For many gamers, X-Wing Alliance was looked to as the saving grace for the classic X-Wing series. X-Wing was considered to be a hit by most, and TIE Fighter was one of the great achievements in gaming ever, but those looking for more were sorely disappointed by the third title, X-Wing VS. TIE Fighter.
"It's so good, you can almost smell the Ewok Carcass."
LucasArts and Totally Games did their homework this time though, and managed to come up with a real gem. It's everything TIE Fighter was along with multiplayer game play that beats out XvT.
80% - Quick and Easy
Its the usual streamlined Windows 9X affair - insert the CD and run setup.
The one major shocker is the disk space requirements. The program provides you with either minimum or complete installation options, but you need the complete version in order to use the multiplayer section. The price? 275 megabytes. Ouch!
Strangely enough, though, once you can get past that, installation is pretty quick. I remember the installation for Mechwarrior 2 going a lot slower than this.
After the transfer is done, you get the usual streamlined options from LucasArts - online registration and an auto scan to check if DirectX6 is present.
Gamers shouldn't be too worried about the CPU requirement. The game is not locked to a certain minimum clock speed and can run on slower computers. "I have played the game on a 166MHz and it is still playable, however it is more enjoyable on 300MHz or higher machine".
There are a few tricky issues which don't come into play until you load the game, however:
- In order to change major graphics and sound settings, you need to hit ESC before starting a mission. This is especially important for users with 3D Graphics cards, because only Voodoo1 based cards seem to be automatically detected. Bonuses such as particle effects can be changed during flight mode, however.
- Another error for Voodoo users is the gamma levels. When the gamma levels are too high, space backgrounds and ship textures become interlaced, creating odd navy blue patterns. This is definitely unusual even for gamma settings, but it is easily fixed by changing your gamma to 1.2 or 1.3 in your display properties.
- There have been some reports of problems with the Logitech Force Feedback Wingman. The latest drivers usually fix this, though.
- Finally, users with A3D cards such as the Monster MX300 are going to experience significant sound problems with 3D Sound enabled. LucasArts is promising a patch, but in the meantime you need to disable it.
94% - Feel the Power
Everything in X-Wing Alliance has gotten an impressive makeover in the graphics department.
Ships have been upped to 120 polygons, texture detail has been radically increased, and special effects have been added that make this easily comparable to games such as Descent: Freespace.
The most immediately recognizable difference in X-Wing Alliance is the 3D cockpit. With the directional keys or a hat switch, you can rotate your view inside the ship you are piloting. The detail is accurate compared to the Star Wars films for the rebellion craft, and you can even see your copilot.
- Light Sourcing / Colored Lighting
- Engine Glow
- Lens Flare
- Bilinear Filtering
- Palletized Textures
Maximum tested resolution:
Another benefit is that the cockpit can feel hit effects during battle. Nearby explosions or direct laser/ion cannon fire cause the cockpit to light up convincingly in various colors. If your controls are damaged, or if you are hit by ion cannon fire, you will even see electric ripples across the panels!
Not surprisingly, explosions still leave a bit to be desired compared to the graphical feast of Freespace, but Totally Games is getting close. Exploding craft die in large, multi-stage, two-dimensional explosions now, with shrapnel flying in directions depending on your system configuration. Capital ships such as the Star Destroyer leave massive hull chunks that stay present for the rest of the battle.
X-Wing Alliance does take the lead in other areas, however. Attacked craft flash with colored lighting from gunfire, ripple with electric bursts after receiving Ion cannon fire, and more. Damaged craft even show carbon scoring from direct hull damage. Even the hyperspace jump proves to be accurate and exciting!
As with just about any game release today, there are still a few graphical downsides. While Totally Games upgraded the cockpit interface for the better, it is still a 2D overlay overtop of the 3D cockpit, which is a bit of a departure from the movie-faithful look of the series predecessors.
The game also requires some hefty muscle to get the most out of it - flight craft are reduced to ugly, barely recognizable models without appropriate 3D hardware. The Super Star Destroyer still looks bright and un-detailed compared to its movie counterpart. The 3D cockpits can look off-center (X-Wing) or missing features (B-Wing) Voodoo cards tend to filter textures heavily that are not seen head-on. And finally, some missions suffer at lower resolutions thanks to mission dependent backdrops
(especially the Endor campaign).
Sound & Music
95% - Bells, Whistles, even Pianos
One of the most common problems with XvT was the Redbook audio. Although John Williams stunning musical score was appropriate, it lacked the ability to stay in sync with the game play as the early games did with IMUSE.
IMUSE was Lucasart's design for synchronizing music with game play. By changing to different midi tracks when certain situations were occurring (enemies enter sector, engaging starfighters, clear of starfighters), gamers felt much more in touch with the action.
Thanks to compressed audio, LucasArts has been able to reinstate IMUSE. Instead of generating on-the-fly midi, however, they can use CD quality, 44.1 KHz audio. Although this results in increased CPU utilization and a few noticeable cuts and glitches, its far and beyond a step up over other games.
The real "spit shine" has been applied to the sound effects this time around. All starfighters make the appropriate flyby sounds, TIE laser cannons finally emit the electronic "rata-tata" sound so familiar from the Star Wars Trilogy, and distinct effects have been added to alert you when missiles are locked on to your ship, or when countermeasures have been activated.
