Between the recent Rogue One trailer and anticipation for this week’s DVD/Blu-ray release of The Force Awakens, Star Wars has remained a pretty big thing in my house over the last couple of months. Aside from playing through the various Disney Infinity sets with my stepson, I’ve also spent some time with many of the classic 90s PC titles. Coming just a couple of weeks too late to be included in the recent Star Wars themed Humble Bundle, the late 90s classic Rogue Squadron 3D has just be re-released on Steam and that seemed as good a reason as any to give it another play through.
I do own the original PC release of Rogue Squadron but it’s always nice to have (theoretically) updated versions of older games with better compatibility on modern operating systems, but my main experience with the game on release though was the Nintendo 64 version. Aside from different menus and the higher resolution the PC version offers, the two are practically identical however.
Rogue Squadron casts you as Luke Skywalker, leading the titular fighter squadron on missions set between the first two Star Wars films. While there is a running plot through the game it’s more or less incidental as the game isn’t all that bothered about storytelling – the cutscenes don’t even have any characters in them, just ships. Unlike the popular X-Wing series, Rogue Squadron isn’t trying to be a serious simulator and is a more arcade style game. There are collectable power ups and you get a couple of lives for each mission.
The game takes place across sixteen missions in a variety of ships and locations. There sadly aren’t any wide open space missions (though developer Factor 5 made up for that in the GameCube sequels) but each mission still is different enough with several that are quite memorable.
Each mission has bronze, silver and gold medals available with specific requirements such as time taken to complete and the number of enemies destroyed to unlock. Aside from bragging rights for having gotten gold on every mission, you also unlock three bonus missions by getting medals on each mission. I did have all of these unlocked on the Nintendo 64, but I’m struggling to get through the Death Star mission to unlock the Battle of Hoth.
Most missions have just one ship available the first time you play it, but as you work through the campaign and unlock more you can replay many earlier missions in new ways with different ships which helps keep things interesting if you’re replaying a mission several times trying to get a gold medal. There’s a decent selection of classic Star Wars ships available, as well as some extras that unlock as you get more medals, and should be enough to satisfy any fan of the series.
Despite being nearly 20 years old, Rogue Squadron works surprisingly well on modern computers. It natively supports an Xbox 360 gamepad (thankfully, as I found the mouse and keyboard controls terrible) and the digital releases don’t use the original installer that doesn’t work on a 64 bit operating system. I wasn’t able to get the Steam version to run in 1080p, but the maximum available resolution (1280 x 1024) fits well enough for the image to not seem too stretched, no doubt helped by the lack of any character models. The menus and mission briefings stay in 640 x 480 however so look quite jaggy on high resolution monitors, but you get past these parts and into the game quickly enough that it's no major issue.
With the resolution up as high as it goes, the various ship models actually look pretty decent considering the age of them. The textures throughout, particularly the ones used on the terrain, are fairly low resolution as you’d expect from a game this old but the extremely low draw distance is very noticeable in places and it’s a shame that there’s no way to change it through either the ingame menu or modifying game files.
The PC version unfortunately suffers from a bug that causes the camera to zoom way out and leave it almost impossible to aim. It’s quite easily to work around thankfully by just cycling through the camera presets so it doesn’t make the game unplayable but it’s certainly annoying. The aiming reticle also seemed to be ever so slightly off, I was able to adjust to it but I don’t remember having any problems with the Nintendo 64 version – it was a very long time ago though so I could be wrong.
Due to a new sound system created by Factor 5, Rogue Squadron features substantial amounts of music and speech, which was uncommon in early Nintendo 64 games due to the size constraints of the cartridge format. These all of course made their way over to the PC version as well, with lead voice actor Bob Bergen doing a pretty decent Mark Hamill impression as Luke Skywalker. The rest of the voice cast are perfectly fine too, but after a few levels you’ll notice some lines get repeated over and over which starts to grate a little.
Musically, it’s quite a nice mix of classic John Williams pieces as well as a couple of new themes written for the game. Again, due to the Nintendo 64 version, there’s no full orchestra score with the music instead being synthesised, but it all sounds pretty good. Likewise, all of the ships and weapons have authentic sound effects from the films, and everything sounds just like it should.
Camera issues aside, Rogue Squadron remains a very enjoyable game. The Nintendo 64 version control a little better as a bit of a trade off for the lower quality visuals but isn’t something many people would be set up to run these days. Either version are well worth a play though and the quest for gold medals on all missions gives plenty to come back for. The digital releases on Steam and GOG mean it’s never been easier or cheaper to get hold of too.