Friday, 17 October 2014

Star Wars: Rebel Assault (MS-DOS)

Star Wars: Rebel Assault logo
Today's 'R' game is Star Wars: Rebel Assault, part of my ongoing efforts to get a few more Star Wars games onto the site so the Trek games can't be so smug.

This may well have been the very first game I ever bought for PC, I honestly can't remember. It was almost certainly this or some other LucasArts game like Sam and Max or TIE Fighter, because back when I got my first rig those guys pretty much defined PC gaming for me. So yeah I think there's a fair chance I'm going to be incredibly biased by nostalgia here, but then again it's been a few years now since this disc has been anywhere near a disc drive.

Wikipedia claims that the game also came out on Mac, 3DO and Sega CD, and I can believe it. This is definitely one of those interactive multimedia kind of action game experiences only possible due to the power of the compact disc (ie. it's got a lot of video in it).

Uh, there seems to be some kind of problem with the setup menu, as it won't let me select a frame rate higher than 15. It's got no problem with letting me go lower though, as I can drag this thing all the way down to 9 if I wanted to. Even Ubisoft would have to agree that's pretty bad.

Though things may not be what they seem, as the utility actually recommends dropping the frame rate down on faster machines. I'll leave it at 15 for now though and set my input device as 'mouse' to avoid getting caught on any calibration screens. I'll get the joystick out later if necessary, I'm just curious about how it flies without one.

No unique LucasArts Golden Guy skit for this game, the logo just spins onto the screen. It may look like something's come along and sat on the Death Star, but that's because the aspect on all these screenshots will be slightly off. DOS games often liked to output 320x200 resolution graphics, which would end up being stretched when displayed on a typical 4:3 screen, but I'd rather have sharp pixels so I dunno... tilt your monitor to the side a bit maybe if you want the authentic look.

The good thing though about this being an ancient DOS game with a tiny resolution is that it means I can get away with 20 second long gifs of the intro video. Look at that thing, it never ends!

You'd think this would have some Star Wars music in the background taken right from the movies, and it does, but it also has narration. It's got someone reading out the opening crawl from Stars Wars: Episode IV, because crawling is just too slow for Rebel Assault. The end result though is that I feel like I'm watching the start of an episode of Battlestar Galactica or something. The OLD Battlestar Galactica.

Congratulations on dragging your eyes way from that last gif, I'm sorry this screen wasn't much of a reward for you though. There's no graphics options here, but I can at least invert the controls, or come back and switch it to 'Easy' mode when I fall into despair. I can also choose to play as a male or female pilot, though the sequel would later pull an Elite Force II and retroactively determine that the hero was always a guy. So I've decided to play as a female Rookie1 AS A DIRECT VIOLATION OF THE CANON.

Hang on, is that a broken C-3PO lying in the background?

Wow there really is a broken C-3PO sitting in pieces in the background of the options screen. LucasArts had a whole trilogy's worth of imagery to choose from and this is what they went with in the end?

There's the two Rookie1s for you, female on the left and male on the right (I think). I didn't even realise they had difference faces until I put the two shots next to each other, as you've got to admit they're fairly similar looking. Very different voices though, with the male character going for a 'Young Luke Skywalker' kind of tone.

Rookie1 is a pilot of mystery; all I know about her is that she's on planet Tatooine, she's eager to fly as a pilot for the Rebel Alliance, and today she's "embarking on a crucial training flight".

I've been sent out into this canyon along with a couple of veteran pilots to practice basic flight manoeuvres. They chat between themselves a bit before I'm able to take control, but thankfully it's all skippable so I can cut the chase next time after I inevitably drive into a wall and have to do it again.

Oh by the way, even if you're a fan you might not recognise this thing I'm in now, but it was actually referenced in the movies at least twice.

Star Wars: Episode VI - A New Hope
You get to see one parked in Luke's garage near the start of Star Wars just after his uncle buys the two droids. Though despite owning an aircraft and knowing how to fly it, Luke would rather play with the tiny identical model he has. To be fair though, he is supposed to be cleaning fugitive robots right now.

