Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike Updated Preview

We strap in and take flight with the next installment in the Rogue Squadron series in this exclusive preview.

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Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike is the sequel to Factor 5 and LucasArts' impressive GameCube launch title, Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader. It's also the third entry in the Rogue Squadron series, which began on the Nintendo 64. The flight-based action game has slowly been evolving since its N64 debut due to a stronger integration of the Star Wars license. Whereas the original N64 game focused on characters and events that were inspired by the classic trilogy and a Dark Horse Comics series that expanded the classic universe, the series has taken a more-focused turn on the GameCube. The main action in Rogue Leader drifted in and out of events from the classic trilogy and put you in the role of Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles. As a result, you participated in some key events from the films, like the assaults on the death stars from Star Wars and Return of the Jedi, as well as the battle of Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back.

You can expect to see even more exciting battles from the movies in Rebel Strike.
You can expect to see even more exciting battles from the movies in Rebel Strike.

For the third game, Factor 5 and LucasArts have chosen to increase ties to the classic trilogy even more by including actual footage from the films as well as new missions that tie into the films' events much more closely. We had a chance to get an exclusive look at a preview version of the game and are quite pleased by what we saw. Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike is shaping up to offer an exceptionally cool experience that might just tops its predecessor in every way.

Northern California-based developer Factor 5 is once again drawing upon the motion pictures for inspiration in developing the new game, which will feature a mission-based structure like the previous games in the series. However, the developer has decided to expand on this structure: While you'll still be put in the role of Luke Skywalker or Wedge Antilles, as you were in the first two games, Rebel Strike will actually feature a broader narrative, consisting of two distinct perspectives. Luke and Wedge each have a unique set of missions, and you can also play as some other familiar faces over the course of the game.

Perform well, and you can unlock bonus items.
Perform well, and you can unlock bonus items.

Our early version of Rebel Strike featured a mission-select screen similar to that of Rogue Leader. The various missions appear in groups of three that you can scroll through vertically. New missions in the Luke and Wedge story paths become available as you complete assigned missions, as long as you earn at least a bronze medal. As in Rogue Leader, the medal system rewards you with a bronze, silver, or gold medal based on your mission performance. Each medal earns you a predetermined number of points that can be used to unlock several bonus missions--as in the previous game.

At the moment, it looks as though the bonus missions appear on the main mission-select screen, next to the normal missions, as opposed to being somewhat hidden, like in Rogue Leader. That's not to say that Rebel Strike won't have any hidden secrets. In addition to the bonus missions, the game features an assortment of extras, like developer commentaries and "making of" videos, as well as a trio of bonuses that Star Wars devotees should enjoy.

In addition to its single-player mode, Rebel Strike also has a new multiplayer mode that offers some very cool content. The co-op and versus game types let you play the game with a friend on a split-screen display. Co-op mode lets you go through the entire game with a friend, while the versus mode lets you compete against another player in a variety of different games.

The new game has split-screen multiplayer modes.
The new game has split-screen multiplayer modes.

Although the game is set during the time period found in the classic film trilogy, which had been pretty thoroughly covered in Rogue Leader, the new game should have enough variety to keep the action fresh, thanks to some additions to the gameplay. The core game mechanics remain roughly the same. You still take control of a variety of spacecraft, as seen in the films, like an X-wing, a Y-wing, a B-wing, an A-wing, and the Millennium Falcon. However, you're now given the opportunity to get behind the virtual wheel of speeder bikes, AT-ST walkers, and more. You even have new goals based on these new vehicles, rather than just more shoot-'em-up missions. For instance, in addition to battle and escort objectives, you'll also find yourself using your snowspeeder's tow cable to haul around explosives, or you'll use a captured AT-ST to infiltrate an Imperial base.

Rebel Strike is also the first game that lets you control Luke and Wedge outside of their vehicles, as the game features third-person sequences that let you guide one of the two men. You also get to control some other familiar faces through pseudo-platformer and shooting sequences. The segments offer varied elements, like taking command of stationary turrets. You also engage in other types of action, like taking out Imperial walkers. For instance, Luke can use a snowspeeder cable to hoist himself up to the undersides of walkers where he can plant grenades in their bellies.

