Then and Now: Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader

This weekly column looks at classic video games both in how they looked back in the day and how they stand up today. Though scores will be assigned, our tough review standards will be relaxed a bit for these games to give a general overview instead.

All retro games come courtesy of Retro Games Plus, located at 1761 Post Road East in Westport, CT. If you’re in the northeastern part of the United States, please give them a look.

I am about to write something that’s going to make people freak out and demand that I resign my geek card:

I have never watched a Star Wars movie. In fact, other than casually passing it by while it was on a TV or something, I haven’t see minute one of any of the six movies. I’ve seen more of the Star Wars Christmas Special than I have the movies. My knowledge of Star Wars begins and ends with what I was able to pick up in Spaceballs.

Let that sink in. Heads are exploding the world over like they did when I mentioned this in high school. Friend-of-the-site Brandon Chowden might need a strait jacket. No one can possibly fathom that I haven’t watched the movies, even the originals, but it’s true. But while I might not know a good movie, I do know good video games, and the Rogue Squadron games were good in their day regardless of anyone’s knowledge of the movies. Ostensibly allowing gamers to recreate the battles from the games, it allowed people to achieve their fantasy of flying an X-Wing in a well-made setting.

The nature of games like this is that they typically work for their time but end up becoming depreciated as other, better games come out. How does Rogue Leader stand up to other flight games?

Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader
Original System: Nintendo GameCube
Developer: Factor 5
Publisher: LucasArts
Original Release Date: November 9, 2001

HOW WAS IT THEN: The first Rogue Squadron was good, but the technological improvements made from the Nintendo 64 to the GameCube did a lot of favours for the gameplay. The GameCube was a highly underrated system, and Factor 5 got the most out of it; Rogue Leader looked amazing for its time and flew at a solid 60 FPS, all while keeping tight controls and outstanding gameplay. This was all the more impressive considering that this was a first-generation GameCube release, meaning Factor 5 moved up curve of how a first generation game should look and play.

The battles themselves, which were very similar to the open-fighting sequences in Star Fox 64, were fast paced and action packed. There were enough TIE fighters to take out with specific goals set up as stages progressed. The GameCube controller was also much easier to use compared to the awful N64’s, allowing for better control of the various fighter planes found in the game. One great addition was the targeting screen: with the Y button, an infared-like screen overlay showed up, which was helpful in getting past the “noise” around the area and focusing on mission-critical targets, marked in yellow. Even if one isn’t playing the game, the aesthetic feel in the sound effects and environments, and the fact that Denis Lawson (Wedge Antilles) recorded new lines of dialogue for the game, are enough to make Star Wars fans have a fangasm.

For Star Wars fans, there was a heavy amount of fanservice as well. Video clips were parsed around the game liberally, and stages started with the scrolling, zoomed text that has since become iconic. There were also a number of extras and other goodies for fans to absorb. It was a good package tied to a great game that served as Star Wars porn for the truly dedicated.

THEN: A-

HOW IS IT NOW: Rogue Leader, which has since been superceeded by Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike, still serves as a good arcade fighter that can scratch the itch for anyone looking for either a good Star Wars game or a good flight combat game.

Playing the game is easy enough. Basically, aim guns, shoot anything bad, and don’t get hit. Going into the game, I expected to get a Star Fox-like experience and I was mostly left satisfied, though it didn’t feel as natural as that game did; I missed the ability to do things like a loop or turning around on command. The game also ramps up in difficulty well. Stages grow progressively harder, but older stages can be replayed at any time, increasing the replay value significantly considering the fan appeal of a Star Wars game that lets you blow up both Death Stars.

The first real issue I had was that I simply don’t know much about Star Wars, which led to a hilarious event in the first stage where I used up my last photon torpedo, immediately cut away to a planet blowing up, and learned I failed because I now had no way to blow up the Death Star. Whoops. While this was funny, I can’t be critical; that’s like being critical of Dynasty Warriors because a gamer doesn’t know Chinese history enough to know how the Battle of He Fei goes. Basically, the game is not made for me, and that’s fine because it’s accessible enough as it is. I didn’t know much about Hokuto no Ken (a.k.a. Fist of the North Star) before I played Ken’s Rage, either.

I do have two main complaints. For one, Rogue Leader is short. That’s fine because there are alternative goals beyond just clearing the game, but anyone who isn’t OCD about 100% completion will be left wanting. Secondly, I wish there were in-stage checkpoints, especially in later stages. One benefit of a game like Saints Row 2, for instance, is that I can restart at a point in the middle of a mission if I end up biting the dust part way through. It enables me to skip things that I’ve already done to get through the game. In 2012, I don’t accept the argument that a stage has to be completed from start to finish in one shot, especially at higher difficulty settings.

These are all minor quibbles, but ultimately, the mileage people get out of Rogue Leader is going to depend on what they’re looking for. For an arcade-like flight combat game, Rogue Leader has been outdone many times over by the Hawx and Ace Combat games; it simply isn’t as exciting as those games can be, even if the latter has gotten quite convoluted over the years. However, for Star Wars fans, the Rogue Squadron games are not only great games, they’re really the last of their kind. I don’t know much about Star Wars, but I do know that the feeling of getting into my X-Wing just to blow things up would seem like a cathartic experience, and I would love to be able to simulate that on command on the current generation systems. The Star Wars franchise has been in many outstanding directions since Rogue Leader, with the BioWare-developed Knights of the Old Republic and The Old Republic MMO being highlights, but this is one area I think LucasArts could go back to if they desired it.

Sadly, Rogue Squadron‘s developer is no more as it has become a victim of the modern era of AAA development more than anything else. Factor 5 had one very high profile failure in the 2007 PS3 exclusive Lair and never recovered, eventually closing down in 2009 and being eaten up in litigation over back pay since. However, their legacy lives on and does so affordably at that; Rogue Squadron II is $7.95 at Retro Games Plus, and Rebel Strike averages about $10 on eBay. They’re definitely worth the price for whoever wants to buy them for whatever reason. Rogue Leader is an acceptable flight combat game for those who just want to blow things up and a great game for anyone who just wants a Star Wars movie fix that doesn’t involve Jar Jar Fuckin’ Binks.

NOW: C+

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Christopher Bowen

About Christopher Bowen

Christopher Bowen is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus. Before opening Gaming Bus in May of 2011, he was the News Editor at Diehard GameFAN, a lead reporter for DailyGamesNews, and a reviewer at Not A True Ending, also contributing to VIMM, SNESZone and Scotsmanality. Outside of the industry, he is a network engineer in Norwalk, CT and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.