Plus he doesn't want to fly that piece of crap anyway, he wants to be out flying for the Rebel Alliance against the evil Empire! And when he finally does manage to join up with the Rebels they let him fly their most advanced space fighter right away without any training, because he told them that he used to bull's-eye womp rats in his T-16 back home... well that's what we're flying right now.

Shit, I really shouldn't have gone with mouse control.

I'm steering my little aircraft across a pre-rendered video of a canyon, trying to keep it away from the walls and failing really badly. It's not what I'd call responsive, though I've got a whole set of other names for it and I've been yelling them out as I go.

Sega Mega CD
Here's the Sega CD version for comparison, just in case you were curious. Weirdly it seems easier to control with a pad, which I guess might be partly to do with it running slower. Not much of a looker though.

I'm flying through Beggar's Canyon right now which is another thing mentioned off-hand in one of the Star Wars films. Yep, there isn't one bloody line in the original trilogy that hasn't been used as inspiration for a book, comic or video game. Every background character has their own novel, every single location mentioned in them has been visited by five different games. Six hours of cinema used as the blueprint for an entire expanded universe.

Which of course means that every Star Wars game has to find an excuse to visit Tatooine, a planet notable for two main reasons:

1. Nothing's there but sand and people whining about sand.
2. Everyone wants to leave.

There's only six Star Wars films in the world at the time I'm writing this (and man that's going to seem hilarious a few years from now), and five of them spend time on Tatooine. The only one that doesn't? Empire Strikes Back, considered by many to be the best of the whole series.

Exploding put me right back at the start of the canyon, but I persevered and made it as far as a fork in the road this time. Seamless video branching, very impressive.

The other pilots inform me that the right hand path is for heroic hotshots and the left path is for cowards and folks who are crap, which is a bit of a problem for me as I'm struggling to get the thing to pull to the left without throwing it full force into the canyon wall. Then I overcompensate just a little bit late and slam it into the opposite wall as well.

Okay, I think this is the part where I restart and figure out where I put my joystick.


SOME CALIBRATION LATER.


Alright, now I'm doing better! No seriously, this is better than how I was flying before. I've gotten past the branching section with a full set of lives and I'm mostly only crashing into air.

One feature I didn't really notice at first is that I have regenerating health. It sure takes a while, but I can recover from early mistakes if I have a good run, which is smart game design in my opinion.

Alright, stage one of 'flight training' is finally completed! Maybe it wouldn't have taken so long if they'd actually tried teaching me anything instead of just dropping me into a canyon and daring me to take the dangerous route, but then it's not really a 'tutorial' kind of game.

Now I'm flying from top view, trying bull's eye womp rats drones, by moving my red crosshairs over the yellow markers and unleashing blaster fire down upon them. I'm still flying over a video though, so I have to be careful not to get caught out and hit a rock pillar when the background turns.

Okay that was my bad. The control in this section isn't so twitchy, so I've got no one to blame for that but myself. Though I can still blame the game for making me replay stage one again. I did the canyon already, I don't need to prove that I can do that any more!


LATER.


Alright, two stages down and now I'm flying with Commander Farrell in an A-Wing. That's me behind him, you can tell because of the way I keep weaving erratically from side to side.

I was expecting the game to have FMV characters, but it doesn't really (besides some clips taken from the movies). There's plenty of voice acting though, and the game's by LucasArts so you can probably guess that it sounds fantastic for 1993. Well the acting does anyway, the actual sound quality is terrible. All your favourite tunes from the movies, in glorious low bitrate mono, over and over and over again.

Now I'm not gonna say that I was on target for more of those shots than the game's giving me credit for... but I will point out that the game dragged my cursor on target a few times and still didn't let me have the kill for whatever reason.

This stage is all about making the tough choices: do I keep firing at ice asteroids a little longer, or do I swerve hard to avoid the rock asteroid coming dangerously close? Getting hit by ice asteroid I failed to shoot down is going to hurt just as bad and it's hard to tell which of them are heading directly at me while they're at a distance.

(3DO)
Here's the 3DO version by comparison. You may think it looks absolutely identical, but if you look carefully you'll notice that they added a 'DODGE' warning at the top to let you know when asteroids are getting too close. The Sega CD version takes this a step further by adding an arrow telling you which way to turn, so I guess some people had problems with this bit on the original DOS game. (Apparently the 3DO version has them too if you turn the difficulty down to 'easy'.)

