Does Totally Games’ X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter continue the legacy of LucasArts’ X-Wing and TIE Fighter on the multi-player but also single-player battlefront?
X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter (PC)
(USA 1997, developer: Totally Games (defunct), publishers: LucasArts (defunct)/Disney), platform: PC)
The war between Rebels and Imperials continues and it’s again up to new recruits to help them out.
Single-player fun in a multi-player game
Unlike Aliens versus Predator Classic 2000 in which missions are connected by a story, the original X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter is more like a playground for multi-player matches and doesn’t feature an encompassing plot. This is rectified by the add-on Balance of Power. Not having played against others, I’ll concern myself mainly with single-player in this review. Still, despite not having a story-line, the original at least gives the player the impression that his pilot avatar isn’t only prepared with training missions, but also takes part in more important battles on both the Rebel Alliance and Imperial side. Being promoted or demoted, depending on the missions’ outcome, has always been part of the single-player focused space combat series, and it’s all present and correct here as well.
Join the same battle on different sides
Balance of Power offers 15 missions that tell the story of the Rogue Squadron which helps the Rebellion to escape the Imperials, capture one of the enemies’ cruisers, and finally get rid of a Super Star Destroyer. Playing on the Imperial side, one takes control of the Avenger Squadron, prevents the attacks, and then destroy a Rebellion outpost. While the storyline isn’t the most original, it’s at least more engaging with different cut-scenes for each faction, although the missions themselves actually play very similar, only with the roles reversed. There’s obviously a lot of potential for a more epic plot, but it’s still fun to play through both campaigns from different perspectives, especially if one already knows what the other side has planned during the first playthrough. Of course these missions can be played in multi-player as well, which might explain why it’s the same story for each faction.
Learn to use the force on the joystick and keyboard
Those who have played previous LucasArts’ space combat sims will feel right at home when being in the cockpit of all the various spacecraft, especially if one is familiar with the TIE Fighter controls. Newcomers to the series won’t be left alone, though, because the training missions of the original X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter are very good to get to grips with an admittedly high number of keys to learn. Unlike console titles like Rogue Squadron 3D or Starfighter, this is still a simulation that re-enacts the Star Wars cockpit action perfectly, which means one has to know how to transfer energy from lasers to shields, do quick evasive maneuvres, give wingmen instructions, and simply be aware of everything at the same time, which isn’t always easy in the heat of battle.
However, if one remembers all the keys and (most importantly) has a joystick that works, then there’s simply nothing more immersive than fighting side by side with Imperials and Rebels alike. A wide variety of ships that play very differently and wingmen that are quite capable to listen to one’s orders complement the fast-paced action. Missions are also varied and offer primary, secondary, and bonus objectives to complete. The better one performs, the higher one rises through ranks. Of course failing missions means demoted in ranks. Despite offering three difficulties and the very useful option to jump into the next available ship when being destroyed, the missions are very hard even on the easiest setting. As updates of mission goals are only given by text that can be easily missed, it’s not often clear what the next steps are, especially with secondary objectives not listed. Fortunately the Balance of Power add-on makes it a bit easier, as targeted ships are given additional information, i.e. if they’re friendly, enemies, and mission-critical. Waiting for ships to go into hyperspace or performing a docking operation still leads to downtime, while quitting a mission immediately results in points lost that are needed to reach higher ranks. Despite being able to send in for reinforcements, one will have a hard time fighting for one’s life and succeeding in the missions.
Multi-player vs. single-player
It’s obvious that X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter is built around multi-player, as playing each mission with a capable human co-pilot or against human opposition is a completely different experience than with or against the computer A.I.. However, some ideas carry over to the single-player and make it different enough from the rest of the X-Wing saga. It’s not only possible to choose one’s spacecraft before a mission starts, one can also select the squadron one wants to play, which changes mission objectives quite dramatically, e.g. one either flies a Y-Wing to disable a target or one pilots an X-Wing to protect the Y-Wing squad against enemies, so replaying over 50 missions will take a lot of playtime if one wants to try out everything. Doing all the free-for-all, team-based, and cooperative play modes which can also be customized in addition to the battles and 30-mission campaigns with up to eight players makes it a rather lengthy game.
Old tech that still works
Being over 20 years old, the game has obviously aged with its 3D technology, although this doesn’t mean that its visuals are ugly and distract from the overall immersive Star Wars feeling. It’s only that the Gourad shading effects that were used in TIE Fighter Collector’s CD-ROM are replaced with the inferior texture mapping graphics, making all the ship models less shiny. This isn’t a deal breaker, as explosions and lighting effects still look good and the ships are detailed as well, but it’s noticeable that it’s a technological step back. Fortunately the iconic Star Wars music and sound effects have survived the transition and are complemented by some good voice acting as well.
A good space sim, but not so memorable Star Wars experience
X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter does a great job of combining the fun space battles of both X-Wing: Collector’s CD-ROM and TIE Fighter Collector’s CD-ROM with tight simulation controls and some good mission design. Being able to play both sides and having many ships on offer results in a very long playtime, while the immersive cockpit experience remains as hardcore as ever. However, it’s clear that multi-player doesn’t replace a well-told story. The add-on tries to solve this problem, but it still remains less epic or interesting than what the predecessors provided, even if the cinematic presentation of the cut-scenes works wonders.
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