Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader

More than an exquisite technical translation of Star Wars’ most heart-pumping action segments, it is also a strong package that entertains, challenges, and thrills

Ever since the early days of the videogame industry, game producers have developed the exasperating habit of automatically turning every single successful movie out there into a gameplay experience of some sort. The unfortunate reality, though, reveals that most of those games failed massively, especially in the quality department, with the utmost example being E.T. for the Atari 2600, a game so utterly poor that it played a considerable role in the industry’s biggest crisis. Despite being rare, fruitful cases of this transition from movies to games are exquisitely thrilling, for they allow gamers to jump into the amazing worlds that were once exclusive to the big screen, and play an active – rather than a passive – role in the development of the story. Undoubtedly, the Star Wars series, and its extremely expansive universe, is one of the most fortunate example that can be found of a franchise that has achieved amazing feats both inside and outside movie theaters.

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From controlling Jedi knights and Imperial troopers to hopping aboard Podracers, numerous facets of George Lucas’ distant galaxy have been tackled by various studios; and its starfighter combats, perhaps the movies’ most celebrated aspect of visual spectacle and special effect prowess, have – naturally – received a similar treatment over the years. Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, one of the GameCube’s first exclusive releases, simultaneously stands – even after more than one decade – among the finest translations of Star Wars to a videogame system and the best titles centered around aerial combat.

As the leader of the Rebel Alliance’s legendary Rogue Squadron, the game tracks players’ progress through the major battles of the space opera’s original trilogy as well as some events that happened out of the screen, consequently enriching the lore of a highly beloved saga. Therefore, not only are iconic moments of cinema history, like the two strikes on the Death Star’s core and pivotal battles such as those that took place on Endor and Hoth, successfully transported in all their glory, laser blasts, and tension to gamers’ home television set, but a deeper look into the developments of that war is also granted to fans who decide to dive into the adventure. And by leading the titular squadron, players will be responsible for stealing away the victory from the hands of the evil Empire and handing it to the brave rebels who fight against its tyranny.

Rogue Squadron II has pretty straightforward controls, and their amazing tightness, joined by quick responses and nice array of camera options, deliver an experience in the command of intergalactic ships that is pretty much unparalleled. Through most of the missions players, will control the unmistakable X-Wing; however, for the sake of variety and to the delight of fans of the saga who can instantly recognize distinct ship designs, the game offers a delightful array of spaceships, which are deployed according to the sort of mission that must be accomplished. As such, bombing runs will have gamers manning the B-Wing or the Y-Wing; hit-and-runs will prominently feature the A-Wing; and battles anchored to the ground will be conducted aboard speeders.

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Naturally, each vehicle presents a unique behavior, having different degrees of speed, handling, armor, and primary and secondary weapons. Although vastly different in their specifications, all ships are controlled in the very same way with the A-button serving as the standard laser weapon and the B-button activating special and more powerful weaponry. Breaking and boosting the ship can be done with the L and R buttons, and the targeting computer, a device that takes the game into a first-person view where enemy ships have special colors, is triggered by pressing Y. Unfortunately, in a bad decision by developers, that button has to be constantly pressed if players want to maintain a view from the cockpit, forcing those who enjoy playing with the targeting computer activated to always have their fingers in an awkwardly placed position.

One of the nicest gameplay features of Rogue Squadron II is in how players are never alone on their struggle against the Empire. As the Rogue Leader, they will be in charge of a small squadron at all times and by using the D-pad one can freely command their wingmates whenever necessary, telling them to flee from battle (a rather useful order if players are working on getting as many kills as possible), form by the leader’s side (which will give shots some extra power), or assign them to go after specific Imperial units (such as AT-STs and TIE Fighters) while the leader focuses on other targets. As a whole, the friendly AI is quite good. Not only will they never get in players’ way, but they will also be of great help most of the time, given Rogue Squadron II is not shy about throwing massive hordes of enemy ships at players. Due to that, different approaches in managing one’s allies can lead to different outcomes during the missions, making such a feature an integral, valuable, and exciting part of the experience.

