Star Wars Rebel Strike: Rogue Squadron III

Gamestyle Archive intro: a massive hit at the time, Rebel Strike only showed flashes of what could be achieved on the Nintendo Gamecube.

Writer: JJ

Published: November 2003

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In principal, evolution ensures that things improve over time, removing the mistakes of previous incarnations. However, flaws exist in nature and even moreso in human creation. This brings us nicely onto Rogue Squadron, which in its third instalment should now be in its prime.

The game structure is the same as before; select a plum variety of moments from the Star Wars universe and exponentially grow these into full levels within the game. A majority of mouth-watering moments have already been shared previously, so Factor 5 has had to look elsewhere, and avoid the cherry-picking of previous Rogue releases. Running through the list of levels confirms some fine selections – in the form of Sarlacc Pit, Hoth, and the Death Star. Whereas the previous Rogue Squadron games were predominantly airborne affairs, Rebel Strike has expanded its remit to include on-foot and land vehicles, such as Speederbikes and Imperial Walkers. Admittedly, this has opened up a new realm of picturesque moments to enjoy, but has also increased the number of potential problems. The speeder and on-foot sections are tragically realised. The former is very much on-rails, and the environments fly by with little consequence for the player. The limited control, desultory visuals and camera positioning create a ramshackle impression; such levels could have been knocked together in a matter of days.

There is no polish here, only dry rot, and it’s seeped right into the core of the whole experience. The root of the problem (outside of level design) lies with the abysmal camera, which looks set to challenge Dino Crisis 3 for awkwardness. In space, the interior-cockpit view is rendered ineffective through a cluttered HUD, and outside its perspective induces tunnel vision. However, it frankly gets worse indoors – suffering from the same problems which plagued the Capcom release. Fixed camera angles simply force the player to shoot at enemies off-screen (no further explanation is required). A match made in pitchfork heaven is the only way to describe the camera and the on-foot sections of Rebel Strike. Words alone cannot prepare you for such a tragic marriage of inconvenience; save for actually experiencing the union. The on-foot sections hark back to releases of yesteryear, where following a linear route (with finger firmly depressed on fire), you navigate tragically short levels. Such apathy is not welcomed nor fitting for a series of this stature, and as such leaves a bitter aftertaste. Even the normally ‘stellar’ flying levels feel diminished and incomplete.

Admittedly, the sense of scale has been dramatically improved, thanks to a reworked graphics engine, and potential obstacles and enemies are displayed with visual fidelity (which does little to trouble the framerate at any time). However, Rebel Strike falls foul of the curse of open space in videogames – there is no clear sense of direction or position. The battle may be raging around you, but the player’s role in the proceedings is ill-defined; and more importantly, mission targets can at times be difficult to locate. Such issues with level design, camera foibles and other miscellanies were surely highlighted during testing. It is unfortunate that these were either downgraded or deliberately overlooked, but the damage to the series is momentous. Star Wars Rebel Strike: Rogue Squadron III falls woefully short of cutting-edge standards set in motion by BioWare’s Knights Of The Old Republic, for example. In spite of this avalanche of criticism, there are fleeting moments to savour in Rebel Strike (notwithstanding predictable AI patterns) that are worth revisiting time and again.

Still, Gamestyle predicts that only the most devout Star Wars fan will likely be ‘recycling’ energy for such a prolonged period. The medal structure, which rates performance and opens up a range of bonus items and levels, has been retained. Here lies the true challenge of the game, which at its most basic level, would not last beyond the weekend. In an attempt to boost longevity outside of gold medals, Factor 5 has included a co-operative mode and the de-rigueur ‘fun’ addition of a versus game. This reminded Gamestyle of the limited two-player options available in Ace Combat, but with the inclusion of wingmen. Again, fun in smallish doses, but after the expansive Crimson Skies (for Xbox), things just don’t compare. The cut sequences that are scattered throughout the levels form part of the Achilles heel of Rebel Strike – but obviously excludes footage taken from the films themselves. Gamestyle acknowledges the satisfaction gained from a series of artful encounters, which further drives the story, but those offered are lacklustre and only disrupt the relative fluidity of gameplay; appearing at inopportune times, forcing additional loading (oftentimes for the sum benefit of ten seconds’ duration) and infuriating the player.

The production values are additionally disappointing – drab character models and environments, with pedestrian animation. In fact, they can be quite laughable. The introduction/disco sequence is meant to be humorous, but not at the expense of laughing at its own plot-twists and events which play out through the game. Whilst the pre-production focus may have slipped with its cut sequences, things remain solid in audiophilic terms. Consumers often overlook the Gamecube as an underpowered performer, but the Pro Logic II soundtrack is as effective as anything else on the market. The game still bristles with ‘tech-demo’ appeal, and is a good showcase for the console, especially when left to run in stores. Only when the bystander picks up the controller is this grand illusion shattered – seemingly through flawed and self-limiting gameplay.

Star Wars Rebel Strike: Rogue Squadron III harks back to (Nintendo 64’s) Shadows Of The Empire, which was bearable thanks mainly to its memorable flying levels. If anything, this release proves that the series has now run its intended course. What is therefore required are fresh ideas and a dramatic overhaul as, in its ‘finished’ state, this is a bitter and extremely hoary pill for all Gamecube owners to swallow.

Gamestyle Score: 5/10

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