|Review by Stalkid64|
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Star Wars - Rogue Squadron 2 - Rogue Leader
The game almost everyone was waiting for ever since its first `tech demo` showing at the now infamous SW2K. The sequel to the rather fine Rogue Squadron on the N64, subsequent previews in magazines and on the `Net made this game out to be one to watch when it came to launch time. Even the terrible quality movie clips of IGN (sorry, couldn`t resist that one...) could do this game very little harm in terms of graphical excellence and immersive sound. A Star Wars game with promises of 70+ TIE fighter battles? With these looks and sounds?! Gotta be a winner all the way surely?
Two phrases that should`ve been remembered. "Looks can be decieving," and "Don`t judge a book by its cover".
Okay, better get this out of the way now; Yes, Rogue Leader does look every bit as pretty and technically excellent as you ever imagined it would. Perhaps more so, in fact. From the desert training level of Tattooine, to the deep space battles, the texture work and level of detail put into the player/AI craft and throughout the levels is sometimes staggering. The ripples and smooth curves of the sand in Tattooine, which kick up dust as you skim over them in either dawn, day, dusk or night (set by the NGC`s internal clock) are so perfect that a lot of PC flight sims pale in comparison with their flat landscapes. Or the (slightly too easy) Death Star trench run, where laser fire lights up the trench so beautifully at such a high speed, or the sight of 70+ TIE fighters, Interceptors and Bombers (along with an assortment of huge cruisers) hurtling around on the Battle of Endor level.
The only real gripe is the occasional bit of slowdown, and the slightly disappointing lack of any kind of death animation whatsoever for the (VERY detailed) ground troops. Minor though it may be, speeding along the surface of Hoth with lasers firing, only to have anyone you hit simply disappear is a slight letdown. Though in general - Imperial Academy mission aside - the levels are vast, beautiful and convincingly solid, so we can forgive it. Even the hangar sections are great to just wander around, checking out the detail on the various ships you can choose. Special mention should also go to the opening menu system, which has almost-DVD quality clips of the original trilogy playing as the backdrop. Interestingly, every clip from the original movie appears digitally cleaned up more than those from Empire or Jedi - a hint at the status of the coming DVD perhaps? ;)
All a tad F1-2000 PSX maybe, but certainly a nice touch presentation-wise.
Undoubtedly the high point of the game, Rogue Leader`s audio is truly into the realm of `next gen` awe-inspiring stuff. To address the one minor complaints first seems right, which is there is some strange bug in certain cut scenes, where lines of conversation cut off mid-flow (this is consistent, especially in one part of the Battle of Endor level), which really should`ve been sorted. Other than that, I`m very happy to report that Rogue Leader proves that the GameCube is more than capable of delivering high quality sound. And what an aural feast it is too! Anyone with even a basic stereo setup can enjoy the `virtual` surround sound option provided by Dolby Pro Logic II. Working best at high volume (duh), the game pumps out classic (and new) Star Wars orchestral tunes, while delivering a barrage of laser fire, speech, engine noise and explosions around the player, and does a very good job of it too. Every sound in the game is very authentic to the movies, from the laser fire, booming explosions and TIE`s screaming past you (there is a special audio test mode where a single TIE sounds to fly in a circle around and behind you - very neat) to the most minor things such as engine sounds in the cockpit views of any craft, this adds no end to the atmosphere of the game. Turn the stereo up and recreate the sound of the Star Wars universe in your very own house. It`s amazing how much the game handles at once without a single problem. Even the voice acting is good. Unlike most games, the soundalike voice actors (Wedge is even voiced by the original actor) do a very good job, and really you`d never know they weren`t who they`re pretending to be. This is someting the developer should be especially commended for, as it`s no less than we deserve these days. Superb stuff.
Oh dear, oh dear... where did it all go so shockingly wrong? Right here in the gameplay department unfortunately. Yes, after the initial awe of the spectacular graphical and audio work wears off, you`ll start to notice the sad fact that Rogue Leader plays no better than an average PS2 game. That`s a word that pretty much sums things up here - average. Taking out TIE fighters carries no real skill to it. You simply chase them to the left or right firing at them - rarely does the AI make any effort to avoid it - until you get behind them and bang, down they go. The TIE Bombers are even worse, taking more damage but still hardly posing much challenge other than tracking them down in the first place. Even more irritating, and probably the single biggest flaw with the game, is the way in which this seeming indifference to the players craft produces unbelievably annoying - and fatal - collisions with enemy fighters. And let me be clear this isn`t an occasional thing. Turning quickly and slamming into a TIE you couldn`t even see and had no chance to avoid is the single biggest cause of death in Rogue Leader, bar none. Quite why the AI piloting the craft seems to rule suicide as a good course of action is a mystery to me, especially as all it takes for them to kill you in one of the weaker craft (Say, the A-Wing on Bespin)is for one of them to get behind you and they can quite literally fire fast enough to kill you in less than a second. Again this can happen too often, and by the time you`re aware of it you`re dead again. Again be very clear this isn`t `challenging fun for hardcore gamers` like Tony Hawk 3 or Waverace, or `death by self error` as in something like Super Monkey Ball etc. This is frequent, frustrating, and blatantly unfair deaths you have NO CHANCE to avoid, and no amount of skill on the part of the player will prevent either of these frequent quick death scenario`s.