You can expect to see all-new vehicles taken straight from the movies.
You can expect to see all-new vehicles taken straight from the movies.

The tweaked gameplay seems to work very well and should keep Rebel Strike from feeling like a by-the-numbers sequel. Factor 5 has obviously done a considerable amount of work to ensure the game has its own unique feel. After playing through a good chunk of the levels, we have to say that, in many ways, the game feels like a 3D cousin of the classic Super Star Wars games on the Super Nintendo. Rebel Strike's varied gameplay and mechanics give it a bit of a retro feel that is distinctly different from Rogue Leader.

However, while the gameplay has significant changes, the controls haven't been drastically changed. You still use the same layout for the various vehicles, which maps easily to whichever craft you're controlling. The basic control scheme seems tweaked a bit for the third-person sequences so that you have greater freedom of movement as you're facing off against Imperial forces. You're able to run, duck, strafe, and jump as you wade into your foes. Blasting enemies is pretty easy, thanks to an extremely generous auto-targeting system that homes in on whomever you're facing at the time. You can also carry grenades, which are useful for clearing out groups of enemies. The sequences seem to move quickly and also seem to offer a change of pace from the game's usual vehicular action sequences. The only catch to these segments is that, in the version we played, we were unable to control the camera--which would be useful for peeking around corners. Hopefully, Factor 5 will include this feature in the final game.

Rebel Strike looks extremely impressive, thanks to its all-new graphics engine, which coaxes some serious performance from the GameCube hardware. The single-player game offers a fine showcase for the powerful engine due to its many real-time cinemas that show off the environments and vehicles in extreme close-ups. Diehard fans will be pleased to hear that the ships stand up to scrutiny as a result of their great detail. The environments seem gorgeous and look at least as good as the vehicles, if not better, because they convey an excellent sense of scale. They also seem to feature excellent lighting and some slick special effects.

Despite the game's impressive graphics, Factor 5 is trying to keep it at a steady 60 frames per second.
Despite the game's impressive graphics, Factor 5 is trying to keep it at a steady 60 frames per second.

Familiar locales, like Yavin, Tatooine, Hoth, Bespin, Endor, and even Geonosis, appear to have been re-created just as impressively, while original locales like Fondor also seem quite striking. In terms of overall artistic design, Rebel Strike has a more varied appearance. The new graphics engine pushes a greater number of polygons than its predecessor and uses bump-mapping, motion-blur, and a host of other special effects to add a striking level of polish. Despite the extra detail, Rebel Strike should still zip along at a speedy 60 frames per second when it ships. While the version we played was not complete, the game rarely dipped below 60 frames per second, which bodes well for the final game. An extra visual perk in the game is the inclusion of actual footage from the classic trilogy that's interspersed to provide context for certain levels.

The audio in the game also seems to offer some solid improvements over Rogue Leader. The musical score is shaping up very well. You'll hear a mix of the classic familiar themes from the motion picture trilogy as well as new tunes that stay true to the spirit of the original score. Voice and sound effects also seem very strong and offer a convincing combination of chatter and weapon-fire that complements all the onscreen action. The audio presentation in the game should be considerably better than that of Rogue Leader, overall, thanks to a new positional audio system that adjusts all the effects in relation to where you are. For example, if you walk by steam pipes or on varied walking surfaces, the sound from them will reflect both your position and the acoustics of the area.

Once again, you have to make sure this infamous space station never gets completed.
Once again, you have to make sure this infamous space station never gets completed.

Based on what we've seen so far, Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike is coming together quite well. The game features a hefty chunk of new content, and it's all supplemented by some very cool extra modes and unlockable items. The tweaks and additions to the gameplay should help the action stay fresh, while the new graphics engine seems to ensure that the visuals stay true to the high level of quality for which the series is known. Star Wars fans, and anyone else looking for a top-notch action game for the GameCube, should keep an eye out for Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike.

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