Star War Leader: Rogue Squadron II
One new screenshot of the amazing looking Rogue Leader. Not a lot, we know, but you still wantt it.
September 7, 2001
Nintendo loyalists should recognize the 64-bit shooter Star Wars: Rogue Squadron. The game, developed by LucasArts and Factor 5, was released in late 1998 and enabled players to take on the role of Luke Skywalker as he zipped his X-Wing through a series of ground based missions. The title boasted a tight sense of control, a commendable selection of familiar Star Wars ships, enemies and locations, and a great soundtrack that proved cartridges could do music justice. Additionally, Rogue Squadron came to be known for its impressive technical achievements, particularly a high-resolution mode that ran with a semi-respectable framerate -- a feat practically unheard of for the time.
Factor 5 is at it again, bringing its technical wizardry to Nintendo's next-generation GameCube console. After learning some lessons from its experience with the Rogue Squadron follow-up, Star Wars: Episode I: Battle for Naboo, Factor 5 is designing the ultimate Star Wars game -- Star Wars Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron 2. Based on the best of the original trilogy, it promises to deliver everything Star Wars fanatics could ask for.
On May 10, 2001, LucasArts officially announced that the Star Wars "technical demo" for GameCube featured at Space World was indeed a real title in development named Star Wars Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron 2. The game is the next installment of the Rogue Squadron series, and follows the exploits of longtime hero Luke Skywalker as he takes to the sky in some of the most famous scenes from the movies. The main force behind Rogue Leader, as it's referred to for short, is to realize the idea of recreating the Star Wars universe as accurately as possible and putting gamers directly into the world. Factor 5 and LucasArts plan on putting gamers in intense action sequences like the Death Star trench run, the battle of Hoth, attacks on Star Destroyers, and dogfights over Cloud City. Playable ships include the X-Wing, A-Wing, Y-Wing, and the newly introduced, B-Wing. Even better, the developers are keeping the mid-game craft swapping from Battle for Naboo. For instance, in Bespin you can land on a platform and exchange youre A-Wing for a Cloud Car when your energy gets low. There will also be lots of cameos by other famous Star Wars characters and vehicles. In the first Death Star level Han flies by in the Millennium Falcon, which is hinted to be playable later on.
Of course around all these famous ships and battle scenes lies intense gameplay. Rogue Leader is all about being colossal and vast. The Star Wars universe has been recreated like never before with giant-size levels that look so good they rival the movie itself. Even the old Space World technical demonstration, which is now far surpassed in visual quality, looked amazing. The first part of the demonstration was a cut-scene recreation of the X-Wing fly-by shot taken from the CG-enhanced Special Edition release of Star Wars. The GameCube cut-scene's X-Wing ships were composed of more than 30,000 polygons each, with an additional 4,000 polygons devoted to pilots inside. While rumors have often suggested that the ship models were given to Factor 5 by ILM, the truth is that they were created in-house by the studio. See the differences between the movie and the GameCube display below:
As you can see, the quality of the GameCube version was unbelievable. Everything from the number of ships to the detailed backgrounds looks nearly perfect, and if you're wondering, the planets are composed of just one texture. Since then the visual quality has increased even more so often using over four texture layers for reflection effects, dirt mapping, bump-mapping, and more. To put it mildly, the game does so much and somehow maintains a steady 60 frames per second it's frightening. All this from a first-generation GameCube title.
In the end, it's the quality of the gameplay that matters most. Certainly the graphical horsepower behind GameCube allows Factor 5's and LucasArts' creativity to run wild, but it's how they use harness this power that matters most. IGNcube had the good fortune of playing Rogue Leader along with expert demonstrations from Factor 5's Julian Eggebrecht and LucasArts' Brett Tosti. Playable levels featured were Battle Over Yavin, Razor Rendezvous, and Bespin. Following we'll break down each level with our hands-on impressions and descriptions. But first, it's important we describe the control system and interface.
