By Shawn Trommeshauser
(Dreaming in Digital)
X-Wing — the word alone brings back a flood of memories and nostalgia. It’s also the name of a series of four games developed by Totally Games and published by LucasArts that, despite their age, are still the best Starfighter games set in the Star Wars universe. Putting you in the pilot’s seat of ships from both the Rebel Alliance and The Galactic Empire, the X-Wing series has you flying missions during the Galactic Civil War and are my favourite Star Wars games ever made.
I’m certain many people will agree that Star Wars was one of the defining entertainment experiences in our lives. The exotic worlds, the aliens, the lightsabers, any one of a hundred reasons George Lucas’ world latched on to our imaginations. For me, it was the starships. The X-Wing Starfighter is only a small step below The Millennium Falcon itself in fictional vehicles I’d love to have parked outside my home (slightly above a Light Cycle).
X-Wing (1993) was a solid beginning. A little rough around the edges and missing some features of later games, this is much more challenging to play than the other games. The biggest difference being that the target display doesn’t show you what direction your target is facing. The climax of the game has you participating in the Battle of Yavin from the original film, trying to destroy the Death Star. Two expansions, Imperial Pursuit and B-Wing continue the story of the rebellion.
TIE Fighter (1994) let you play as the bad guys and is set shortly after the events of The Empire Strikes Back, following your character as you rise through the ranks of the Imperial Navy, prove yourself to agents of the Emperor, and deal with a plot to bring down the Empire from within. The story continues in the expansions, Defender of the Empire, and Enemies of the Empire.
X-Wing vs TIE Fighter (1997) focuses much more on the multiplayer aspects of the game along with some single player missions with no story behind them. The expansion pack, Balance of Power, added storylines for both the Alliance and the Empire.
X-Wing Alliance (1999) brought the single player story back in a big way, having more characters, more cut scenes, and more story-driven dialogue during flight. Your character works in a family owned shipping company that gets caught up in the galactic civil war, resulting in your joining the Rebel Alliance and eventually even piloting the Millennium Falcon itself in the Battle of Endor against the second Death Star.
The first time I ever got to be a pilot in the Star Wars universe was in 1994, when a friend loaned me TIE Fighter, which came on five disks! I was excited as I installed it, and immediately overwhelmed with its complexity compared to what I was expecting. Unlike the already existing on-rails or arcade-like shooting games, X-Wing is a full-fledged flight simulator in the Star Wars universe. It uses the full keyboard as well as a joystick to recreate the experience of operating a complex vehicle in a dynamic situation.
Are you being chased by enemy ships? Try setting all your shield energy to the rear, or if you trust your dodging skills, turn off your shields and weapons and try to outrun your pursuers.
Do you see a squadron of enemy bombers headed for a disabled ally? Command your own squad mates to defend the friendly ship while you decide if you can get there in time without shifting your laser energy to your engines.
Dealing with an agile enemy fighter as is doges and turns away constantly? Match its speed and decide if the missiles that you’ve equipped can outrun the target. Or switch to your ion cannons and disable it so that you can finish it off later.
All this and more is at your fingertips as you manage your ship to best handle the current situation and objectives which can always change. You have control over your ship’s limited power and have to balance it between your cannons and your shields. You could put both up to maximum but the trade-off is that you’ll be moving at a snail’s pace as your engines are powered by whatever energy is left over.
Your displays give you a wealth of information such as the position of ships around you, information on your current target, your mission objectives communication logs, and more. You have a target marker on-screen that also alerts you if you’re being targeted by missiles and torpedoes.
The missions begin with a briefing that outlines the objectives of your missions, catching you up on the storyline and giving you a reasonable idea of what to expect. You could end up doing anything from scanning containers for contraband all the way to taking on enemy capital ships.
The post-mission briefing rates your performance and gives you extra context of how your actions have progressed the storyline. In TIE Fighter there are also secondary objectives that may go against your superior’s orders, but come from agents of the Emperor himself. Succeed in these and you may be able to join them.
Between missions you can look up information on the various ships in the game, participate in training missions and simulations of missions you’ve already completed.
Other Star Wars games such as Starfighter, and the Rogue Squadron series dramatically lowered the complexity in favor of simplified gameplay designed for a broader audience. While fun, these were very different types of games, favoring arcade action over the more involving open-ended, free-form mission structure of the X-Wing series.
I’m sad that LucasArts and Totally Games never produced a more modern sequel or remake of these games before Disney shut LucasArts down a few years ago. Totally Games has also quietly disappeared. Their website mentioning the release of Alien Syndrome from 2007 as their newest game for the Nintendo Wii.
These days Electronic Arts (EA) has exclusive rights to produce Star Wars games. The recent Star Wars: Battlefront has demonstrated that they are continuing their model of using paid downloadable add-ons and micro transactions to flesh out games released at premium prices. I honestly don’t want to see how EA would tear apart a new X-Wing title in the name of milking the cash cow.
There are a few different versions of the first two games in the series, The original DOS, The 1994 CD-ROM rerelease which added voiceovers and higher resolution graphics CHECK!!, and the 1998 Collector’s Edition for Windows which used the game engine of X-Wing vs TIE Fighter which added texture mapped graphics and higher resolutions, and used CD quality recordings of music from the movies. Unfortunately these looping tracks replaced the amazing iMUSE music system which dynamically blended one piece of original music into another to fit the onscreen action. Personally, I recommend the 1994 CD versions for the best balance of features.
All of these games are currently available for purchase on Good Old Games and Steam. However the Steam releases of X-Wing and TIE Fighter do not include the 1994 CD releases which I cannot recommend enough as the superior experiences.
Despite their age and their complexity, the X-Wing series of games holds up very well and I have just as much fun playing them today as I did twenty years ago.