Thanks to the compressed audio, LucasArts and Totally Games have been able to add one of the most important parts of TIE fighter - in-flight audio speech. There are literally thousands of lines of mostly well acted voices, used liberally and correctly throughout the game (the key fault being the horrible Lando Calrissian and Admiral Ackbar voices).
Finally, for all of the users who demand the most up to date Star Wars experience, 3D positional audio has been added via DirectSound3D. Its a bit buggy for some users, but proves to be well worth it, and can actually save your behind in any number of missions.
AI / Difficulty
75% - Efficient and Vengeful
The Artificial Intelligence in X-Wing Alliance was a real surprise. The auto-fire cannon for the correlian transports was surprisingly accurate, wingmen become more helpful as the game progresses, and most importantly, the opposition doesn't have that uncanny sense that you are the primary target at all times. This has its highs and lows, of course (as shown by the wavering mission difficulty).
Despite some frustration expressed in the X-Wing Alliance community early on, the game reaches the sweet spot for difficulty - hard enough to take your time, but easy enough to have fun. Almost every gamer will find one or two missions that will make them retry at least a few times, but those missions are typically followed by much easier ones, which eases the gamer back into the story without any ill effects. The traditional difficulty level option (Easy, Medium, or Hard) works, but seems to be reversed in some missions, and generally only lowers your score and lowers the chance of missile-carrying craft.
Thankfully for some, missions can be completed using cheats (you will lose points however) and can even be skipped thanks to a "Leave of Absence" button (I know a few hundred X-Wing pilots who would have loved that for the original!).
95% - Classic and Decisive
The programmers hit the bulls-eye in the most important feature of any game, the game play. The classic X-Wing style dog fighting experience is back with a vengeance, and plays just as beautifully as before. Functions are laid out intuitively on the keyboard for maximum effect, up to four hat switches can be used, and force feedback is supported.
Some hardcore fans are going to be disappointed that throttle rules are back (1/3rd for maximum turning), but along with countermeasures, it improves the game experience. Gamers with Rudders will find speed control acceptable, but it usually will interfere with the ability to pause. Thankfully, joystick setup is easy.
If you are a wing leader during a mission, the new wingman orders will prove to be refreshing. You can order wingmen to attack target components, starfighter types, or even defend craft from enemy ships. This makes stopping classic Bomber runs a lot easier. Energy settings can also be saved with preset buttons for changing priorities quickly.
- attack component
- attack craft type
- disable target
- inspect target
- defend target
- watch six
- fighter formations
An interesting new extension of the XvT engine can be clearly be seen a few campaigns into the game. Each mission can allow up to 4 sectors (accessible through hyperspace) and up to 96 ships per sector. This makes for some amazing battles, with so much action going on that you feel a rush of adrenaline.
Finally, aspects of the original series have been changed in some ways. The tech library proves to be interactive and entertaining, with a hands on approach to viewing starfighters. Starships have been scaled appropriately and are armed to the teeth with a variety of weapons. Shield Recharge has become a much more useful technique. Even the concourse has become a haven for discovery, with an email system and an often comedic droid companion.
The lowlights are decidedly few and far between - bonus objectives are hidden and do not convey as much importance as in TIE Fighter, the gun turrets in correlian transports are not very faithful to the movie, and there are some slight discrepancies between the game and source material. The Battle of Endor was not quite the perfect finale some people were led to believe, and most importantly, a gaping hole is left open that has convinced most gamers that an expansion pack is on the way.
- Death Star Tunnel Run
- Close call with Boba Fett
- Cross-over with Shadows of the Empire novel
- Fighting prototype TIE Starfighters
- The Battle of Endor
Gamers who have followed the development of X-Wing Alliance may notice a few discrepancies:
Co-operative use of the Correlian Transports was an advertised feature that did not make it into the end title. It may be
possible for LucasArts/Totally Games to reintegrate the feature into a patch, as they now have the proper time to test it out. There has been no
confirmation to this, however.
It seems rather obvious that the game was originally meant to have a much stronger tie-in to Shadows of the
Empire. Evidence includes the renders of Slave One (and the token game
appearance), all of the trouble the companies went through to design the YT-2400
(and use the ship twice in the game, along with not making it a flyable
craft), and the engine appearance of the StarViper.
68% Leaves you with that empty Feeling
I found the multiplayer experience to be pretty smooth, whether over the Zone
or through a LAN. Unfortunately, I can't say much on the topic of Latencies
since I use a high bandwidth Cable Modem. Of the two experiences, the LAN
was obviously preferable as the Zone would get flaky sometimes.
Gameplay is not as exciting as it can be, however. Sheer force battles quickly turn
into dogfights that are generally monotonous loops. The real fun comes when
you play on teams in base strike missions, but the mission editor leaves much
to be desired, lacking much beyond picking ships and objectives. The lack of
cooperative play in the Tour of Duty Campaign will also be of major
dissapointment to XvT veterans.
96% - "The Force is Strong with this One"
LucasArts promised the total package in perhaps the final game in the X-Wing series, and they delivered in spades.
Its not as long as the epic TIE Fighter, but every mission is savored to the last. The gaming experience becomes so involving, that you will want to play for hours on end, with moods ranging from exalting in victory to shaking your fist in defeat.
Its this effect on the mind that gives X-Wing Alliance the decisive edge over other popular games in the same genre of space flight, and its an effect strong enough to warrant your undying attention.
Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance
LucasArts Entertainment Company (LEC): www.lucasarts.com
Totally Games: www.totallygames.com
MSRP: $59.95 (US), $69.95 (CAN)