Shadows of the Empire tells a substory in the Star Wars universe, taking place during and after The Empire Strikes Back. From the get-go, Shadows was planned as a cross-media item. It started out as simply a book, but shortly after that a soundtrack was released. As strange as a soundtrack for a book sounded, it all began to make sense when the game was released on the Nintendo 64 late last year. The game faired well on the software-starved Nintendo system, and now it's available for the PC.
The gameplay in Shadows varies. The first level puts you, as Dash Rendar, behind the joystick of a snowspeeder, protecting the Rebel's escape from Hoth by shooting probe droids, AT-STs, and of course, AT-ATs. This level is absolutely incredible in every way, from blowing up the smaller droids with laser fire to tripping up AT-ATs with tow cables. It's really too bad that the majority of the game is filled with drab first-person (or Tomb Raider-style third-person, depending on your preference) levels, which are filled with lackluster design, boring enemies, and poor aiming control. Most of the levels involve running somewhere, going up a few elevators, blasting a storm trooper or four, crawling through some sort of ventilation duct, shooting a couple of droids, then flipping a switch or running through a door that either ends the level or brings on a silly boss, all of which are ridiculously easy to beat. The only one that gave me any trouble was Boba Fett's Slave-1, which was easily dispatched once I woke up enough to realize that it, like almost every other boss, was totally fooled by circle-strafing. Other levels place you in the gun turrets of Rendar's ship, the Outrider. In these levels you must shoot TIE Fighters, Bombers, and other craft. The graphics here are great, but again, it's little more than a dull shooting gallery.
Graphically, Shadows of the Empire looks very nice, which isn't much of a surprise, seeing as how it requires a Direct3D compatible card to run. Everything from the overly repetitive wall textures to the dumb look on Dash's face is rendered perfectly. The soundtrack is your typical Star Wars-type music, and the sound effects are nicely done, including speech that was unavailable on the N64 version.
All in all, this version of Shadows is much improved over the original N64 game, with the possible exception of control. The N64's analog stick was perfectly suited for the game, but PC players with digital pads will occasionally have trouble drawing a bead on targets. All the components for a great game are here, but it just doesn't mesh. Unless you really want to take on the AT-ATs, your best bet is to save your money for the obviously better (and more focused) Jedi Knight.