Rogue Leader has a few unique ways of utilizing GameCube's inventive controller design. To fire your ship's primary weapon, often lasers, you simply use the large A-button. Tapping it in different variations with produce different results. If you tap it fast you'll get a lot of laser fire happening constantly. If you hold it down, it will automatically fire the lasers at a decent rage. Finally, if you don't hold the button at all the weapon will automatically charge up, such as the X-Wing which fires all four lasers at once if executed in such a fashion. The B-button is used simply for the more powerful secondary fire.
The interesting part comes in when you use the analog L and R buttons on the back of the controller. The L-button is used for braking, and when depressed far enough it will click through to a really slow braking position. These digital click-throughs are a unique feature to GameCube, offering more functionality with less buttons. The R-button utilizes this same feature for acceleration. You can use the analog sensitivity of the R-button to accelerate at a pace of your choice. When the R-button is clicked all the way down, the wings of the X-Wing will close shut and the ship will accelerate at an ever faster pace. During all this you can use the camera stick to zoom in and out of the action as to your preference. To switch to cockpit mode you use the X-button, and can also turn and look around the ship through the eyes of the pilot with the C-stick.
Most impressively, though, Rogue Leader features an impressive targeting monitor. By pressing the Y-button the targeting monitor is activated via an orange-tinted screen that falls in front of pilot's eye -- that's you. All major targets are either purple or yellow depending on your objective. So, if your objective is to destroy all the tie fighters in the area, they will be highlighted in yellow. Interestingly, the entire targeting monitor is displayed in a spiffy cartoon shading mode, that outlines the ships with bright white lines while the inside is filled with the appropriate color as per targeting objectives. The monitor is so useful it can display through walls, ships, and more. So if your on one side of a Star Destroyer and your target is on the other, you'll be able to see that. It comes in quite handy, but will affect your ranking. Yes, Rogue Leader still has the medal ranking system, and less use of a targeting monitor must mean you're an expert.
The D-pad is used to control your wingmen. You can direct them to attack specific targets, labeled clearly on the D-pad icon that will display on your TV screens' upper left corner when you call it up. Or, you can order them to form up on you and protect you while you flank bigger flocks of ships. It's all very handy.
The radar system is also improved over the original Rogue Squadron and Battle for Naboo. It now features a psuedo-3D mode where the level is shown under a convex "lens." This helps you see more of the level architecture at once, and to see the enemy aircraft you need simply look for red dots. If they're above you the dots will be on top of the radar trailed by a thin vertical red blur. Conversely, if they're below you they'll be shown beneath the radar with a red streak trailing behind the dot.
Now that you have a good understanding of the control methodology, let's consider the actual gameplay -- In particular, the three playable levels.
Battle Over Yavin
This battle sequence is broken up into three parts, all of which take place over the first Death Star (which is "over Yavin"). This is the first level of the game right now and it throws you right into the action with some very intense opposition. The Death Star is covered turrets, both large and small, that will pummel you with laser fire if you carelessly drift into the middle of their aim. Your goal is to take each turret out, one-by-one, without meeting the fate of their searing green lasers. Once you accomplish this you'll be cast into a air-to-air combat with tons of Tie Fighters, only you have to dogfight with them over another portion of the Death Star that is blanketed with turrets. After some skillful chasing, you should be able to knock all the Tie Fighters out of the air to complete this portion of the mission. On that note, the animations for the crashing of the opponent crafts are rather brilliant. Tie Fighters will combust into blazing fireballs and spin out of control like a drill bit onto the Death Star surface. Other times they break into flat, horizontal spin, drifting almost elegantly to a final violent explosion. Needless to say, it greatly adds to the satisfaction of it all. And, while the roaring Tie Fighter sound effects weren't fully implemented at the time, you can rest easy knowing that Factor 5 has prepared a dead-on effect. One probably ripped directly from the movie, or provided by Skywalker Sound.
The final portion of the Battle Over Yavin is the spectacular trench run. The walls are within close quarters and you blaze along at a break-neck pace. During this you must take out incoming turrets, maneuver under and over cross beams, and take out Tie Fighters. You cannot rise above the trench for any relief or you'll be obliterated by laser fire. You are forced to take on all aspects of the trench. Some clever control and camera techniques heighten the experience. When Tie Fighters attack you from behind, the camera zooms out so you can see them. That's your que to slam on the breaks, let them go by, and come up behind them. Since you're so close to the walls the control sensitivity was adjusted so you won't have to worry about bumping into walls too much. When you finally reach the end of this claustrophobic trench, you'll have to pull up your targeting monitor to locate the tiny hole that leads to the heart of the Death Star. With a well-placed shot, you'll destroy the entire complex. And, don't worry if you miss the first time, you are placed right back into the trench just before the target.
