• Star Wars Rogue Leader 2 Review - Nintendo Gamecube

    A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away a movie was released that changed the way people looked at science fiction. That movie was Star Wars and it has spawned countless console games on every format imaginable. A few of those countless games have been classics in their time, but the majority of them have been shoddy cash-ins. The last console 'classic' was released in 1998. Developed by Factor 5, it was called Rogue Squadron. Based on the novel and comic books of the same name it follows the adventures of a band of rebel fighters led by Luke Skywalker, whose role you took in the game.

    It was released to high acclaim, mainly due to the good gameplay and being the first N64 game to run fully 3d worlds in hi-res (if using the 4mb expansion ram). Rogue Squadron was followed by Battle for Naboo at the end of 2000. Based on Star Wars The Phantom Menace it used an enhanced Rogue Squadron game engine. The only problem for the game was that it was set in the Episode 1 universe rather than the classic trilogy, any Star Wars fan will tell you it's a lot more fun to destroy some Tie Fighters whilst flying an X-wing rather than blasting through packs of droids. With the launch of the Gamecube Factor 5 decided to go back to the original trilogy and release a true sequel to Rogue Squadron - Rogue Leader is its name.

    Graphically this game is amongst the crème de la crème of console games. It is such a huge step up from the previous incarnations of the franchise that it has taken over the role as the Gamecube's flagship title, and this is on a console manufactured by one of the best developers in the business. The graphics are so good that they wouldn't look out of place in the movies, though at some points they surpass even the movies high expectations (the initial run up to the Death Star from episode 4 A New Hope is a case in point). Whilst the first few levels look good it's the later levels which will encroach a visit to your doctor (due to your jaw smashing on the floor when it drops so much). Battle of Endor is quite possibly the most graphically accomplished level on any console game of all time - the level opens with a swarm of tie-fighters and tie-interceptors rushing the camera, a la Return of the Jedi, and the whole battle is played out on a back drop of the Death Star and Super Star Destroyer.

    Other levels of note are the Battle of Hoth, which debuted in Shadows of the Empire but it's taken till now before Hoth was finally done justice. The textures on the ground make it look as though you are really flying over an arctic landscape, and with the rebels and empire foot soldiers having running fire fights the atmosphere is spot on. Vengeance on Kothlis is another classic. Its set on a planet with deep blue oceans, small islands, sandy beaches and palm trees (a typical shipwrecked island setting) and you need to capture some documents from a crashed star destroyer (sorry for any spoilage there). Whilst attacking the destroyer AT-AT's and AT-ST's are escaping from the destroyer to attack your ground troops. Seeing the AT-AT's striding through the surf towards the beach is a joy to behold, though harpooning them whilst trying not to crash into the sea is quite hard, but the reflections on the sea is something else. The AT-ST's are not tall enough to be seen above the sea level but you can just make them out walking along the sea bottom, its all eye candy of the highest pedigree.

    The graphics are top notch but this wouldn't mean anything if the frame rate was sloppy. Some of the levels are set at a rock steady 60 frames per second, the Death Star Trench run is one of these. Other levels sometimes fluctuate between 60 and 30 fps but it's only momentarily and doesn't detract from the enjoyment.

    Each and every Star Wars movie has been blessed with excellent sound, and fortunately nearly every Star Wars game as been also blessed. Factor 5 has taken this to an extreme with Rogue Leader. This game is sonically the ultimate experience yet available on a console. It's the first game to incorporate Dolby Prologic II for full 5.1 surround sound, so for those lucky enough to own a receiver which has this they are in for an aural treat. For those without a Prologic II receiver it's still a great aural experience. Rogue Leader uses a combination of John Williams orchestrated pieces from the films and some midi efforts from Factor 5 which do not sound out of place. The music is dynamic, meaning that it changes according to the situation on the screen; intensifying accordingly as the action itself intensifies. Voice samples from the movies have been used in all the appropriate places, so that when you hear Han Solo telling you to "finish this thing so that we can all go home" any fan of the movies will get a warm glow of familiarity (especially if they then manage to blow up the Death Star).

    Rogue Leader has both stunning visuals and audio, however it will only be a tech demo if the gameplay didn't reach the heights of its aesthetics. Luckily, and thankfully, it does. Factor 5 have kept the same basic gameplay as in Rogue Squadron and Battle for Naboo but tweaked it slightly to make a better game. The Analogue stick is used to control the movement of your ship, with the left and right shoulder buttons being accelerate and brake. Press the right shoulder button until it clicks and a speed boost is activated, which, if you are in the X-wing, means that the wings close up (another classic Star Wars moment). Press the left button till it clicks and it makes it easier to turn quickly. The A button is the main weapon, and the B button is your secondary weapon. Probably the biggest improvement to the game is the Targeting computer which is activated by holding down the Y button. It highlights all the targets on the screen with easy to see colours and is much needed on some levels, although using the targeting computer too much results in a lower Force rating which affects medal placing. The only problem with the targeting computer is that you need to hold down the Y button all the time you want to display it. This can be difficult to press over buttons on the pad at the same time, for example the B button to fire secondary weapons. The D-Pad is used to issue commands to your wingmen, you can tell them to attack gun placements, tie-fighters or just form up on you thus improving your overall firepower (since they fire at anything you fire at).

    There are only 10 initial missions, with the early ones being very easy. Each mission is split up into a few sub-missions, with cut scenes separating each one. The cut scenes are powered using the game engine and flow well with the game. It's possible to finish the game within a night or two but Factor 5 have once again included the medal standings to improve the games longevity. Being awarded only a bronze medal is an achievement in itself and winning the gold's on each level required to open up all the secrets should keep you going for months. There are tech improvements hidden throughout each level which will make winning the gold's a little easier. In addition, you can go back to any level you have completed and tackle it with a different ship, which puts a different slant on the level. Some of the levels are also dependant on the Gamecube's internal clock, with the emphasis on one level changing entirely from a bombing mission to a stealth mission depending on if you are playing it at day or night.

    As well as the extra missions, hidden ships there are also extras which take advantage of the Gamecube's mini-DVD format. On the title screens there are high quality clips from the movies running in the background. Also, finish the game with a good enough rating and you open up a commentary mode, much like an added extra on a DVD movie, with the producers of the game talking about each level whilst you are playing through them. A very welcome addition which hopefully will be implemented by other developers on future games. There is also a making-of documentary to open up, making the DVD movie feel even more significant. Factor 5 has tried very hard to make it feel as though you have been playing a movie and should be applauded for pulling it off so well.

    Each and every Gamecube owner should own this game. Even if they don't particularly enjoy Star Wars they should still give themselves a chance to play a highly superior 3d shoot-em up. This game is the premier title on the Gamecube at this moment in time, and any game wanting to be its successor will have to be very special indeed. Any Star Wars fan should rush out and buy a Gamecube just to play this game. A must buy.

    A review by John Bealieu