While inside a spaceship, it is by all means as good as Rogue Leader; when it descends to the ground, it is terribly lackluster
Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader was a part of the GameCube’s launch lineup, and it was also arguably the greatest game of the bunch. Not only did it feature visuals that were an impressive technical display of the power hidden within that strange-looking machine, but the game also boasted hectic dogfights that were able to bring the excitement of the original trilogy’s movies to the homes of all gamers who purchased a GameCube. Its sequel, Rebel Strike, released one year later, tries to deliver more of that same thrill to fans of its predecessor, while attempting to pull off some extra somersaults that would have certainly been great additions to the formula had they actually been properly developed and managed. Those few, but considerable, shortcomings stop it from being as good as its prequel; however, that does not mean Rebel Strike is not worthy of one’s time. On the contrary, it is a decently pleasant Star Wars title.
After the Rebel Alliance achieved what apparently was ultimate success by bringing down the Empire’s first Death Star, their forces are surprised by Imperial attacks all across the Galaxy. It is in this bleak scenario that players come in, and differently from what occurred in Rogue Leader, where the single-player mode consisted of a linear campaign, Rebel Strike breaks the action up into two parallel storylines. On one side of the tree, gamers will follow Captain Wedge Antilles, the legendary Rogue Leader, in the struggles that follow The Battle of Hoth; meanwhile, on the other story branch, players take on the role of Luke Skywalker, as he seeks to help the Alliance by flying awesome space vessels, training to become a Jedi, and finally bringing down the Empire for good. The fact that the game possesses two distinct paths does not mean the amount of missions here is significantly bigger than it was in Rogue Leader; in fact, with fourteen regular levels plus five unlockable ones, their numbers are roughly the same.
In its single-player mode, Rebel Strike opts to, mostly, replicate what its two predecessors did; after all, there is no reason to deeply mess with a formula when it has been working so well for such a long time. When the game starts, players will only have one mission to select; it is after clearing it that the adventure branches out into its distinct paths. The missions are divided into a series of goals, neatly tied to the storyline, that must be achieved before time runs down; for example, in one of them, players are tasked with escorting transports towards a location only to, then, have to defend their integrity as massive enemy waves try to blow them to pieces. It is a very effective setup, and there is a constant feeling of urgency, as the missions are invariably coupled with well-done voice acting that lets gamers know about the situation in other areas of the battlefield, informing the main heroes which locations they should head for in order to assist their struggling partners.
As it was the case in Rogue Leader, the missions are far from being easy; in fact, some of them will give even the most experienced players a good deal of trouble, as the inability to clear all goals within the allotted time or the losing of three lives will cause the missions to restart from their very beginning. The fair punishment, however, does not escalate towards frustration due to how missions are relatively brief, with all of them reaching their conclusion inside the ten-minute mark. As such, the difficulty of Rebel Strike does not stem from the aggressive losing of progress, but because the missions are genuinely designed to be tough, which makes its challenge a pleasant bliss.
From Rogue Leader, Rebel Strike also wisely borrows a medal system that goes a long way towards adding an extra layer of value to a game that would, otherwise, be pretty short, since even with all the replaying of missions that must be done given their difficulty, getting to the credits is unlikely to take gamers more than ten hours. Therefore, as players clear missions, they receive an award that can be a gold, silver, or bronze medal, or even no medal at all if they succeed in checking all goals but do so by performing relatively poorly. The awarding of those medals is based on a series of stats: the time taken to clear the missions, enemies destroyed, allies killed, shooting accuracy, lives lost, and the usage of the targeting computer, which must be kept to a minimum. Furthermore, medals are not there just as a virtual pat on the back; for according to the one that is earned, gamers will receive a certain amount of points that can be then exchanged for extra missions that take the game’s challenge to an even higher level.
The medals and everything that derives from them, though a big reason why players will keep coming back to Rebel Strike, are not the only piece of extra content the game offers. Like Rogue Leader, it draws Star Wars aficionados through different crafts with unique stats, weapons, and handling, which get unlocked for each of the game’s missions after they are beaten. Additionally, Rebel Strike adds an incredibly full-fledged multiplayer mode to the package. Of its two main components, the most astounding one – certainly – is the ability to play through most of the missions of the prequel, albeit with slight alterations, in co-op fashion, which is just a fantastic experience. The other piece of that multiplayer aspect is made up of four modes, sadly limited to two players, that are: passable one-on-one dogfights; a pretty awesome competition that (through points) keeps track of who has blown up more destroyable objects; an engaging match that involves capturing bases around the map and keeping them for a certain amount of time to earn points; and a special mode that includes some destruction and some racing, depending on the level that is chosen.
