When it was first released for the PlayStation 2 and PC in early 2006, Rebel Raiders: Operation Nighthawk was already way behind the times--a simple, unimpressive air combat game that did nothing to stand out from the pack. The intervening years have not been kind, and the game is even less impressive today. Its recent release on the Wii is best ignored.
The story, like everything about Rebel Raiders, is generic and disposable. In the near future, a corrupt conglomeration of countries called the Union of World Nations is taking over the planet. As the reckless Ghost Leader, a pilot for a band of rebels called the Alliance of Independent States, you'll take on the UWN's fighters in battle and repeatedly disobey direct orders and endanger your own safety to blow up more of the UWN's stuff.
The action is mindlessly simple. You steer your plane with the Nunchuk, tilting it up or down to climb or dive, twisting it left or right to turn, and using buttons on the Nunchuk and remote to fire your weapons and switch between your three speeds: slow, fast, and very fast. This control scheme works fine, providing all of the responsiveness that the gameplay requires. Most of the time, your chief concern is shooting down enemy fighters. The dogfighting gets old very fast, given that you're always the hunter and never the hunted. The enemy jets always seem to be flying away from you. You just line them up in your sights, let loose with your machine guns or a barrage of your unlimited missiles, and watch them burn. This kind of straightforward, arcade-style destruction can be an entertaining diversion for a few minutes, but before long it becomes painfully repetitive. And the enemy poses very little threat. Sure, once in a while a missile comes up on your tail, but these can always be shaken off by performing a barrel roll with a quick flick of the thumbstick. It's simple, easy, and dull.
There are other targets to take down in the game's missions, but they're equally simple and quickly become as routine and boring as the enemy fighter jets. For instance, there are larger bombers that fly around in lazy circular patterns, firing at you with a predictable, easily avoided rhythm. And defeating the larger capital ships is a simple matter of destroying a number of small targets on their hulls with your guns. There's disappointingly little to it.
Unfortunately, you're usually not sent into the fray alone. You'll wish you were, considering that your squadmates are more of a liability than an asset. You have no way of issuing commands to them, so they'll just fly around and do their thing, which typically isn't much of anything except occasionally getting shot at, and even shot down. Apparently nobody bothered to tell them that they can evade enemy missile attacks by doing a barrel roll. This is a problem because if all of your squadmates are shot down, it's game over. Consequently, you might sometimes find yourself babysitting them, which is even more boring than flying around and taking out the enemy at your leisure.
For a game about fighter jets, Rebel Raiders doesn't give you much freedom. There's an oddly low artificial ceiling to the environments that keeps you from getting very far from the ground. As a result, you'll often find yourself in danger of colliding with the side of a mountain. Not to worry, though. This results only in you thudding off of the landscape in a cloud of dust, losing just a few points off of your shield. It's almost comical. And even when you're going full throttle, the action feels quite slow. Rather than delivering a sense of pulse-pounding combat at hundreds of miles per hour, there's an almost lackadaisical feeling to bringing your plane looping around to target and destroy yet another enemy fighter.
The campaign can easily be completed in about five hours or so, and that's including a nasty trick that the game pulls to artificially extend its duration. At times, you'll need to complete a special challenge mission to unlock the next story mission. Challenges have you replaying missions that you've already completed, but with special requirements tacked on, such as time limits or certain weapons being unavailable. The missions aren't much fun to complete the first time around, so this requirement to complete some of them a second time feels cheap.
Unsurprisingly, Rebel Raiders looks a few years old. There are a few eye-catching aspects to the presentation, such as the deep blues of the ocean and the rich purples of the sky at dusk, but the terrain is pretty featureless, the planes are unimpressive, and capital ships have a boxy, uninspired design. However, the action does keep moving at a steady clip, even when the screen is filled with aircraft. The sound is as unremarkable as the graphics. The music and sound effects are generic, and the voice chatter between Ghost Leader and his squadmates is totally scripted, repeating identically each time you play a level, so it doesn't lend any sense of life or spontaneity to the action.
Rebel Raiders is a barebones package with no multiplayer or anything else to lend it any lasting value. There are a decent number of unlockable planes, but they're all minor variations on four basic types and have no significant impact on the gameplay. If you're looking for some air combat on the Wii, you'll be better served by picking up one of the marginally superior games in the genre. This one should have stayed in 2006.