Thursday, 10 March 2011

Star Wars: Rebel Assault 2, the best awful game I've ever played

When I was young, my gaming revolved around my dad's old Atari 2600 - I loved Mario, Combat and Space Invaders - and the MegaDrive, which got plenty of use thanks to games like Sonic, Road Rash, Golden Axe and FIFA.

They're all great titles, some even classics. Then I got a PlayStation.

On that fateful Christmas morning in 1997 – a few years after the PlayStation’s release - I was stunned by a pair of games given to me and my Brother. I sat agog at The Lost World: Jurassic Park, a side-scrolling platformer than seemed as realistic as the movie, and my brother was stunned by Bubsy 3D. After all, who wouldn’t be? It was the first time we’d seen a game truly in three dimensions, even if there were no textures to be spoken of – just shape-covered levels that looked like the insides of a jester's jockstrap.

Several months after I got my PlayStation, I picked up an old copy of 1995’s Star Wars: Rebel Assault 2. The mid-nineties were heady, innocent times, before prequels and the systematic destruction of a once-great franchise, so my discovery of a new addition to the Star Wars canon was there to be enjoyed rather than instinctively feared.

Combine my love of Star Wars with my ignorance of what makes a good game and I was blown away. LucasArts had created Rebel Assault 2's lengthy - well, lengthy at the time - cutscenes by employing real actors (Rookie One was Jamison Jones, who acted alongside Harrison Ford in Hollywood Homicide, and his partner Ru Murleen was played by Julie Eccles, who actually had a part with Ford in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) and used real props from the actual, genuine, non-CG movies. The Skywalker-lite lead character, the props, the sounds, the names and the places were all there, and it felt like it rightfully belonged to the franchise.

What I didn’t realise at the time, of course, was that Rebel Assault 2 was dire. Properly, genuinely dire. For starters, it wasn’t exactly a long game: after a couple of playthroughs, I’d routinely finish the two-disc title in less than an hour.

Levels were built around a handful of repetitive tropes. If you were inside a space station, you'd duck between a handful of cover spots and aim at bobbing Storm Troopers who flopped to the floor if you shot vaguely towards them. In other levels, you wiggled a reticule around a blanket of low-res stars, popping off TIE fighters and watching them explode with the same low-res animation. There really wasn't much to it.

It was buggy, too. On one level you were tasked with learning how to pilot a TIE fighter; with the promise of enemy infiltration beyond and winding canyon ahead, it's got the makings of an entertaining mission.

Except that, about half-way through, the background slowed to a crawl and eventually stopped. The game was still running - my lively little craft weaved horizontally across the static screen as fast as it ever did, and the jumpy music still played. I'd sit and count frames-per-minute, pick up a magazine and flick through reviews of games that put Rebel Assault 2 to shame, perhaps make a sandwich or two. Eventually, the static background with twitch and lurch back into life, and it’d let me finish the level.

Other stages were similarly fraught. A tight, twisting underground tunnel was marred by Didier Drogba-like collision detection, and one area towards the end of the game - a level where you'd have to fly through the enemy space station, eliminating shield engines one-by-one until your fellow Rebels could stage a full-scale assault - simply looped until you'd hit all the targets. You could even spot the moment where it reset itself, like a bad .GIF animation.

Oh, and did I mention that this game, that came on two discs, could be easily completed in less than an hour?

Even so, I must have played through about 10 times, admiring its actors and real-life movies, becoming immersed in the story and loving how the game's levels almost looked real - helped along, of course, by sprite versions of the game's cast. There were two endings, although one - where Rookie One bags a victorious kiss from Ru Murleen - I only actually saw once, as I didn't know which victory condition triggered it.

A terrible game, but I didn't care - and I certainly played it more than Star Wars: Starfighter, which came out on PS2, lasted more than 60 minutes and wasn’t riddled with more bugs than Dagobah. It just goes to show, again, that gameplay isn't the most important aspect of a game.

And, of course, that kids will play anything.


Anonymous said...

buy propecia online buy generic propecia australia - propecia 0.5mg side effects

Anonymous said...

I've actually been looking through Wikipedia to find which star wars game I used to play as a kid on pc.

I've been trawling through all of the old classics, thinking it was either X-Wing or Tie Fighter, only to find that the graphics were too primitive for what I remember...

The only part I could recall was the mission where you have to escape some kind of spaceship/station by deactivating shields via blasting your way out. I remember this, because it felt absolutely badass to me as barely a 7 year old; like all children with a good upbringing, Star Wars was a big part of my household.

I googled each star wars game on PC from 1990 to 1999 just to double check which entry offered me that sheer joy as a boy. I'd settled on X-Wing Alliance, vaguely remembering the difficult navigation mission I described earlier... I was wrong. I somehow remembered the graphics to look a lot better than this 1999 entry had shown. Then I realised it must have been an older title based upon FMV's.

Going through Lucas Art's more obscure title's I stumbled across Rebel Assault, then the sequel... 'That box art looks familiar' I thought, recalling the double disc that sat prominently in a large box from my childhood (don't you just miss those PC boxes?).

I sat and watched a series of youtube clips on Rebel Assault 2. My memory was a little hazy at first, but by the time those Tie Fighters burst through the canyons, I was like 'Holy Crap! This is it! I've found it!.'
There's nothing like nostalgia to make you grateful for the crappy games you played, although I have to admit, flying through that spaceship with Tie fighters chasing after me was singlehandedly the greatest moment of my few years on earth.

I don't even care that in adulthood, I have realised that it was 'on the rails'. That was me flying that ship god damn it! My father patting me on the back at the end of the level is testament to that, we never played a game so much together!