Another potential problem this causes is with the lifespan of the game. The 10 or so ordinary missions do provide quite a (fair) challenge on occasions, and some levels not heavy on TIE`s are quite good fun. The Battle of Hoth for example with AT-ST and AT-AT tripping entertainment, or Razor Rendezvous. The sad part though is that these really great levels are few and far between.
Limited depth is added by the challenge of finding the various shield, laser and missile upgrades hidden around the levels, and a further set of missions can be unlocked by acquiring the bronze, silver and gold medals which can be won (the final and undoubtedly greatest of which is "Death Star Endurace" - a fight with unending numbers of TIE`s and gun turrets, and the level originally shown back at the unveiling of the GameCube as a tech demo. The trouble is though, with the huge frustration the TIE problem creates in actually getting all the required medals, very few people will probably ever bother getting that far. However, the decent selection of hidden craft and other such bonuses (a pretty good video documentary on the making of the game is unlocked by finishing the normal missions)is certainly to be commended. It`s just a crying shame they didn`t work a little harder on making the TIE`s more `intelligent`. Also the occasional slowdown is disappointingly not fixed in the PAL version - though the added 60hz mode is in there - and nor is the infamous `Tattooine 20 second slowdown` bug. Something which the developers *did* repeatedly promise would be sorted. Again this makes me feel that a little more time spent on the gameplay and fixing these few but large flaws rather than just the pretty graphics and sound could`ve made this game so much better. Control wise, everything is pretty much perfect, the c-stick even allowing slight camera alterations and allowing you to look around independantly in the impressively pretty but largely useless for general play cockpit views.
The mission parameters can also be slightly too restrictive sometimes, meaning tiny variations from what the game wants you to do can result in yet another `mission failed` message and a trip back to the selection screen. Case in point would be something as basic as the Death Star trench run. Want to fly up out of the trench and look around? Sorry, no can do. Want to go check out the wonderful scenery around the islands on Kothlis? Okay, but only for a minute or so or the transport/troops you`re supposed to be defending from that small group of TIE`s will be destroyed and you`ll fail again, showing quite how useless your wingmen are at doing anything that might be construed as helpful. Go figure. It`s a shame because despite these flaws, the game still oozes atmosphere. It looks and sounds amazing, and although fun is had, it`ll be in extremely short bursts. It`s sorely lacking in entertainment value and frankly, there are much more enjoyable games out there right now worthy of your money.
Since finishing the basic set of missions, I have felt absoultely no desire to go back and play this again. This is something unusual for myself, as typically I play a game until I`ve seen and tried everything humanly possible. I loved the idea of the medal challenges, hidden craft and missions for replay value before I bought the game. Sadly the one or two I did bother to unlock properly were a bit on the crap side, and with the frustration that trying to win more would entail it just doesnt seem worth the time or effort. The sound and visuals will suck you in for a little while, perhaps for long enough to see you through the initial set of missions, but after that, with the lack of a multiplayer mode (why?) also taken into account, I`m pretty sure this one will only come out for the quick occasional go, or to show off the system.
TOTAL RATING: 74%
To be honest, I`m sure the mark I`ve awarded the game there will be misunderstood. Take it as given that 50% tends to mean `average` and although this is an average game, this is actually a reasonably generous mark for Rogue Leader. The game does have a nice number of unique and interesting additions such as the documentary, level commentaries etc which make it worthy of purchase perhaps, and certainly the developers deserve praise for including them, but for the most part the game just doesn`t have enough going for it in terms of long term enjoyment to merit a higher mark. I think 90+ percent awards must be given too easily by magazines today, as I can see nothing in here to earn that kind of mark. If you`re a massive Star Wars fan, knock on another 5-10% for novelty value, but that`s it. With such greats as Luigi`s Mansion (which in reality has a pretty similar lifespan, but is far far more enjoyable), Super Monkey Ball, Waverace: Blue Storm, Super Smash Bros and Tony Hawk 3 out there, Rogue Leader sadly falls by the wayside. Disappointing.