Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike

Post-Launch Review
Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike
Developers: Factor 5
Released: October 2003
Note: a lot of this review is in comparison to Rogue Leader, since I jumped from that straight into Rebel Strike.


Jump back into the fighter cockpit as Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles continue the battle against the Empire. Rebel Strike includes new ground missions, more vehicles, and multiplayer modes.

At Launch

Rebel Strike was well received, earning average review scores of 75%. Reviewers noted improvements in fighter combat, but heavily criticized Rebel Strike's ground missions - critics felt that the ground missions were clunky and awkward, and that they waste space that could've been used for more fighter combat. The multiplayer elements were highly praised.

Post Launch

Gamecube games get no updates.

As soon as I put down Rogue Leader and picked up Rebel Strike, it was immediately obvious that Rebel Strike is the better game (I was already pretty sure, but I hadn't played either game in about 10 years so I had to double check). Graphics are improved: environment textures seem a bit better, there are more visual effects, and there are more objects to make terrain look rougher and more natural. Enemy behaviour is improved: some fighters stick to predetermined patterns, others roam. Roamers, broken flight groups, and sometimes entire squads will wheel around and attack you head-on. And there are a lot more of them on screen, too. There's a lot more variety in mission structure, too - you'll frequently switch craft partway through a mission to accomplish a new objective.

Rebel Strike has almost twice as many missions as its predecessor, and a stronger story too. After the first mission Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles split up. Luke spends a little while defending some researchers, and then his missions follow the movies - on the ground at Hoth, training on Dagobah, fighting at Jabba's sail barge, and the speeder bike chase on Endor. Meanwhile, Wedge is rescuing captured scientists and tracking down a mysterious Imperial foe tied to the storm commando units, culminating on an attack on a still-in-construction Super Star Destroyer. And there's a brief arc with a secondary Rogue squadron member. Overall the story is still more of a weak linkage between missions rather than an actual plot, but it's better than Rogue Leader.

You get to pilot a lot of different vehicles during these missions. Much of the time will be spent in standard rebel fighters, but you also get to try out a swoop bike, AT-ST and AT-AT, a TIE bomber and TIE hunter, and a Jedi starfighter. You can also unlock the Slave I and Millenium Falcon.

Ground missions are a pretty major addition to the series. AT-ST missions are kind of fun if a little bland - your targets are mostly slow or stationary. Also I wish I could reverse aim on the ground. The swoop mission is pretty cool, and it's pretty high adrenaline when you're racing down a narrow ridge with TIE bombers trying to blow you to pieces. Even better is the speeder bike chase on Endor, which is not only challenging but also features one of the best forest environments I've ever seen in a video game (the track uses trees for walls, so it's the only time I've seen a convincingly dense forest).

On foot missions are... well, they're not awful, but let's just say it's very obvious that spaceships are what the game does best. On foot all your attacks are auto-targeted. It can be a little tricky to convince the game to actually target a given enemy, but most of the time all you need to do is face the right direction, so ground missions end up just being "run around and mash the shoot button" and you'll probably get a silver or gold medal. Being so close to the ground also tends to expose poor textures you'd never notice from the cockpit of a fighter. On foot missions make up a fairly substantial minority of the total missions - probably a quarter - and it's a little disappointing to think that they could've been more space battles instead.

As always, most of your play time will probably be devoted to unlocks and medals, not just to finishing the missions. Mere completion is easy, high scores make up the challenge and the longevity. Some missions can be annoying to replay, but there are some missions (or mission segments) that are particularly strong - I quite enjoy the attack on the Executor, for example.

There are some nice bonuses included outside the main campaign. There's a splitscreen co-op mode, featuring most of the missions from Rogue Leader as two-player missions. These are a lot of fun to play with a friend, especially the Death Star missions. There's a multiplayer dogfight mode, which sounds great except that it's only two players with no other enemies in sight, so it's actually quite boring (and doubly so if you use homing missiles). There are two-player races set in the Death Star trench and the forest of Endor; those are be fun but the setback on death means that if you're shooting at each other you might just spend the whole race alternating between first and second. Finally, in the special features menu you can get to a disco Imperial hangar where you can access the old Star Wars arcade game cabinets. And I do mean old - the original 1983 vector graphic games.

Recommendation: play it.

Rebel Strike is somewhat rare now - I paid $30 to reacquire a copy at Toronto Comicon - but it's still the best Star Wars fighter combat game there is, and an experience you're not going to get anywhere else. Gameplay is smooth and graphics hold up pretty well. The co-op mode is a great bonus. I'm genuinely surprised that the review scores were so much lower than Rogue Leader - despite Rebel Strike's space combat improving in pretty much every way, it seems the ground missions were so poorly received that they knocked a full 15% off the score, which I think is unjustified. I'll keep coming back to fly some spaceships, especially with the co-op mode.

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