Many years ago, Lucas Arts published a title developed by Factor 5 called Rogue Squadron for the Nintendo 64. Rogue Squadron was a flight simulation that followed the adventures of Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles of Star Wars fame. The downside to this, however, was the fact that Rogue Squadron didnít feature any space battles - all the battles took place on the ground. That all changed with Factor 5ís Gamecube launch title, Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader. Rogue Leader featured the land based missions AND new space battles, all faster and more epic than ever before. One can gather that Factor 5 attained quite the following with these past two blockbusters, and many looked forward to their next title: Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike. Factor 5 boasted plenty of new features with Rebel Strike, including multi player, graphics improved over the all ready eye popping visuals of Rogue Leader, and a wide variety of game play elements. Unfortunately, it looks like Factor 5 tried to do a little more than they could manage with Rebel Strike.
Rebel Strikeís story takes place immediately after the destruction of the first Death Star. The first mission puts the player in control of Luke Skywalker in order to defend the Rebelís formerly-secret base on Yavin from a retaliatory attack by the Imperials. The story leads a half-attempted original storyline from that point onward to the end of Return of the Jedi. While the storyline isnít too strong, thatís a pretty minute factor when considering the quality of the game. It does itís job well enough.
What does hurt the quality of the game, however, is the vast amount of variety that Factor 5 tried to toss in to it. Where previous games only featured air or space combat, Rebel Strike goes all out. Thereís not only space/air combat and land combat with AT-ST and AT-PT, but a bit of third person action and a dash of third person platforming. Youíre probably scratching your head in confusion if youíre a fan of Rogue Squadron games, and with very, very good reason. Itís a complete mess.
What it really boils down to is the fact that Factor 5 tried to do a little too much. Can you imagine playing a third person shooter/action title based on the 3D engine used to select your space craft? I certainly canít, but apparently someone at Factor 5 could. When youíre in third person action mode, there really isnít much to do. The movement feels a bit choppy, you have no control of the camera, and aside from special events like opening doors and special event-based items, the only thing you do is shoot. Jumping is also an option, but it doesnít come in to play until itís forced on you in a couple of the later levels. Those couple of levels Iím speaking of are actually focused on platforming. Thatís truly grand, since you canít control the camera. On top of that, the jumping mechanics are pretty wonky, to say the least. Ground missions are just an overall big dose of ďnot funĒ, and I donít understand the motivation for their inclusion.
Aside from the third person action segments littered throughout the game, you also have the ability to play as AT ST, AT PT, and Speeder Bike units, though the AT PT is only available in multi player. The AT ST features some pretty nice controls, but the levels that are solely designed for AT ST combat move far too slowly for their own good. But the Speeder Bike, on the other hand, is a fantastically fast and fun ride. Like the AT ST, there are a couple levels that focus solely on this transportation mode. The latter is the Endor Speeder Bike level, of Return of the Jedi fame. This level is pretty linear, and very basic, but the sense of speed and sense of surrounding is fantastic - Factor 5 did a wonderful job with this. You really donít -feel- like youíre on a linear path through the woods, even though you are.
You may be beginning to wonder by now.. But yes, amidst all of this mass confusion, true flight missions do exist. They are surprisingly rare, since Rogue Squadron as a series is based on these as a structural core. These are where Rebel Strike shines. Battles are more massive than previous games in the series, and combat is just as good as it has always been. Unfortunately, as I stated, there just arenít enough of these missions, and itís not very clear as to why this is.
As I mentioned above, the battles are more massive than ever. Included with that package are graphics that are superior to even Rogue Leaderís. Whatís most interesting here is that thereís a noticeable change in graphics - not just a minor tweak. Youíll be able to notice this even during the first level, and you wonít have a hard time agreeing with me from that point on - the game is truly impressive on a graphical scale.
However.. Factor 5 decided it would be a grand idea to include cut scenes ripped straight from the Star Wars movies. Fans of Rogue Squadron series probably noticed they used these for the menus in Rogue Leader II. Thatís not what Iím talking about at all. They utilize these cut scenes in order to help tell the story, and thatís a big no-no. Factor 5 did a worse job than EA with Lord of the Rings. There are a couple of levels that stand out as a glaring mistake. Death Star Escape is one of them. There are somewhere between 6 and 8 cut scenes of varying lengths spread throughout the level ,whereas the actual play time is somewhere around 1 to 1 and a half minutes. Yes, Iím being serious. Remember the scene here Luke and Leia swing across the pit when escaping from the Death Star? They donít use the in game engine for that - they switch straight to a 3 second cut scene to illustrate them swinging across the pit. On the opposite side of that scale, there are times where they allow you to Ďtake control of the actioní in between the cut scenes. This generally boils down to pressing A once, or killing an enemy to proceed to the next cutscene. Itís truly bizarre..
While on the topic of cut scenes, thereís more interesting behavior to observe in Rebel Strike. Taking the first level as an example, the in-game cut scenes appear to be very jumpy. While this isnít something that always plagues the game - it is an issue that arises from time to time. The major issue here is that Factor 5 switches camera angles too often at times - it creates an odd looking lag that plagues the scene. Another issue to take in to account is the cut scenes at the end of some levels that feature Lord Vader conversing with Emperor Palpatine. These scenes look fine - but they end abruptly, causing a Ďhey, that seems cut offí feeling. I think these scenes could have benefited a bit from a slow fade technique.
Other issues of presentation bring us to the menus and music. The menus are sleek and sexy, much like Rogue Leaderís before it, while the musical score is primarily made up of John Williams songs, itís not so much as youíd find in earlier installments of the game, as there is a bit of original music to be found here, and itís not bad at all!
While it seems like Iíve just ragged on Rebel Strike the whole time, and that I just might hate this game in itís entirety, this isnít true at all. Factor 5 made a very clever move with Rebel Strike that probably should have been done with Rogue Leader: inclusion of multi player functionality. Rebel Strike includes both versus modes and co-operative play.
The versus mode of Rebel Strike features several different game play modes, which includes classics such as death match, a capture the flag-like equivalent, races, and more. The only complaint I really have about this is the lack of four player support. I realize that a screen split four ways would be a bit rough on a game like Rebel Strike, but the Nintendo Gamecube supports LAN for a reason, after all.
The real gem here is the co-operative game play. Factor 5 decided to be absolutely fantastic fellows and include every mission from Rogue Leader - only they now support co-op! This is really the best part of Rebel Strike, as whatís cooler than flying down the Death Star trench with a friend, rather than a computer-controlled ally? This truly scores a lot of points in my book and thumbs up to Factor 5.
While the single player missions donít last long, even taking your time to unlock all the extra levels, co-op (assuming you have a Star Wars enthusiast for a friend) will keep you busy for a long time to come. This is certainly a perfectionistís title. People struck with this disorder will be going for the gold medals for weeks after their initial purchase, mostly because the gameís difficulty is unusual, to say the least. At times, it feels as if it has been beefed up from Rogue Leader, while at others it feels as though it has been lowered substantially.
Rebel Strike may not be the ultimate climax of the Rogue Squadron series (and hopefully itís not the last title in the series, either), but itís a solid bet for Star Wars fans. It has as many ups as it does downs, but the co-op feature of this game is a huge seller all on its own. Rogue Squadron fans should be pretty happy with this purchase.
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