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Star Wars: Rogue Squadron Preview

Publisher - Lucas Arts
Developer - Factor 5/Lucas Arts
Platform - N64
Release Date - December 1998
Type - Flying/Action

With the hype surrounding Lucasfilm's upcoming Star Wars prequel mounting, LucasArts' announcement of a second N64 game based on the popular sci-fi movies couldn't come at a better time. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, the latest coproduction between developer Factor 5 and LucasArts was first unveiled at the recent E3 (Electronics Entertainment Expo) and surprised many showgoers with its incredible music and attention to detail.

Instead of going for the obvious and creating a sequel to last year's Shadows of the Empire, LucasArts is taking a completely different path with Rogue Squadron. Thankfully, the designers decided to give up the often unbalanced multi-genre approach and go for pure, unadulterated dog-fighting.

Ask yourself, what is the coolest level in Shadows of the Empire? The snowspeeder battle on Hoth -- no contest. That type of gameplay is what Rogue Squadron is all about -- but with some serious upgrades, more levels, enemies, better sound, and stunning second-generation graphics.

Based on the novel and comic book series by the same name, Rogue Squadron follows the adventures of a daring group of pilots. Players take on the role of Luke Skywalker and set out to fight the evil Empire alongside cult heroes Wedge Antilles and the ill-fated Snowspeeder gunner Dack.

The battles all take place in extensive 3D worlds on planetary surfaces (there are no plans for space battles) ranging from the hot sands of Tatooine to the spice mines of Kessel and even the oceans of the Mon Calamari. We don't have the full lowdown on which Star Wars locations will actually be in the game (apart from Tatooine), but we're hoping for Endor, Yavin, and Coruscant.

The single levels are huge. For example, the Tatooine level is so vast, it includes all the major landmarks from the three movies. Blasting Imperial TIE Fighters and Probe Droids, you fly from Beggar's Canyon to the Sarlacc Pit, from Mos Eisley to Luke's homestead, and pay an early visit to Jabba's Palace. The graphics are fast and sharp, and Factor 5 managed to squeeze some incredible real-time lighting effects out of the 64 that even put Acclaim's Forsaken to shame. On the downside, the unfinished game at E3 had some draw-in (which became prominent when ascending to extreme altitudes), but we're sure the programmers are fixing that before the game ships later this year. Most important, there is no all-engulfing fog. You can see fairly far into the distance and view some of the best overlaying sky and cloud textures we have ever seen on the N64 (take a look at the screen-shots).

The total number of missions remains a mystery, but LucasArts confirmed they cover every aspect of the action shooting genre, including:

*Search and Destroy: Find a major Imperial target and light up the Dark Side.
*Reconnaissance: Find out what evil plans the Empire is hatching by retrieving vital information.
*Rescue Missions: Fly into hot zones and rescue key members of the Rebellion.

Many of you may know Rogue Squadron's programmers, Factor 5, from the European cult hit Turrican (Amiga, Super NES). Originally from Cologne, Germany, the team also worked with LucasArts on Indiana Jones for the Super NES and Ballblazer Champions for the PlayStation -- and from what we have seen at E3, these guys are true Star Wars buffs. The craft-select screen alone sets new graphics standards. When choosing between the different ships, the camera smoothly swoops through a hi-res hangar, showing the familiar craft taking off with photorealistic detail.

Rogue Squadron offers many of the famous crafts from the movies:

*X-Wing: The Rebellion's finest ship combines high maneuverability with four powerful laser cannons. An R2 unit behind the cockpit makes sure that everything works smoothly.
*Y-Wing: Most notable for their spectacular explosions in the movie, Y-Wings are primarily used for bombing and attacking ground targets.
*A-Wing: The super-fast, one-man fighters were introduced in the third movie -- best for intense dog-fighting.
*Speeder: Essentially the same model as the snowspeeder in Empire Strikes Back, this fast two-man craft is great for low altitude combat.
*V-Wing: Reminiscent of the Cylon ships in Battlestar Galactica, these new Rebel fighters are sure to penetrate Imperial defenses.

There are also bound to be some hidden ones (here's hoping for a hi-jacked TIE Fighter, the Millennium Falcon, and a B-Wing).

Even in the unfinished version, the ships are much more detailed than in Shadows. From the accurate decals and Rebel markings down to the R2 units and exhaust flames -- everything looks so authentic, even the pickiest Star Wars fans should pee their pants with delight. The enemy crafts are equally impressive and the TIE Fighters, AT-ATs, AT-STs, and attack droids have never looked more realistic.

But, as any fan of the trilogy will know, the Star Wars phenomenon reaches further than just visuals. Watch the movies with the sound muted, and you'll know what we're talking about. What would Star Wars be without the roaring engine sounds of the TIEs and the booming John Williams score? While Shadows of the Empire succeeded on one level with its digitized soundtrack (it sounded pretty sweet on mono TVs), many audiophiles were put off by the tinny quality and lack of stereo separation. Well, Rogue Squadron fixes all that.

We were able to get an ears-on experience of the game in a closed off booth at Nintendo's stand at E3, and we can tell you without reservation, the music and sound effects are beyond anything we have heard on cartridge so far. The Star Wars theme blares in full force out of your stereo speakers (there had to be a Star Wars pun in here) -- and for those lucky enough to have a surround sound setup, your ears will catch on fire and explode into thousands of sparkly little pieces. Shoot down a TIE Fighter and the unfortunate fellow will pass you not only on screen, but also in your room and crash with a wailing engine sound behind you. But the surround sound separation is not only for effect, you can also determine your enemy's position by listening for the direction of the laser blasts.

If you are impressed by the dynamic music of Nintendo's Banjo-Kazooie, Rogue Squadron's soundtrack will blow you away. When flying over certain key locations, the music undergoes subtle changes. For example, while you're fighting TIEs on Tatooine, the regular Star Wars battle tune plays -- take a detour over Luke's farm and it changes into a variation of Luke's Theme. Thanks to the expertise of the old-school sound experts Stember and Huelsbeck, you won't even notice it's MIDI.

Right now, LucasArts is hard at work fine tuning the controls and gameplay elements to make Rogue Squadron a break-through title that not only appeals to die-hard Star Wars enthusiasts, but every fan of 3D arcade shooters out there. Judging from what we have seen and heard so far, Rogue Squadron is destined be a major hit this winter.

Look for more details soon.