Star Wars games: the good, the bad, and holy shit Andrew loved Rebellion
So EA has a lock on the core Star Wars games moving forward, and we're…not exactly happy about it. One of the strengths of Star Wars as a licensed property in the world of video games is how many developers and publishers were given the chance to take a crack at the world and to do something different with it. Everything from real-time strategy to RPGs, MMOS and first-person shooters. Has there been a genre that hasn't enjoyed a Star Wars game?
Still, when I think of Star Wars games, my mind goes back to college and playing on Jedi Academy dueling servers. We took turns, jumped into the middle, bowed to our opponents, and no one used force powers. The lightsaber combat system in that game remains one of the high points of bladed combat in any game, much less Star Wars. I think it's amazing that no one has ripped off that system for a more modern game, especially with the different stances and the multiple strategies attached to each one.
Remember that crazy mod where you could spawn in multiple enemies and fight them one after the other while Prodigy's “Smack my Bitch Up” played in the background? I spent hours with that thing.
Shadows of the Empire was also one of my favorite early N64 games. The Hoth level was brilliant, we were introduced to Dash Rendar, and the graphics were pretty intense for the time. I think I had rented the game from a local Blockbuster, and I never actually bought it, I just kept renting it until I had seen everything there was to see, over and over.
Andrew, I'm going to kick it to you: when I say Star Wars in video games, what's the first thing that comes into your mind?
The very first thing I think of? Star Wars: Rebellion. It's not the most well-known game in the Star Wars video game library, but it's basically Star Wars: Total War. I found out later in life that Rebellion was considered an awful strategy game, but I couldn't have cared less at the time.
The core gameplay of capturing planets with Mon Calamari Cruisers and battling in deep space with Corellian Corvettes staffed by the heroes of the rebellion was immensely engaging to a pre-teen Star Wars geek like me who fancied himself an intellectual. You needed to be very studious to get anything done in that insanely complicated game. I still remember the game manual. It was the size of a small novel.
It proved to be a pretty frustrating game though. I don't think I ever once won a campaign. It didn't matter though, since I was a bit too young to be concerned with a “terrible user interface” or “zero possibility of victory.” I was entirely too focused on building Death Stars and destroying Death Stars.
I could jabber on about Star Wars games for hours though. Somehow most of my Star Wars game memories are nice ones. Even when the game was terrible. Are there any games that stick out to you as being miserable experiences?
Well, when I was teeny-tiny I remember playing the Atari Star Wars game and trying to take down the AT-ATs. I'm sure I would hate it now, but back then that game was magical. Especially as children, Star Wars just seemed like a great world, and I think we were willing to put up with a lot of crap to feel like we could jump in and play around in that sandbox, even in small ways.
During a recent trip to the arcade my son and I finished the Star Wars arcade game, the one with the single stick? It looks great, and my kid had fun playing it, but man, it's dire. Designed to suck quarters away from the player, and offering little outside of the aesthetics, it was just a piece of crap all around. I'm sure the licensing and those sweet, sweet visuals helped to make it a big success, though.
I also enjoyed those punishing Super Nintendo Star Wars games that came from an era when every property was stripped down into a 2D side-scroller. Being able to play as the different characters, each with their own weapon and abilities, was pretty cool at the time.
I also owned the Phantom Menace PC game, the one with the weird top-down viewpoint. That was when I started to suspect that many of these games weren't so great though, and that was probably the first Star Wars game I actively disliked.
But let's get back to the good stuff, Andrew. Were there any particular scenes or game play mechanics from the good Star Wars games that you remember?
Andrew's dope pod racer
My favorite singular mechanic from a Star Wars game were the Death Stars from Star Wars Rebellion. They were completely useless. You'd spend half the game building it, deplete your resources, and then you couldn't use it because the galaxy would turn against you.
Then the rebellion would show up and smash it to pieces. It was frustrating, but I look at it as a teaching moment where I learned something about the Emperor's psyche. How vain must he have been to devote that amount of resources to that useless endeavor? Twice!
The scene that I remember most fondly though is fighting the AT-ST in Shadows of the Empire (I also rented that game from Blockbuster 12+ times but never bought it.) Or maybe the fight against Slave 1 later in the game. Either way, SotE had some amazing scenes.
Beyond that, I also adored Episode 1: Racer. I remember realizing at the time that the game was completely broken. One character, Bullseye Navoir, actually had a large statistical advantage over every other racer, but I stuck it out with my boy Mars Guo because he had the dopest pod. The system for buying equipment in that game was a ton of fun, and I remember obsessing about which parts I used in my racer.
Ben's final words
I'm not sure I've met anyone who liked Rebellion quite as much, but we'll go with it. I also loved Rogue Leader back in the days of the GameCube. That game was one of the first newer generation Star Wars games where the graphics really kept up with the source material.
It's also easy to talk about how influential Knights of the Old Republic would prove to be, but I still remember being shocked at that mid-game twist. Republic Commando was also one of my early review jobs back at Ars Technica, and it remains a great example of how a first-person shooter can be made from the source material. Sure, Dark Forces did that much, much earlier, but still, Republic Commando is definitely under-rated.
And this is why the EA news bums me out. EA is lacking manpower after so many layoffs, and the licensing fees for Star Wars tend to be pretty one-sided. With that much money sunk into the exclusivity deal and Disney wanting to capitilize on its new acquisition in Star Wars, we're likely to see games pumped out relatively quickly, with few risks taken. I'm not scared of Star Wars being ruined, I have stacks of great games to play in the mean time, I'm mostly scared of it being boring.
You can say what you want about the Star Wars games that have come before, but they are certainly varied, interesting, and numerous. I'm afraid that age of Star Wars games is about to come to a close.