LucasArts' long-awaited space-combat simulation, X-Wing Vs. TIE Fighter, is slated for release this winter, and by all indications, it's going to be a monster. XWvTF takes all the elements of the previous games set in the Star Wars universe, makes them better, and finally adds - thank God, or The Force, or whatever - the option for multi-player interaction. Players face 15 different mission scenarios (which doesn't sound like a lot until the first time your rebel squadron gets ambushed and stomped before you even make the first way-point) set in locales like asteroid belts, fields of discarded space junk, and the famed Endor star system. (Whether we'll be able to use the Death Star to finally blow those &%$*%# Ewoks to Kingdom Come once and for all is still unclear at this point.)
Sporting an upgraded version of the graphic engine found in X-Wing and TIE Fighter, XWvTF features texture-mapped spaceship models gathered directly from the Lucasfilm Star Wars archives, and players can choose from about a dozen Rebellion, Imperial, and rag-tag pirate spacecraft. Each multi-player mode scenario begins with a selection process wherein the players choose to fly for the Rebels or the Empire. Specific craft are chosen, mission objectives are reviewed, and pilots may communicate with wingmen and other squadmates to discuss tactics. In addition, a real-time 3D map is available in-flight to provide rendezvous points and to facilitate mission strategies. And players will need all of this; the missions in XWvTF have been specifically designed to promote cooperation between squadmates (or, failing that, to discourage the kind of overt, back-stabbing, open warfare known to occasionally crop up without explanation between allies in network games), allowing pilots to communicate with wingmen or enemy pilots. This not only makes for better, more interconnected gameplay, but also creates an appropriate I've-got-one-on-my-tail-I-can't-shake-him camaraderie - which is half of the feel of a Star Wars-style dogfight.
Of course, a single player mode exists for those scoring so low on the Life-O-Meter that they can't even locate networked opponents. While the gameplay is nearly identical to that of multi-player mode, single player missions focus on a different series of conflicts between the Rebellion and the Empire, each ultimately enabling pilots to work on tactics that can be employed in network games. The favorite after-hours, latent-hostility pressure valve down Gamespot Way at the moment is Quake... but that may change come winter, when the dopplering howl of TIE fighters (and the occasional interoffice cry of victory/scream of frustration/unprintable insult) fills the air and clogs up the office computer network.
Gamespot, ladies and gentlemen: We got yer Dark Side right here.