The 3DO loves games like this, so it's not a big shock that it runs as fast as the PC version and is very nearly as pretty. I mean relatively speaking. The game only really uses four directions and a fire button so both consoles are overqualified when it comes to controllers.


EVENTUALLY.


Hey those asteroids weren't so bad. Turns out that I'm much better at aiming in this than I am at dodging, and I think that's more down to the way it controls than my own talent. Hopefully there'll be less dodging and more shooting coming up.

This is Commander Ru Murleen, performed by 'herself' according to IMDb. I don't remember any of these other characters making a reappearance in Rebel Assault 2, but I'm pretty sure she returns as a major character (and probably has a whole comic series and action figure or something as well).

Aww crap it's another dodging level, far worse than the first one! You can see how I move to dodge that rock just an entire second too slow, and then pull the stick so hard to compensate I end up nearly flying into one on the other side as well.

I'm not sure why there's so much delay on my controls, but I've started trying to play as if I were controlling Ru's fighter instead: making moves a half-second earlier than I should. It's been working pretty well right up to the point where I inevitably hit something and start pinballing from rock to rock trying to get back on track.

And then I'm fucked.

Thankfully I don't always have to replay the asteroid stage if I fail here, but if I run out of lives I get kicked back to the title screen, and man that gets old fast. There's no continues or saves, but there are passwords and I'm a little annoyed that the game hasn't been giving me any yet because I'm getting sick of replaying the same four stages over and over. On easy mode.

So what I'm going to do here, is I'm going to put a cheat code in, give myself invulnerability, then I'm going to play like this just long enough for it to give me a password. Then I'll restart without cheats in the hope that we can continue in a more civilized manner.


LATER.


Man that's just typical. I'm pretty sure I actually did well enough that time to complete the level fairly, but with the cheat mode on I'll never know for sure.

Still, I've got myself a password for once, and now I can quit out and continue playing it properly.

Incidentally, the 3DO and Sega CD versions are more generous with the passwords; not that I ended up needing to use them as I made it through the training stages with barely a scratch. At this point I'm starting to think that DOSBox either hates Rebel Assault or my joystick, or both.

Okay... this is just Star Wars now. The game shows the Stormtroopers raiding the Rebel ship, Leia giving R2D2 the Death Star plans, the two droids making a run for it in an escape pod...

... and Darth Vader just hanging out in his chair from Empire Strikes Back. I guess this is set in an alternate universe where Vader didn't feel like leading the assault on the Rebel vessel personally as it'd mean standing up.

It's fine though, as this Imperial Officer has dropped by his cyber egg throne chamber to give him updates. It's a bit of a mismatch of styles to have live action Vader in the same game as the illustrated Rebels, but it kind of works as long as they don't show anyone's face.

Because that ends up looking like this. Typical Imperial design: bottomless chasms and uncanny valleys.

Well if you've seen Star Wars you'll know that this is the point where a wing of Rebel starfighters led by Rookie1 launches a daring assault on Darth Vader's Star Destroyer in orbit over Tatooine.

Actually, now that I think about it, that doesn't happen in Star Wars at all! But it's gonna happen here.

The first step in taking down a Star Destroyer is flying slowly down one of the sides, blasting all the turbolasers one by one.

Then we get to take a shot at the shield domes above the bridge for a second or two. I don't know if that's what they actually in this, but that's what they were in TIE Fighter and they're marked as targets, so I'm gonna wreck them with my lasers.

(Sega Mega CD)
Then, after totally failing to do any real damage up there, we fly down the other side to shoot out all of the other turbolasers too. Pew pew pew.

The Sega CD version pictured above embraces the arcade feel a bit more by flashing up points for every gun I blow up. Though it's also confiscated all my cockpit LEDs and I'm not sure it's worth the trade off.

Speaking of cockpits, it turns out that a decent amount of this thing has been borrowed from LucasArts's slightly earlier space sim X-Wing. That's just a pointless piece of trivia for you, it's not exactly a flaw for them to reuse the best quality artwork they have to represent the same thing.


