Good Old Reviews
Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance - One In A Million

Marshall Lemon | 19 Dec 2015 12:00
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Original Release: 1999. Platforms: PC. Developer: Totally Games. Publisher: LucasArts. Available on GOG.com, Steam.

The Force Awakens finally reached theaters this week, which means fans have something new to look forward to: An inevitable wave of Star Wars games. Battlefront is already here, but the coming months will likely see announcements for lightsaber combat games, trooper-focused shooters, open galaxy RPGs, and the whole twelve parsecs.

More than anything, I want space simulators like the classic X-Wing series to make a comeback. There's something truly special about getting into the cockpit of a Rebel starfighter, winning dogfights against TIE Fighters, and flying circles around Star Destroyers while John Williams' iconic music plays in the background. In fact, a Star Wars space sim might be easier to produce than shooters, RPGs, or platformers given current technology. And if the Oculus Rift launch goes as predicted next year, the experience might be far more immersive than anything 1990s X-Wing designers imagined.

In the meantime, the classic Star Wars space sims hold up impressively well, if you have a joystick on hand to experience them properly. Take X-Wing Alliance, the final, and arguably best game of LucasArts' X-Wing series. It has fantastic starfighter combat pulled right from the films, an engine that lets players hyperspace between locations, and new transport ships like the Millenium Falcon. Most importantly, X-Wing Alliance absolutely killed it in the story department, spinning a tale that put players on the edge of their seats. And when your "characters" are basically starships with voice actors, that's no small feat.

X-Wing Alliance takes place in the Star Wars universe between the events of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. You are Ace Azzameen, the youngest member of a family shipping business trying to stay afloat during the galactic civil war. But when the rival Viraxo clan joins forces with the Empire, the Azzameen's can't keep to the sidelines any longer. Ace finds himself fleeing to the Rebel Alliance, where can finally prove himself as a skilled fighter pilot. But after a series of missions against TIE Fighters, Star Destroyers, and the Viraxo, you'll face the biggest challenge of all: Taking down the second Death Star over Endor.

X-Wing Alliance may be a Star Wars space sim, but I cannot overstate how effectively it tells its story. Over the course of 50 missions, it follows a humble cargo pilot who becomes a war hero, relationships with his relatives, battles against a rival family, the growing threat of a galactic war, and enough subplots to fill an entire season of Rebels. Yet somehow, it juggles every storyline and fully engages the player without relying on extensive cutscenes. Most plot details are relayed to you in mission briefings and radio chatter, a great way to get immersed without breaking the flow of gameplay.

Each mission fits into a battle chapter, while each battle lays out a self-contained story arc. The opening story follows Ace as his cargo missions escalate into open warfare with the Viraxo, doubling as a great tutorial for flight sim newcomers. After joining the Rebellion, there's an arc where you help Hoth escapees slip past Imperial security nets. Later, your escort group stumbles across a prototype TIE Fighter program, and is charged with destroying its production station. There are even Expanded Universe tie-ins, like the mission where you work alongside Dash Randar from Shadows of the Empire. And in case you were wondering, those family connections stick around - every few levels, a relative will recruit you into special missions for the ongoing battle against Viraxo.

Combined, each storyline grounds you in a huge, complex universe in a way previous X-Wing games didn't. LucasArts could have easily made Alliance's sole introduction "You're a Rebel pilot, go fight TIE Fighters", like it did for X-Wing and X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter. Instead, Alliance paints a bigger picture of galactic warfare - one you actually have a personal stake in. Even the menu interface pulls you in: Exploring each gameplay option takes you to different rooms in your home ship, including a bunk that houses mementos of past battles.

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