star wars x-wing tie fighter pc game series review

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Star Wars: X-Wing and TIE Fighter

A PC series in review

 

The X-Wing games are immensely important, as they were instrumental in setting up what would later be referred to at the Star Wars Expanded Universe. After Return of the Jedi, there were no more Star Wars stories, until the creation of the Star Wars Expanded Universe in the early 90s.

Star Wars: X-Wing PC Game

The first X-Wing game doesn’t contribute much to the Expanded Universe, rather it just tells the story of an unknown rebel pilot, flying in campaigns against the Empire. The events in X-Wing take place alongside the first film and they culminate with the player taking control of Luke Skywalker and flying the trench run to blow up the first Death Star. The two expansions put you back in the pilot’s seat, flying missions which lead up to the establishment of Echo Base on Hoth.

star wars x-wing tie fighter pc game series review

Star Wars: TIE Fighter DOS PC Game

The second game in the series is TIE Fighter and this is where things really start to warm up. This is where Lucas started to really put effort into establishing their expanded universe. This game and Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire books in particular form the origin of the greatest villain Star Wars has ever had, Grand Admiral Thrawn. TIE Fighter defines the X-Wing series for this; It’s the first time we see a character from the Expanded Universe in a starring role, it’s the first time the books and the video games interact and most importantly it helped to establish an ongoing, connected universe of stories across multiple formats. X-wing captured the essence of A New Hope, but TIE Fighter broadened that scope and forged its own path.

TIE Fighter’s story is about an Imperial pilot, part of a special task force put together by young Vice Admiral Thrawn to root out rogue admirals who are no longer loyal to the Emperor. Set in the background of the Original Trilogy, TIE Fighter tells us there could still be stories like this happening somewhere else at the same time. Thrawn’s Empire isn’t outwardly evil; you’re playing as the baddies, but you’re preserving order, dealing with power struggles. Something which makes sense with an Empire this big and showcases Thrawn’s tactical genius, which is what makes him such a great villain.

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TIE Fighter and the Thrawn novels established a precedent for the Expanded Universe: attention to continuity across multiple platforms. You can pause a single shot in any movies and say “see that dude in the back? That droid? That ladder? There’s a backstory for that”. Combining the books, the games, the films, the comics and the TV turns what was previously a hearty meal into a banquet. Of course, that’s all optional. You don’t need to read the books to play the games, you don’t need to do either to enjoy the movies. But if you want to go Hyper-Nerd like me, well it’s a blinding experience, and there’s nothing else quite like it.

The third game in the series was a dodgy multiplayer-only flop, and a costly lesson in what Star Wars fans wanted out of their games. X-Wing vs TIE Fighter’s one expansion added a small campaign and incredibly supported 8-player online co-op, something which is still yet to be beaten for a game of its type. Despite the lack of story, LucasArts were investing in emerging technologies, something which would later define the studio.

X-Wing Alliance overhauled the game engine, making the gameplay more realistic and added the ability to switch between crew members on bigger ships. More importantly, Alliance made up for the XWvTF’s cock-up by further cementing its story into events from the Expanded Universe. Like TIE Fighter before it, X-Wing Alliance threads into the Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire multimedia project and one mission actually crosses over with a level from the Shadows of the Empire video game, which as far as I know is an industry first and is certainly not something you see every day. Imagine the possibilities in today’s video games!

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Star Wars X-Wing and TIE Fighter DOS Games Series

If you’re up for trying one of these games, be aware that they’re HARD. No handholding, no tutorial levels. These are relatively realistic spaceship simulators. Expect to be switching to rear deflectors, re-routing power from the engines, changing laser recharge and dodging incoming fire. The games use nearly every key on the keyboard and this is part of the reason the franchise isn’t around any more. The rise in games console revenue ushered in an age of multi-platform development, and complicated keyboard layouts became impossible to port onto a controller.

Factor 5’s Rogue Squadron series did trim down the complexity into a console-friendly experience. It was revealed that Factor 5 were developing a fourth Rogue Squadron game called Rogue Squadron: X-Wing vs TIE Fighter. That might be kicking about on a server somewhere. We’ve got the technology, space sims are popular again and Grand Admiral Thrawn is back on the scene. TIE Fighter established Grand Admiral Thrawn and showed how effective marrying up the games with the Expanded Universe could be. Who knows, we could still see a modern TIE Fighter game set during the reign of Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Click here to watch my Star Wars X-Wing and TIE Fighter PC game series review. For more Star Wars gaming videos, stick with The Game Show.

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