Only one year after X-Wing gave gamers the chance to relive some parts of the Star Wars saga in the cockpit of Rebel spacecrafts, LucasArts’ TIE Fighter showed that the Imperials are just as suitable for a good space combat sim.
TIE Fighter Collector’s CD-ROM (PC)
(USA 1995, developer: LucasArts (defunct), publishers: LucasArts (defunct)/Disney), platform: PC)
As a pilot fighter of the Empire, the Rebel Alliance and others who oppose the Emperor have to be pursued from the cockpit in many dangerous missions.
Join the Imperial side
If one expects a suspenseful fight for survival story, one should look elsewhere. Being part of the already powerful Empire takes away some of tension of fighting against all odds with higher stakes, even if the idea of playing as an unknown novice pilot who rises in fame and prestige works as in X-Wing. While the Rebels always try to find allies, the Empire is more interested in keeping their status quo and “protecting” the galaxy from traitors, pirates and those who stand against “peace”. This alternative version of the Star Wars story after the destruction of the first Death Star (and leading up to the construction of the second one) is entertaining most of the time with some guest appearances of Darth Vader and the Emperor, although the more interesting parts are those involving the acquisition of new space ships, as there is the main character remains faceless.
Fly for the Imperial fleet
7 ships can be flown for various missions with different controls. Even if cockpit views in addition to shield, laser and speed systems carry over from X-Wing, additional keys are assigned to special abilities, e.g. a beam that prevents enemy ships from moving and another one that keeps them from firing, or the use of super speed. As it’s possible to equip one’s craft with different weapons and tools at the beginning of most missions, there is a certain open strategy involved. Targeting specific components of a ship, e.g. weapons or shield systems or switching to enemy crafts attacking mission-critical objects as well as being able to match one’s starfighter speed to another one by the press of a simple key is also highly helpful.
Not every ship is available right from the start, as they’re part of the main plot and some add-on missions. If this sounds even more complicated than in the original Star Wars space sim, that’s not the case at all. Sure, each ship handles differently and with the standard TIE Fighter having no shield at all, one has to be even more careful during battle. But it’s simply a great feeling to try out different strategies and see how each vessel handles in missions. With the fire power of the Missile Boat that can have 80 projectiles, gameplay is much different from flying an evasive TIE-Defender, for example. The velocity and damage of each torpedo and missile has to be taken into account as well.
Serve the Emperor with improvements
Mission design doesn’t distract much from the destroy-target/protect-ally template, although now one can pursue secondary and bonus goals. The former are given by the Emperor’s secret service, the latter are usually completed by sheer luck, e.g. destroying certain targets. While the secondary mission goals are simply about identifying or destroying specific vessels, the reward to be accepted in the inner circle of the Emperor feels even better than climbing ranks and receiving medals. Of course this all requires more fighting and strategic skills, but as checking if it’s still possible to accomplish these objective is made easy, frustration is kept at a minimum. One can also abort/restart a mission during play with the option to restore the latest pilot data.
This doesn’t mean that the game is easy, though. Despite being able to choose between three difficulties, even Medium offers quite a challenge, with some missions being particularly tricky and in certain cases almost unfair. At least it’s possible to fast forward time so that waiting for crafts to complete docking or for others to arrive isn’t necessary anymore. Unclear mission briefings are absent as well, because one can ask an officer or secret agent about specific details of the missions. Even after failing a mission, helpful advice is given what one could have done better. Again the sheer amount of missions is staggeringly high, with 7 Tours of Duty for the main campaign, 3 more with the first add-on Defender of the Empire and again 3 with Enemies of the Empire. Adding all the training and historical missions which are interwoven in the main campaign with new ship arrivals, playtime is very long indeed.
Looks and sounds are better on the dark side
Graphics are much more detailed than in X-Wing due to a higher resolution and more effects, while slowdown rarely occurs, making for a more fluid experience. Voice acting is improved as well (even if there is a discrepancy at times between what is said and what is written), while the music adjusts to the action on screen (although again only in the Collector’s Edition available on GOG). It’s interesting to note that the usually dark Imperial march music is used as a heroic leitmotif. It might not work in the same nostalgic way as in the Alliance campaigns, but the higher quality soundtrack and effects add to the overall intense battle atmosphere, especially with voiced messages during missions notifying the player if he/she succeeded or failed. Cutscenes are also quite good, rewarding the player with progressing, particularly when being given marks on his arm during the Emperor’s secret agents’ ceremonies.
A great flight sim about the bad guys
Sometimes it’s good to be bad in games if the title in question is really that good. In the case of TIE Fighter, it’s the better X-Wing in gameplay. With more user-friendly improvements during missions and more elaborate mission briefings, it’s more accessible, while the graphics are much easier on the eye as well. However, missions still suffer from repetitiveness and the story of being an Imperial isn’t as exciting as fighting for the Alliance. Still, with a playtime of 40-50 hours due to the two expansion packs, the 100+ missions offer enough joystick food for space combat simulation fans and those who want a more polished game than LucasArts’ first foray into the genre could offer.
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