One might note that the trench is one of the coolest parts of the game we've played thus far, and it goes on for what seems like miles. You can press the R-button all the way down and really blaze a path through the trench, and since it runs at a constant 60 frames per second, it really feels fast!
While we didn't get to play a substantial part of this level, it was the only open, outer space level we played. To give you a sense of speed there are tons of alpha particles, that streak by as glowing white bars. The Star Destroyer is trying to take out the Rebel Fleets' main carrier, and it's your job to help protect it until it can get out of harms way. To do this you have to take out flocks of incoming Tie Fighters and destroy the Star Destroyer's shield generators. The Star Destroy is a really massive ship, made up of some 130,000 polygons alone -- featuring turrets and intricate geometry everywhere. On the side of the ship is a set of laser cannons that fire a line of large, blue streaking lasers so large you'll be shaken at the mere sight of it.
Mostly, you spend a lot of time dogfighting with the Tie Fighters. In this level particularly the targeting monitor comes in handy because the Ties blend into the black background so easily. The Star Fighter, depending on where you are, is always awe-inspiring. It's just monstrous, and you can fly around it and marvel at the complexity of the model.
A golden film of light covers all of Bespi, currently the eighth level. The buildings are mapped for reflections of the sky, bump-mapping, dirt mapping and more. The sheer density of the city is so immense you start to assume that something's fake about -- something has to give. But, it doesn't. The framerate was a little jumpy on this level, but Factor 5 acknowledged it and didn't think it'd pose any problems when the level is later optimized. So, you can experience most of your dogfighting over the city, at a smooth 60 frames per second. There are even layers of clouds streaking across the bronzy evening sky.
Again, like most of the Rogue Leader level design, Bespin is enormous. But, in this case there are so many buildings you wouldn't think there would be much available beyond that. Stepping outside the city, however, you will find it surrounded by smooth rolling hills, all covered with a soft grassy ground texture that accentuates the smoothness of the fields even more so.
After you're done ogling at the beauty of this level, you will find there's quite a bit you can do. One of the coolest additions to this level are the "hot air balloon" platforms that float above the city. Attack the fuel tanks and the floating platforms will send a wave of fire out via a huge explosion. The balloon material has actually physics, so it deforms as it falls toward the ground. Then, of course there are a lot of Tie Interceptors flying above, but seeing this is level eight you'll find their AI is substantially increased. They will completely break free of the flocks, try to flank you from the sides, and evade you. Things are definitely more intense at this time, and some of the AI routines are quite nice. And, if you get bored you can fly down into the city where you'll find trenches encircling areas of the city. You can actually fly into this and attack secret shield generators. This is an example of what you'll have to do to earn a gold medal.
Factor 5, as you probably know, was an integral part in designing the sound DSP for GameCube. Rogue Leader demonstrates the power and elegance of the sound chip like no other. It mixes vocal tracks from the original movie, real rips of John Williams epic soundtrack, extremely accurate and crisp sound effects, and mixes all this with MIDI compositions at the same time. The end result is stunning. It makes you feel extremely comfortable with the GameCube's sound capabilities. While there are limits, you're not going to have much to complain about. Developers are free to do what they like in the area of sound, and Rogue Leader is a benchmark for this. And, if you're worried about surround sound, don't be. In the trench run, for example, you can hear the Tie Fighters zooming towards you from behind. But they don't just suddenly make their presence loudly. The roaring hum of their engines can be heard for, what sounds like a mile away, slowly fading in. Crisp sounds of lasers surround you, and everything in general is very impressive.
So, all in all, Rogue Leader is really shaping up very nicely. It's looking
to be one of the best Star Wars games ever, and that's based on this early
version. No other title has brought the movie so close to an interactive
gameplay environment as Rogue Leader has. This is definitely a system seller.