations. Unfortunately, the story isn’t that interesting, and while the mission-based gameplay is fun, it’s nowhere as memorable as in the series’ console-only successors. Technologically, one shouldn’t expect great things, either. However, if one wants to play a very demanding game with a punishing difficulty curve for a short while, this Star Wars fan service works quite well.
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