Does the mix of live-action sequences and restricted gameplay work in LucasArts’ on-rails shooter Rebel Assault II: The Hidden Empire as it did in Rebel Assault?
Rebel Assault II: The Hidden Empire (PC)
(USA 1995, developer: LucasArts (defunct), publishers: LucasArts (defunct)/Disney), platforms: PC, Sega CD, 3DO)
Rebel pilot Rookie One has to find out what new technology of the Empire makes their fighters attack the Alliance spaceships without being seen.
A new story of less epic proportions
Telling a new story in the Star Wars universe isn’t easy, especially with the introduction of unknown characters. While Rookie One is no Luke Skywalker and the rest of the cast is rather forgettable, even if quite likable, the plot and set-pieces are still satisfying despite being not that epic. Unlike its predecessor that struggled to weave many memorable scenes of the sci-fi saga together, the narrative is much more coherent in the sequel with actual suspense and an engaging story that might not be deep but that is entertaining enough. The acting is quite bad and the dialogues aren’t the best, though. However, the feeling of playing a very fun Star Wars movie carries over with no downtime or conversations which are too long.
Still on the rollercoaster FMV ride
Gameplay-wise, not much has changed in terms of on-rails shooting, other than this time it’s even more linear, i.e. alternative routes aren’t possible. There are still infuriatingly difficult levels in which one has to navigate through tight spaces with fiddly controls, to the point where it’s almost impossible not to hit something. While they’re exhilarating to a certain degree, they’re more frustrating than anything else. On foot sections make a return as well, but they’re much better this time around. As in a good arcade lightgun shooter, one can use some parts of the environment to an advantage, and enemies are not only hit but fall down from heights or are thrown back in a spectacular fashion, enhancing the cinematic presentation.
Less or more play and watch
Spectacular is the right word when it comes to great fight or flight sequence, as these are reminiscent of Disneyland’s Star Tours ride. Flying through a field of asteroids is pretty cool to watch, even if the number of targets to hit is high and simultaneously evading oncoming rocks requires a keen eye and fast reflexes. Of course there are also pretty weak and annoying passages, like flying through a swamp on a speeder bike or through a canyone with a TIE Fighter. While this sounds great in theory, practically it’s almost unplayable due to the wonky controls with the mouse working in some scenes, while using a gamepad/joystick working better in others. Fortunately, one can choose between three difficulty modes and even create a customized one with an editor that offers many tweaks. The checkpoint system is also improved with levels to choose from and therefore getting rid of the password system of the first game, even if some parts remain difficult and result in trial and error sessions.
Still looking good and sounding epic
Improvements have also been made in the graphical presentation. Compared to the first game, the video quality is much better due to a higher resolution. Only one section looks quite bad with low-res textures, being the speeder bike ride, but the rest offers some great special effects. The live-action sequences with real actors look a bit ropey (which might also have to do with the bad acting), but the overall feeling of being in a movie than simply watching one is present throughout. The same can be said about the music that is of a higher sound quality and adds both tension and atmosphere to proceedings.
Not a classic, but an improvement
Rebel Assault II: The Hidden Empire doesn’t change the formula of live-action sequences and on-rails shooting sections much. It’s even more linear, but that’s no bad thing, as it’s a thrill ride reminiscent of theme parks with enough campy humor and lots of space combat fights so that the very short playtime of just around 3 hours is a time well spent. The acting might not be good, and there’s not much strategy or freedom of choice. But it remains a more enjoyable and playable experience than its predecessor was.
Buy the digital version for PC on
GOG (together with Rebel Assault II)
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