Rogue Squadron II is consisted of eleven unique missions that follow a linear and surprisingly well-connected story arch, with each mission having a set of goals to be achieved. It is undeniable that eleven missions is not exactly a large number, especially when one considers games of the sort tend to present quests that are generally brief. However, Rogue Squadron II has its ways of turning its limited set of levels into an asset out of which a lot of value can be extracted.

For starters, most of the quests are so hard to beat that the game will certainly last longer than most players initially expect it to. That high level of difficulty may be frustrating to some, as clearing missions on one try is nigh impossible and many of them require various retries. Still, given the act of blasting enemy ships is such a joy and since the quests are usually short (generally lasting for less than ten minutes and rarely going over the fifteen-minute mark), to most people losing all lives and having to restart will likely be an engaging challenge.

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Yet, the game’s difficulty does lead to a couple of undeniable shortcomings. The level of challenge is awfully irregular, as it is common to come across an easy errand right after dealing with an extremely tough mission; instead of following a smooth rising curve, then, the game’s difficulty chart looks more like an electrocardiogram. Furthermore, in a baffling design flaw, the menus of Rogue Squadron II do not allow gamers to immediately restart the missions they have failed. What the game does is send players all the way back to the start screen, making them select the save file, browse through the mission menu once again, and re-select the mission of choice just so they can get another shot at clearing the level. It may sound like a silly little flaw, but it becomes frustrating after one has barely failed to stop the enemy from blowing up rebel transports for the tenth time in a row.

Rogue Leader’s unrelenting, yet fair, level of challenge is not the only characteristic that will keep one going back to the game’s quests. The title features an excellent medal system in which players are rewarded according to their performance on the mission. Medals are given according to shooting accuracy, enemies defeated, dead allies, lives lost, completion time, and the amount of time one spent using the targeting computer (with most missions’ gold medals requiring that such a feature not be used at all). Pleasantly, medals are not just for show: by getting a good number of them it is possible to unlock five extra missions that are directly connected to the game’s main story arch, including a few in which one plays as the other side of the war.

For Star Wars aficionados, and dedicated completionists, there is yet another reason to keep playing Rogue Leader after the Empire is brought down. During one’s first run through a mission, only a standard ship will be available. However, after successfully clearing it, another group of vessels (specific to each mission) is unlocked. Therefore, players can try to beat the game’s challenges with different spacecrafts, a task that is particularly interesting due to the uncanny level of detail Factor 5 put into the physics of the many different ships, as the feel of controlling each one of them is quite different.

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Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader is, consequently, not just an exquisite technical translation of Star Wars’ most heart-pumping action segments; it is also a strong package that entertains, challenges, and thrills. Surely, the technological advances that have taken place since its release have allowed for more visually faithful recreations of the Star Wars universe in recent years, but not only does the game extract every bit of power out of the GameCube’s hardware to produce the very best graphics the system could muster during its lifetime and sounds that are worthy of John Williams’ classical score and the saga’s mind-blowing achievements in sound design, but its gameplay is also impressive enough to stand the test of time and still hold up as one of Star Wars’ best videogame representations. Due to that, Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader is a must to those who love the franchise or to anyone that feels like taking part in the galaxy’s most dramatic an breathtaking dogfights.

Final Score: 8 – Excellent

3 thoughts on “Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader

  1. This was one of the first GameCube games I owned, and I remember liking it a lot, though I don’t remember it too well, as it’s been a long time since I last played it. That thing you say about failing missions reminds me of a few games that, rather than restart you at the last checkpoint with no questions asked, make you go through the effort of selecting “Restart Mission” on a menu that pops up; it’s really annoying whenever that happens.

    1. It was one of the first Gamecube games I played, but I only came to own it much later, when the Wii was about to come out. I remember how awed I was by it when I played it for the first time, and also how I failed miserably when I tried to clear it back in those days.

      And yes, that’s a minor annoyance that becomes a major issue when a game is difficult.

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