Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire
It's interesting nowadays when we get the urge to suddenly realive the videogames of our youth. Chances are, that if you were a fan of Star Wars(and if you weren't, shame on you), and had access to a Nintendo 64, then you might have somepoint played this game. Me being roughly 11 years old when this game out, and being new to the Nintendo 64 itself, and a star wars fan, its safe to say i found this game to be the pinnacle of all creation. It's easy to see how this game could have brought a further interest into the star wars universe, what with the wonderful side story this game has that takes place between episode The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Being young and less critical of media and whatnot, its hard to not like this game at a young age. Its now almost 20 years since the release of this game and this 11 year old kid is now 29 years of age. Alot can happen in 20 years to a person, and to Star Wars, and this review is coming from the point of view of a Star Wars fan(not super crazy), videogame fan, and of an adult(for the most part).
So Lets jump into this review. Ill assume you already know the story so I won't dive too much into it. Needless to say this game has a great story, if your a fan, chances that'll be the most rewarding part of the game, along with the fantastic cut scenes, and music(this game seriously does have great star wars-esque music, although the same boss battle music gets annoying after awhile). Even the character you are playing, Dash Rendar, is quite appealing, and comes off as a bad ass smuggler like Hon Solo, yet even more macho. He also has a kick ass robotic sidekick named Leebo who keeps in contact with Dash throughout the game. The inbetween level cutscenes are very welll done and hold up good to today, reminding of a motion-comic, like what they did with the Watchmen(minus the voiceacting, thankfully). The little dialogue that does take place is is a fair representation of the characters, and its accompanied by an eery soundtrack too add to the experience. I could seriously an entire movie done like this(like Watchmen), but it helps to be a Star Wars fan to appreciate something like that.
The gameplay varies from each level, some good and some bad. The first level puts you in the pilot seat at the battle of hoth as you fend off the imperials as they are attacking the rebel base. the mechanics for this level still hold up fairly well, and for its time it was quite it seemed quite ground breaking, as did the final level that involved an epic space battle where you could fly Dash's ship in any direction as you saw fit, which blew my mind at a young age. Flying around space shooting at ships and seeing the millenium falcon fly around is quite a treat. Unfortunately, the game goes downhill at the second level, when an extremely clumsy 3rd/1st person view shooter gameplay is introduced. This game is almost unplayable in 3rd person view, so i found myself using 1st person, which didnt even show dash's weapon, so all you can see is the level and lasers firing from an invisible gun. The Majority of these shooter levels are designed quite boringly, and seem poorly designed. Although i found the Train level, and the sewer levels quite good, and most of the levels were quite big, not in terms of length though, but in scope. Some of the levels were obnotchously big in scope. the developers could have toned it down a bit and consentrated on the actual levels and make them less boring. Although certain levels benefited from this. The train level was quite good and enormous in scope. Jumping from train to trains at high speed and avoiding barriers was quite intense, even though you only take damage as opposed to getting knocked off the track. The Boss battle with IG-88 at the end of the train level is one of the most poorly designed boss arena battles i have ever seen in a game. Its like the designers just through objects and crap in a an an area and said "Well thats done". Probably one of the worst boss battles I've played in any game, and thats not counting difficulty, its just plain terrible in every way. A cupple levels are like rail shooters as you are in your ship while the droid Leebo pilots, they're ok but nothing special. The following level is where you go to some planet to find boba fett, again a shooter level. Its okay, one of the better ones, but nothing special. The battle with boba fett is pretty decent, as you are given a jet pack to fly around in. I cant recall to many star wars games in which boba fett shows up so it's pretty cool in any case. The Next level brings you tatoine , as you drive one of the speeder bikes featured in return of the jedi. Really all your doing is riding around knocking gang members into the walls with your own bike. Can Dash not drive and shoot at the same time? He seems to have very little disregard for his own life, and honestly im not sure how i feel about this level, its kinda inbetween the bad ones and ok to good ones. tThe next level takes place on a Black Suns space ship, which is comically introduced as you travel there along side luke skywalker, who so bravely says he stay outside the ship to back Dash up out there. "Hey Dash can you go into the freighter and fight everyone, ill just stay out here in my X-Wing and get your back from here no problem". That part alone made me laugh. The level itself though is very boring and forgettable. The Next level takes place in a sewer, which i found to be quite fun, because you have your jet pack and your flyng in and out of tunnels, and in first person i found it to be quite enjoyable, all accompanied by an entertaning soundtrack. The boss battle here i also thought was pretty good, as you fight a giant Lovecraft like monster with tentacles, all the whileflying around in and out of water shooting them. I remember hating this level as a kid, but this time around i enjoyed it, and found it to be the best shoot level in the game. Next is Xexors palace, which is terribly boring, and lacking of anything palace oriented. DId Somebody move all the furniture?. This level is also accompanied by yet anothr boring boss battle with annoyng music, kill the boss, next level. I would like to point out though that the music during the palace level is great, prolly the best in the game. Finally, we are at the skyhook battle. This level is awesome, as you can fly around in any direction you want(yes, you could in Tie Fighter for PC, but this is a console game where talking about here). This was so f---ing mind blowing as a kid, i thought it was the greatest thing in the universe. You are flyg around in Dash's ship, with an imperial star destroyer and Xezors Skyhook all in plain sit, and tons of enemy and friendly ship flying around, all the whie having the millenium falcon and the rebels accompy you in battle, with the epic soundtrack making the ass kicking all the more enjoyable. Of course playing this level now i found it to be ok and not as super great as i remember it, but its definity one of the highlights of the game for me. Flying Dash's ship into the skyhook to shoot the generator is reminicent of the final battle of return of the jedi, and then flying out as it is about to blow up, again, pretty epic stuff here. And the game ends with Luke and everyone not really knowing if Dash made it out alive or not. This really would have made such a better movie than any of the later star wars films. Id trade this games existence for a Shadows of the Empire movie any day of the week.
the good: Great Soundtrack, great cut scenes, , Good Flying mechanics, Good characters . 4 Good Levels(out of 10). A Variety of different game play lacking in most games.
The Bad: Really boring/poorly designed shooter levels, Unplayable 3rd Person view. Lackluster 1st person view. 6 Lame Levels(out of 10)
Graphics: 7/10 (This is 1996 folks)
Sound: 6/10 (pretty lame most of the time)
In all seriousness, id give this game a 6.5 out of 10, and im being fairly generous with that. I know its an older game, but there are many retro games that hold up fairly well in all departments such as sound/graphics(..)/story/controls, etc. This game seriously suffers from really bad shooting mechanics and controls, and along with poor level design, makes the majority of this game not to enjoyable. But god damnit folks, its star wars, and the first 64 bit star wars at that. Nowadays this game should only be played by Retro gamers who once enjoyed this game, that happen to still be star wars fans. Or Hardcore star wars videogame freaks. After now having played this game after so many years, i never see myself playing it ever again for the rest of my life, but i am glad i revisited it for old times sake.