Thursday, 3 February 2011

Star Wars Videogames Special Part 1

Star Wars.
Everyone loves it, right? At least most of us did, until 1999 and the release of the Phantom Menace, but that's another story...

Of course, movie licenses have always been a big part of computer game culture, and Star Wars was arguably the primest target for any computer game. My first experience of playing a Star Wars game was, like many, the superb wireframe arcade machine from Atari - the sit-down version of course. I've blogged before about this classic (click here), but suffice to say when you're charging down the Deathstar Trench with Obi Wan Kenobi echoing in your ears, palms sweating in tension as that fiendishly small exhaust approaches and the famous music ringing out, you are Luke Skywalker, saving the known universe from the evil Empire.
Fast forward to 1985, and having recently acquired a shining brand new Spectrum 48k+, the first two games I spend hours and hours on are 16k games: Ultimate's Jet Pac and Micromega's 3D Deathchase, with the latter being a Star Wars game in all but name. Deathchase sees the player on a motorbike (speeder bike) charging through a dense forest (Endor), hunting down enemy bikers (scout troopers on speeder bikes) and tanks (scout walkers). Anyone who had seen Return of the Jedi and didn't pretend they were Luke Skywalker astride a speeder bike on the forest moon clearly had something wrong with them.

Then it all went a bit quiet on the Star Wars front. Domark's 1987 adaptation of the Atari arcade machine was too little too late (certainly on the Spectrum) and the isometric Return of the Jedi never appealed to me. So, having missed out in the early 80's thanks to having an Intellivision and no money to buy the expensive cartridges, it appeared, despite the enduring appeal of the brand, that I was destined not to take part in the adventures of Luke, Han, Leia et al.

Then, in late 1994 I acquired my second console, a Sega Megadrive. Shortly afterwards I foolishly laid out 200 quid for a mega cd unit (click here) and one of the first few games I bought for it was Rebel Assault.
Now this was more like it! The iconic music was present, and the fledgling CD format meant the proper orchestral music by John Williams, not that tinny metallic beeping from the arcade machine. The first level has you guiding a T-16 down a narrow trench on Tatooine and was frustrating but still enjoyable. After that, Rebel Assault becomes a strict on-rails shooter, but what the hell, it was Star Wars, it had decent graphics and you felt like you were taking on the Empire!

This was it for the 16-bit Star Wars era for me, however, and we pick up the story in 1996 with my first PC, and a year later, the Sony Playstation.
When Doom came out, there were a rush of First Person Clones, as you might expect with it being such a monster hit. Lucasarts didn't miss out and released Dark Forces for the PC and Playstation, but if I'm being totally honest with you, this game never grabbed me. By the time I got round to playing it, not only were the graphics outdated, but compared to games such as Quake and Duke Nukem 3D, the gameplay was positively archaic (no jumping!). A year or so later, I remember wandering into Electronic Boutique in Lakeside and seeing Masters of Teras Kasi on a demo Playstation unit. It looked and sounded great but I had reservations, so didn't buy it, a wise decision it turns out. A far better choice was Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight.
Jedi Knight was so different from Dark Forces, I still don't understand why they bothered to link the two games with the Dark Forces II prefix. Playing nebulous rebel footsoldier Kyle Katarn, Jedi Knight began within the towering spires of Coruscant and simply oozed atmosphere and authenticity. The advent of the CD-rom era had done Star Wars games a huge favour: here were the real sound effects, the real music and an authentic, immersive, experience. With a vastly improved engine, Jedi Knight allowed Katarn to leap around with gay abandon so giving rise to a number of tricky jumping puzzles. One abiding memory is the level when you're stuck in a ship that's crashing, a mind-muddling mad dash to the emergency escape pods. The game had its weakpoints: fashionable yet dreadful cutscenes did it no favours, the lightsaber battles were naff and the game didn't really change should you decide to "all medevil". It was (and still is) a great experience however, and one of the first few PC games that I played through several times.

But away from videogames for a moment, something was happening elsewhere that was about to really change the scale and frequency of Star Wars games. There was a new Star Wars movie coming out.


  1. I don't think I've played any of these (oops!). I always wanted to play Masters of Teras Kasi though. Because you could play as gold bikini Leia, obviously :P

  2. Dark Forces was a great game on the PC, although I recently played it on the PS1 and it's dire in comparison. Cheers for this article. Really enjoyed.

  3. I used to be a sucker for any game with Star Wars in the title (The Phantom Menace cured me of that pretty sharpish). I got stung a few times, but had some great gaming experiences on the way too.

    The original Star Wars arcade was converted to the Atari ST with aplomb, and I even enjoyed the incredibly limited Return of the Jedi on the ST too.

    Quite a few Star Wars games have not aged well. Rebel Assault represents what developers got wrong with the invention of CD-ROM gaming, the 16-bit era platformers are too frustrating to enjoy these days, and Shadows of the Empire on the N64 (though I lapped it up at the time) is just laughable.

    My favourites were two games that really kickstarted my PC gaming: Dark Forces and TIE Fighter I bled every last minute of gameplay out of those two games.

  4. Now this is my kind of post, Star Wars & Retro Gaming=happy days.

    My first Star Wars game was the Empire Strikes Back on the Atari VCS. I begged and begged my parents for it when it was released and had no concept that £45 was quite a lot of money way back then.

    X-Wing & Rebel Assault just blew me away & it was here that i switched to PC gaming in favour of my beloved Amiga.

    If i had to pick a few favorites they'd have to be -

    Tie Fighter - because it was good to be in the service of the empire!

    Jedi Knights/expansions - Jedi powers at last!

    Rotj Arcade - Because I could make one credit last all afternoon.

  5. Great post, I think for me it is all about SotE for me on the N64. That was actually a very good and under rated game, may go check out what I will have to pay for that now a days. I am really interested in the 32X arcade port too, but when I have enough money to get my 32X