Amid a sea of, for lack of a better term, crap that launched with Nintendo’s GameCube was what is widely-regaled as one of the best Star Wars games ever made: Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, a flight-based combat/adventure title. A sequel to the much-beloved N64 title Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, Rogue Leader was one of the first games to really dig in and show gamers what the GameCube could do. It reigns as one of the most critically-praised GameCube titles (it’s ranked 24th on GameRankings). So, what made this game so special? Let’s take a look.
The plot spans the entire run of the original Star Wars trilogy. Levels fall into one of two categories: representations of moments from the movie (such as the Battle of Yavin, the Battle of Hoth, and the Battle of Endor) or new missions that tie-in to implied events from the movies (like Crix Madine’s defection to the Rebel Alliance or the theft of Shuttle Tiderium). The plot flows beautifully across the entire game. For the most part, players control Wedge Antilles who leads the eponymous Rogue Squadron. Fans of Star Wars will find much to love in this game’s story. The movie moments are captured faithfully by their in-game counterparts, and the new story lines are also wonderfully constructed and thoughtfully tied-in to the established continuity. It’s clear that this game’s writers knew the source material incredibly well – their script pays the utmost respect to the canon while brilliantly filling in the dots that tied the movies together.
Much of John Williams’ original score was used for this game, so the music faithfully echoes the grand fanfares and epic battle music that we’re all used to. The original music created for the game, while not nearly as grand as Williams’ score, fits in very well with the established legacy of Star Wars’ much-regaled excellence. The voice acting was equally fantastic. Denis Lawson returned to voice Wedge Antilles, which was a great touch. While no other original actors returned, the sound-a-likes all did a good job recreating the famous characters we all know and love.
As I said before, this game really showed off what the GameCube was capable of. The space environments were all beautifully detailed and open. The level of detail on each vehicle was top-notch as well. A number of levels take place on the surface of planets, and those environments were all rich and fully realized. The visuals were smooth and crisp, something which received high praise from critics upon release. Even now, ten years later, this game’s visuals still ring true as some of the best we saw on the GameCube.
The combat in this game was smooth, intuitive, and downright enjoyable. Flight controls handled perfectly, as users were able to pull off tight maneuvers with astonishing precision. The overall difficulty of the game scaled well. A great blend of tough dogfights and nerve-wracking obstacle courses really brought a lot to this game. Combat was fantastic – I still get excited thinking about the thrill I got chasing down Tie Fighters for hours on end when I was younger. It was an incredibly immersive experience, one which tied me into the a fictional universe that I was absolutely enamored with. I felt like I was a pilot fighting for the cause of the Rebel Alliance.
The game had a lot of replay value as well. While there was no multiplayer, an oversight corrected by the final installment in the Rogue Squadron franchise, players could replay previous labels to achieve higher ratings (you could receive a completion award, or a bronze, silver, or gold medal for your performance). The higher the medal, the tighter the restraints were for achieving it. Your success was measured by the number of friendlies lost, the total number of player deaths, the total number of player kills, and the completion time. Unlocking more medals gave players access to secret ships, which they could use in further replays of the levels. There were also a few secret missions that could only be unlocked by meeting certain criteria.
Rogue Leader still reigns as one of my favorite GameCub titles. I’m a lifelong Star Wars fan, so this game was an absolute treat for me. It improved upon everything its predecessor did in every way imaginable. There was plenty do once you beat the game. That, coupled with a fantastic story and insanely enjoyable gameplay mechanics, makes Rogue Leader the absolute gold standard in terms of Star Wars gaming.