All that content is tackled with extremely precise controls. In order to maneuver the ships, players will use the control stick for movement, the shoulder buttons for breaking and boosting, the X button to switch the camera’s view, the Z button to roll, and the Y button to turn on the targeting computer, which highlights enemy ships. Meanwhile, to blast foes’ vessels, they can employ either the A button, which represents the ship’s primary weapon, or the B button, which usually triggers the launching of a secondary, more powerful, and limited weaponry. Given players are the leader of a squadron, the option to give orders to one’s peers shows up once again in Rebel Strike, as each one of the directions of the D-pad represents a certain command that is performed by the hero’s wingmates on the fly. These actions, which add a lot of strategic value and immersion to the battles, are: leaving the fray (which is helpful to avoid the loss of allies), forming beside the leader (which increases the power of shots), and telling them to go after certain kinds of Imperial ships.
Based on those remarks, it could be concluded that Rebel Strike is as incredible as Rogue Leader, as both present chains of astounding Star Wars aerial battles that are exciting, hard, well-developed, and that offer considerable replay opportunities. Unfortunately, Rebel Strike stumbles because, in an attempt to build upon the action of Rogue Leader in order to stop this sequel from feeling like an expansion pack with extra levels for that game, Factor 5 decided to take some of the battles from the air to the ground. Consequently, most of the game’s missions present segments in which either Luke or Wedge get out of their ships to tackle the war on foot once all fighters have been taken care of; to make matters worse, some of the stages abandon air combat altogether and only feature on-foot sections. And that is precisely where and why Rebel Strike crumbles.
On-foot missions are, of course, not inherently bad; the problem here is that Factor 5 makes a mess out of them: those segments feature an awful lot of issues that seriously harm the flow of the game. Differently from the aerial goals, which are thrilling challenges bound to leave gamers on the edge of their seats, the ground segments require little to no skill. Going through them is usually only a matter of pressing the A-button as quickly as possible so that the character’s automatically-aimed laser gun can take down numerous troopers. The result is that all on-foot missions, though featuring varied scenarios and solid plot that serves as the support for the action, feel basically the same, because players will approach them by running around while shooting frantically.
The problems, though, are not limited to that simplicity in gameplay; they leak into the controls and graphics as well. Firstly, the fixed and automatic camera of those parts is more bothersome than helpful, since it will occasionally fail to show what players want to see: the enemies they are shooting at. Secondly, the game’s visuals, which were one of Rogue Leader’s astounding highlights, lose a lot of their appeal – and quality – when the action occurs on the ground, because poor character models and average textures come to the surface. If they had been properly taken care of, on-foot missions could have been the game’s major addition and a huge step forward to the Rogue Squadron saga, which was certainly the goal of the folks at Factor 5. But since their implementation ends up being a boring and nearly broken facet of the game, they fail to add anything at all. Instead, they obscure a big part of the franchise’s undeniable qualities and, overall, it feels as if they are taking up space that should have been dedicated to dogfights.
If on the ground the game lacks visual appeal, that is not something that can be said about the aerial segments. By taking advantage of the very same and highly powerful graphics engine that launched Rogue Leader, Rebel Strike looks as good as its predecessor – meaning it is easily one of the system’s most impressive games, as very detailed spaceships coming from every direction crowd both the screen and the gorgeous backgrounds that do justice to the visual splendor of the Star Wars saga. Likewise, the sound, which is the only element of the game that is consistent regardless of the place in which the madness of battle is occurring, presents top-notch sound effects, voice-acting, and orchestral tunes that give life, quite effectively, to what is shown on the screen.
It is impossible to walk away from Rebel Strike without the feeling the game could have been far more than what it actually is. In a fair attempt to expand on what was offered by its astounding predecessor, it ends up stumbling in its clumsy inclusion of on-foot segments that not only fail to satisfy but that also move the focus away from the area in which the game fires on all cylinders: its aerial battles. While inside a spaceship, it is by all means as good as Rogue Leader; when it descends to the ground, it is terribly lackluster. Therefore, if one is able to ignore the issues of its land segments, which are sadly frequent, the overall experience will certainly be positive, especially because – in total, and thanks to an impressive multiplayer mode – it carries far more content than Rogue Leader did. Nonetheless, the fact remains that had all resources that went into producing the juggernaut that is Rebel Strike been used to fuel its flying prowesses, the result would have been truly stunning.