Reviewed: November 7, 2002
Released: November, 2001
LucasArts is practically guaranteeing the sale of a GameCube to every Star Wars fan in the galaxy with the release of STAR WARS Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II. Factor 5 has once again teamed up with the wizards at LucasArts to bring us the ultimate sequel to their 1998 original, Rogue Squadron 3D, which debuted on the Nintendo 64 and eventually made its way to the PC. But if you are a PC owner who thinks you can save $200 by waiting for a port; be warned that there are no plans to offer this title on the PC anytime soon, if ever.
Rogue Leader is one of those few games that justify the purchase of the system even if you never purchase another GameCube game. Nintendo seems to have the uncanny ability to pull this off. I was a firm anti-N64 person for the longest time, then I finally caved into the pressure of games like WaveRace64, Banjo Kazooie, and of course Golden Eye. Even newer games like Perfect Dark and Conker's Dad Fur Day still send people in search of the aging console. Nintendo has some really good games but their secret is that they get exclusive titles that force you to buy their system if you want to play them.
Rogue Leader offers these stellar features:
Rogue Leader is a single player action game that puts you in the cockpit of all your favorite ships from Episodes IV-VI and recreates some of your favorite combat scenes from these movies. You get to play as Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles, as you take part in eleven missions in a variety of scenarios including dogfights in the clouds of Bespin, the deserts of Tatooine, the icy tundra of Hoth, and even the famous trench run on the Death Star.
The first mission puts you in the seat of a trusty X-Wing, as you make the climatic trench run made famous in previous Star Wars games such as the original coin-op from Atari and the secret bonus level in the more recent Rogue Squadron 3D. Of course the Death Star has never looked this good outside the theater. The power of the GameCube brings the surface of the Death Star to life to the point where it looks better than the original movie. The surface is ablaze with gunfire from turrets that track your ship as you skim the surface and weave through the spires.
Fighters are modeled in such a way that they don't simply explode when hit, but rather break apart realistically and crash into other fighters, the ground, or anything nearby. Of course a well-placed shot can often result in that spectacular cloud of burning gases. The AI of the Tie Fighters is most impressive. Tie Fighters actually work in groups under the command of their wingleader and will perform amazing feats of agility when dodging your attacks.
But smart pilots aren't just in the enemy cockpits. You have your own squadron at your disposal, and by using the simple interface you can issue commands to have them perform certain actions. Commanding your squadron is an integral part to the success of your missions, and you are given many opportunities during each mission to issue these commands.
Commands are not as numerous or complicated as the PC games where you are required to perform energy management and monitor shields and engines, etc. The on-screen HUD and command interface is very similar to that of Star Wars Starfighter for the PS2. The cockpits are amazingly detailed but mainly serve to immerse you in the game rather than offer any feedback.
While many flight-sim jockeys will be craving a joystick for the ultimate in realism, the GameCube controller gets the job done quite nicely. It's slightly smaller than the Dreamcast controller and not nearly as awkward as the N64. In fact, despite its strange appearance it feels amazing like the Dual-Shock pad for the PS2. You have full control over your ship's speed, weapons' fire, and movement. You even have independent camera control using the POV C-stick allowing you to look check out your cockpit or your "six". Unlike some previous Star Wars games that had you feeling like your ship was on "rails", Rogue Leader offers massive 3D environments you can freely explore.
Another nice feature of Rogue Leader is the ability for it to analyze your ability to actually play the game and adjust the difficulty on the fly by decreasing enemy AI or increasing the skills of your wingmen. Of course earning medals is based on your ability and not the skills of the computer, so if you want that gold medal you are going to have to do most of the work yourself.
The GameCube is pushing an incredible amount of polygons, textures, and all sorts of special effects at a blistering 60fps with full screen anti-aliasing. Graphics are crisp and realistic with eight texture passes for each polygon surface. By using the GameCube's texture compression, ships look as good far away as they do up close, and the use of dirt and illumination maps all add to the overwhelming sense of realism.
Envirnomental effects such as night and day are rendered in amazing detail. You can actually watch the suns set on Tatooine or the skies darken over Bespin and don't be surprised when the buildings start to light-up. Custom light maps bring out details as subtle as individual windows in buildings and ships.
Capital ships like the formidable Star Destroyer are now modeled in epic proportions (check out the shot of the B-wing in the destroyer's exhaust port for an idea of scale) and in amazing detail. Some of the larger ships are built with over 125,000 polygons. Real-time lighting, digital explosions, and bump-mapped textures create the most realistic visuals ever seen in any Star Wars game to date.
But the Star Wars goodness doesn't stop with the graphics. John Williams' classic score is back and in glorious DVD-quality sound along with all those sound effects most fans can identify without visual aid. Who can forget the thundering roar of the exhaust ports on the Imperial Destroyer or the spine tingling whine of the Tie Fighters as they scream by? Laser fire, explosions, and radio voice chatter all immerse you in the classic Star Wars combat scenes made famous in the movies.
Rogue Leader runs in Dolby Pro Logic II - a new matrix developed by Jim Fosgate - for 5.1 surround sound eventhough the GameCube has no digital out. The surround processor takes the GameCube's analog signal and filters it appropriately. The result is a very convincing and quite effective 5.1 listening experience complete with clear separation in the front and rear speakers, not to mention a thunderous sub-woofer output. Of course if you want to appreciate this amazing sound you will need a Dolby Pro Logic II capable receiver, but even without, this game still sounds incredible.
If eleven missions has you screaming "short game" don't forget the secret bonus missions. Yes, there are plenty of secret missions for you to unlock by earning those coveted medals for performing above and beyond. Just imagine hopping into the pilot's seat of Darth Vader's custom Tie Fighter and defending the Death Star in just one of the amazing bonus missions.
Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II is shaping up to be one of the best launch titles for the upcoming GameCube. Factor 5 is going to deliver the ultimate Star Wars experience we have all dreamed of participating in since we saw the original movie more than 25 years ago, and Nintendo is going to deliver the hardware powerful enough to play it. If you ever wanted or needed a reason to preorder your GameCube, you have it now.
May the Force Be With You.