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Throwback Thursday – Rebel Assault II: The Hidden Empire (1995)
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 04:30pm 11/12/14 | Comments
Throwback Thursday is a new weekly column here on Ausgamers where Kosta Andreadis opens up the proverbial gaming industry attic, has a poke around, and amongst the photos of game developers posing in front of exotic cars, finds dusty copies of games from a different time – and plays them!

The Game: Star Wars: Rebel Assault II: The Hidden Empire
The Year: 1995
The Developer: LucasArts
The System: PC

Watch Kosta run you through a slice of gameplay with commentary above

In 1995 being a Star Wars fan was a very different thing. The most obvious point of difference would be that the fact that this was a time before the Prequel Trilogy came along and famously muddled things up with talk of trade negotiations and midichlorians. And with some of that spoken in borderline offensive Rastafarian-tinged English too, or as the no longer accepted Star Wars Expanded Universe would have us believe - Galactic Basic. More importantly though, 1995 was before the Star Wars Trilogy Special Editions came out, which weirdly kind-of ruined the purity of the first three films. Even though some of the changes were and still are, very cool. So, to be a Star Wars fan in 1995 was to hold the series up to such a high standard that anything, no matter how remotely related, was worth a look in.

A Sort of Long Time Ago, In a Galaxy the Same as This One…

As long as there have been video games there have been Star Wars video games. And as long as people have been making games, a fair sized chunk of them have either been directly based-on or partially inspired-by the great sci-fi fantasy saga. So in the early ‘80s when the house that forgot to build Toshe Station and stock it up with Power Converters decided to get into the game of developing games they weren’t actually able to base any on Star Wars. Why? Well, that was due to the small fact that the license to create Star Wars games had already been sold off. As the wise Yoghurt from Spaceballs once said, “Merchandising! Merchandising! Merchandising! Where da real money from da movie is made.”

It wasn’t until a decade later, with consoles like the Super Nintendo, that LucasArts started developing Star Wars games. Naturally, being part of the Star Wars family meant that games like Super Star Wars and X-Wing became huge successes. And taking a page from the company’s almost perfect track record with creating fun and exciting games across multiple genres, they were also critically acclaimed and worthy of the name.

And so it was written. The name Star Wars would live on forever as a bastion of quality and all that is good and noble.

Or So We All Thought

Sure the signs were there from the beginning with the dreadful Star Wars Holiday Special and there again as the film trilogy concluded when the Ewoks got their own made-for-TV movies. But even so the good far outweighed the bad, and bad Star Wars was kind of hard to find. You could say that it was once technology reached a point where all manner of computer generated imagery could be inserted into twenty year old classics, leading to a Prequel Trilogy that should probably be re-classified as animated instead of live-action that the Star Wars franchise as a whole fundamentally changed.

In the world of gaming this technological breakthrough happened pretty much at the same time, and came in the form of the CD-ROM. A new storage format that provided over 600 times the storage capacity of a floppy disk, which in turn opened the door for developers to focus on the things that really mattered. Things like video of actors, video of computer generated rooms, video of computer generated landscapes, and video of computer generated vehicles. OK, so in hindsight the boom in FMV or Full Motion Video games is quintessential ‘90s, but at the time they were incredibly impressive. Sometimes amazingly so.

In the case of the colon-happy Star Wars: Rebel Assault II: The Hidden Empire, LucasArts were able to use costumes and props from 1984’s Return of the Jedi, film actors in front of blue screen, create computer generated models of classic Star Wars spaceships, and do all of this to provide gamers with a truly interactive Star Wars movie experience. That description alone makes it sound amazing. And in 1995, Star Wars fans were rightfully excited. Even the original Rebel Assault, which had a similar approach but instead used traditional hand-drawn art, was a decent game and showed potential. It wasn’t a great game but the focus on action, using video, and trying to capture that Star Wars feel was enough for most. A sequel expanding on the technology seen in the original, this time with real actors and real Star Wars sets, felt like a recipe for something special.

It Wasn’t

So how does it stack up today? Well to answer that would be to explain what a lot of the FMV-infused interactive movie games from the ‘90s actually achieved. Which for the most part was having the player click on a video to trigger new video. Video that today has more artefacts than a YouTube video at its lowest quality setting blown-up to full screen. Of course as an action game Rebel Assault II would need to have more than that, so in-between clicking on videos of Tie Fighters and Stormtroopers which have them either exploding or falling down, there are moments of navigating a sprite-based Millennium Falcon through pre-recorded computer generated video.

That’s not to say that it wasn’t impressive in its day, it’s just that a game focusing purely on video feels a little static today. But on the plus side, Rebel Assault II does feature a fairly impressive story. Well, impressive in its ability to basically throw players into sequence after sequence inspired by or based-on every famous Star Wars battle, fight, or chase. The action never really lets up, and if you’re able to get a grip on the very limited controls then the whole game can be experienced in about the same time as an actual Star Wars movie. And that’s not an exaggeration as the game’s 15 or so missions can be completed in about 5-10 minutes each. Which although is a short time to complete a game, is fine for a movie.

Now, whereas something like Wing Commander at least placed its cinematic ambitions around a fairly decent flight combat simulator, Rebel Assault takes the opposite approach. With giving the player three lives, points to earn, and even access to leaderboards it clearly wants to be a fun, energetic, arcade-style shooter. But the fact that every mechanic in the game includes interacting with either a pre-rendered computer generated video or a pre-rendered computer generated image, means that as a whole the experience is kind of hollow. Also it’s not very responsive. Not to mention the fact that one of these play-styles is more suited to a mouse and the other a joystick. Which by the way, you’ll need to exit the entire game if you plan on switching between the two.

But as it’s such a short experience, it’s hard to stay mad at Rebel Assault for too long. And the story sequences, even though they look and feel like a string of fan-films, are still enjoyable. There’s Darth Vader choking random Imperial Guy, Imitation Luke kissing Imitation Leia, the Looks Like but Isn’t Millennium Falcon flying through Space Pipes, Speeder Bikes flying through Giant Trees, and so much more. An experience purely for the 1995 Star Wars fan.

Throwback Rating: Best Forgotten / A Trip Down Memory Lane / Timeless

Kosta Andreadis remembers a time when in order to get the best out of a console game you had to blow gently into it and whisper sweet nothings like "please work, I’m up to World 8-3, for fudgcicles sake". Situated in Melbourne, Kosta is a freelancer who enjoys playing RPGs, strategy, adventure, and action games. Apart from investing well over 200 hours into The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim he’s also an electronic musician, producing under the name Kbit, with a debut album released in 2014.

Recent articles by Kosta:Find him or follow him on Twitter - @toadovsky, Steam - toadovsky and Xbox Live - Toadovsky.

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