X-WING / LucasArts / PC
 
                           "The Empire is attacking and I'm trapped in this dental chair!!!"
 
X-Wing was born when someone at Lucasarts played Wing Commander and was like "Hey, this game is great, let's do this in the Star Wars universe!" Far from just knocking out a simple clone, however, Lucasarts took their time, waiting three years as they developed a fully 3D engine with polygonal ship models (as opposed to Wing Commander's 2D bitmap-swapping pseudo-3D trickery.)

The gameplay is still very similar to Wing Commander, however - it's about halfway between a complicated flight sim and a simplified arcadey dogfighter, leaning a little more toward the latter. About half the keyboard keys are used for something or another, but the most basic gameplay can fit onto a stick and 5 or 6 buttons. I was pleased to find that (running DOSBox) the game automatically picked up my Xbox 360 pad and even pre-assigned most of the important buttons. X-Wing's one unique twist is that you have to balance power between shields, lasers and engine, and firing too much can leave you sitting there with no weapons for awhile or force you to sacrifice speed or shields to get back into the fray. If that pisses you off, though, you can just go into the menu at any time and give yourself unlimited power to make things even more arcadey.
 


The one downside to X-Wing is that the story mode and characters aren't as deep or rich as in Wing Commander. Part of this is that the game is hampered by the existence of the movies - the game begins prior to the movies and the campaigns finish up with the attack on the first Death Star, so you already know how the whole thing is going to wind up in advance. According to the manual, you play as a character named Kyle Somethingorother who apparently has a backstory, but once in-game that's all pretty much forgotten as you create a roster of pilots and wingmen who are only referred to by the callsigns you give them. There is an ongoing story that's developed in little cutscenes and movies, but it mostly features cameos from movie characters and it's nothing on the order of Wing Commander's branching paths, and there's no co-workers to chat with between missions (or lament over "accidentally" killing when you torpedo them for stealing your kills.) Part of this is probably that Lucasarts' "no deaths or failure states" policy of the time for their adventure games carries over here - if you get blowed up or bail out of a mission, that attempt is just forgotten about and you get to try it from the beginning again. The relative lack of complexity in story does lead to one neat feature, though - pilots that you create are persistent through all game modes and can be used freely as wingmen anywhere, and as they increase in rank their AI gets better.
 


If you want to play a space dogfighter in the Star Wars world with the John Williams score pumping and digitized sound effects from the movies ... well, it's 2014 now and there's heaps of more modernized options. Back in the mid-90s, though, this was the only option for awhile, but it was quite a fine one. Modern gamers may have trouble coming back to the SNES Star Fox-caliber graphics and the sometimes slightly jerky gameplay, but I still felt the game was pretty solid and playable after two decades. It's an ideal candidate for a remake, too bad Lucasarts has basically forgotten this property exists since 2000 or so.
 
 
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