Star Wars: Rogue Leader has quickly become the most anticipated title for the U.S. launch of the Nintendo Gamecube. Since it's unveiling during the 2000 Spaceworld show, Star Wars fans have been eager to immerse themselves in the universe of the Classic Trilogy to a degree not yet seen in home console gaming. Now that the game has arrived, the question is not "Will it be good?" but "How good is it really?" The Facts Play as Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles 11 Missions in all, not including several bonus levels Fly classic Star Wars Vehicles, Including the X-wing, Y-wing, A-wing, B-Wing, Snow Speeder, and several others. Game faithfully recreates the battles of the Original Trilogy, including Battle of Yavin, Battle of Hoth, and the Battle of Endor Controls If you are familiar with developer Factor 5's previous Star Wars games, Rogue Squadron and its follow-up, Battle for Naboo, Rogue Leader feels familiar and comfortable. Like its predecessors, Rogue Leader focuses on fast-paced, action oriented game play in the classic arcade tradition, rather than trying to be a flight simulator set in the Star Wars universe. The controls are relatively simple and should take no longer than a minute to figure out. The left analog control stick steers your ship. The A button fires your primary lasers while the B button fires your craft’s secondary weapons. The L and R buttons brake and accelerate respectively with the extra clicks used for tighter turns and speed boosts. The X button (to the right of the A) toggles between an outside view of the craft and the authentic in-the-cockpit view, and the Z button allows you to roll your ship. Two features new to this series are controlled by the Y button and cross pad. First, the Y button activates your ship’s targeting computer system. Basically this is an overlay you can use to locate enemy ships in the heat of battle. Bad guys will appear with either a bright red or yellow highlight around them, with enemies in yellow being your priority. The cross pad controls your wingmen. At various times during the level the game will prompt you to give commands to them and you must do so wisely in order to complete the level. You may also give commands whenever you would like, simply by hitting the cross pad (anywhere will do) and then selecting the command you wish. This feature adds a good deal of depth to the game and truly does make you feel as though you are the commander of the force (no pun intended). Best of all, your wingmen actually will help you out and take out Imperials when you tell them. These aren’t just some background ships that fly around and make the level look pretty. They do indeed help you out. The only problem I see with the control scheme has to do with the click on the R button (the accelerator). With ships like the X-wing and the B-wing, you get a speed boost, but you also close the S-foils on your craft, making it impossible to fire your lasers. Since the tendency is to push the button down all the way to get the most speed, it takes a while to learn to not do this. Fortunately, once you get going, you can release the accelerator and still maintain your speed. Gameplay The game is divided into 11 main missions total, including a training level. Each level asks you to complete a certain set of objectives that are clearly defined and explained before the mission starts. In most cases, the objective is to simply take out the Imperial forces on the level. The problem is, the game throws too many bad guys at you in order for you to take down by yourself. You must pick your targets wisely and take out what really needs to be destroyed before time runs out. As in the Original Rogue Squadron and its follow-up, Battle for Naboo, Rogue Leader features a medal system that awards you for completing missions within a certain set of parameters including time, firing accuracy, and lives lost. Whenever you earn a medal, you receive points that can be redeemed to open up bonus missions or the right to use different ships on certain levels. The medal system gives the game a bit of replay value, since earning every gold medal (and thereby opening up every option in the game) is quite a challenge. You can also find ship upgrades well hidden throughout the game that will not only improve the performance of you ship, but also make those medals easier to earn. As I said before, Rogue Leader feels very familiar and comfortable if you have played through its predecessors. However the similarities between this game and its predecessors may be its greatest weakness. You can't help but get the sense that this has already been done . If you hope to find groundbreaking innovations in the shooter genre, look elsewhere. You won’t find them in this game. That said, Rogue Leader is still amazingly fun and does the shooter genre very well. Graphics Rogue Leader's strongest selling point is obviously its graphics. If you have seen screenshots, downloaded movies, or have had the good fortune of seeing the game in person, you will agree that this game recreates the Star Wars universe better than any other console game to date. Every minute detail you can imagine from the decals on the X-wing to the bumpy surface of the Death Star to fully rendered Storm Troopers and Rebel commandos give the game an utterly true sense of reality. This is Star Wars. The most impressive aspect of the game’s visuals though, is the sense of scale and size you get while playing the game. Rogue Leader has captured the big-ness Star Wars with the size of its levels, the magnitude of the huge command ships, and the swarms of enemies thrown at you in every level. At first it can be overwhelming as you try to attack every fighter onscreen, but doing so only wastes valuable time needed to complete certain objectives. Nothing about this game feels limited or confined. Factor 5 has gone all out to make this game as big and grand as possible. The only flaw in the graphics is an occasional, momentary hitch in the frame rate. Usually this happens on the planet side missions, and occurs so quickly that its over before you realized it happened. Thankfully, because they happen so rarely, and are so quick, it never interferes with game play. Otherwise, the game runs at a perfectly smooth frame rate, which should make you all very happy. Sound Even though the sound effects of Rogue Leader equal the quality of the visuals, not much attention has been paid to them. Perhaps the reason for this has to do with the fact people expect great sound in a Factor 5 game. After all, not only did both Rogue Leader and Battle for Naboo boast some of the best soundtracks of any N64 games, but Factor 5 also developed the software tools for the Gamecube’s sound chip, suggesting they should know how to get the best out of it. That said, this game—ahem—hits all the right notes. The sounds of every ship’s engine, every laser shot, and every explosion can be heard in this game. Best of all, the added storage space of the Gamecube’s min-DVD format have allowed for the use of John Williams’s real score, rather than relying solely on synthesized orchestrations like in the other games. Oddly enough, the game does use both types of music. I guess Factor 5 just couldn’t resist incorporating their very own arrangements into the game. The only problem is, when placed next to the real thing, the synthesized music sticks out and doesn’t work. It would have been far better for them to use one method or the other, but not both. I should also mention the game’s use of Dolby Pro-Logic II to create a 5-channel sound environment. Since I only have a lowly DPL system, I can’t comment on this aspect of the game. (Whatever happened to the good old days when having Dolby Digitial and DTS was enough?) Final Thoughts I went through a lot of trouble to get my hands on Rogue Leader early, and spent more money than I probably should have. Thankfully, I am very pleased with the results. Some minor flaws and a lack of originality don’t stop this game from being a lot of fun, especially for devoted Star Wars fans like myself. Of all the Gamecube launch games I’ve played so far, this one clearly has the most panache. Rogue Leader has been called the first killer app for the GCN, and rightly so. Highly recommend to anyone in search of a great game. ------------------ -J.Fo "He represents all that is soulless and wrong... and you slept with him!"