LATER.


And now I guess we wait for a bit. Nothing can hurt me here any more, all the guns are destroyed, but this bit is part of the video so I have to sit through it. Over and over, pass after pass, until those shield domes are finally destroyed. On the plus side I'm slowly getting my health back.

It's hard to tell because of the early 90s CD quality video, but I believe that's actually footage of a physical Star Destroyer model we're flying past right now, and if that's true then I feel sorry for the people who had to map all the little guns onto it. They did well though.

Oh thank fuck, it's finally letting me fire a torpedo at the bridge. I thought this bit would drag on for... HEY, get out of my bloody way! Luke Skywalker never had to put up with this crap.

But with Darth Vader's Star Destroyer destroyed... or damaged at least, I finally get to go to some other planet in the universe and do something else!

Or at least that's what I thought before I got dragged back down to Beggar's Canyon again to defend my HQ from Imperial troops. I have to shoot these three enemies down before we reach the end, and I always always miss one of the lil' bastards and have to retry it again.


EVENTUALLY.


"Shoot targets for bonus!" the message on the dashboard instructs me, before switching over to display my kill count. These AT-ST walkers don't seem to be fighting back, so I guess this really is just a bonus stage.

Now that the Imperials are moving against us in force I suppose we're just going to have to leave Tatooine forever. At least I hope so, as it'd give me a good point to quit playing.

What, now I have to do the asteroid field level again too? That's an even better excuse to stop to turn this off!


CONCLUSION

Star Wars: Rebel Assault is basically about getting the red crosshair pointed at the green boxes without touching the walls, but it's not a particular thrilling ride. In fact I found in the end that changing the frame rate from 15 to 9 to slow down video playback actually made the game much more playable. But even at it's best you're still just flying through pre-rendered canyons and panning around model Star Destroyers. And then doing it all over again because you lost all your lives doing another bloody canyon level and the thing hasn't given a password in forever.

It's pretty similar in gameplay now that I think about it to Nintendo's flashy space-themed rail shooter Star Fox, which came out earlier the same year, but this is a pretty dull experience by comparison. Star Fox has attack waves flying onto the screen, robots walking off with buildings, rabbits telling you to do a barrel roll, and flashing weak points all over the place. Rebel Assault on the other hand has the Star Wars license and... CD quality visuals. Oh, and a crosshair, I definitely appreciated the crosshair.

It's rare that I'd ever tell someone not to play a game, but I will say that you shouldn't get your hopes up about this one as it'll just let you down. I can't even recommend watching it on youtube as even though you're basically steering a sprite over video clips, there's not much of a story being told here and most of what's there seems to be a retelling of Star Wars except with you in the hero chair, stealing Luke Skywalker's destiny. Which is a bit of a dick move really.


Well that's what I thought about Star Wars: Assault of the Rebels, but it's possible that you had other opinions that run counter to my own! Or maybe you want to pass judgement on my writing or website. Or maybe you just want to say something nice. Whatever's on your mind, all you have to do is stick it in the box below and it'll appear as a comment below my article forevermore, so... go on then.

7 comments:

  1. There's only six Star Wars films in the world

    How could you forget Ewoks: The Battle for Endor amd Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not sure, but it was working out just fine until I read your comment!

      Delete
  2. The first three episodes of the Clone Wars cartoon were spliced together and released to theaters as well.

    By the way, you might want to check out The Hive at some point. It's like Rebel Assault, except it's completely terrible. I played it way too many times as a kid.

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  3. Never understood how'd Star Wars become exceedingly popular. I understand its charm and how it was simple yet very creative. But too much is too much! Still, I'm sure my brother would've loved this game had he owned it back in the days.

    Judging by the tiny preview picture, next review is either a Robocop videogame or some retro cyberpunk horror game. Either way, I'm curious.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You guessed it. I'm just sorry it's only a RoboCop game and not an obscure retro cyberpunk horror game.

      Delete
  4. Actually the 3DO version does have arrows in the asteroid field, just only in easy mode.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Criticism and corrections are ALWAYS welcome... though when they mean I have to replay a few levels of Rebel Assault on the 3DO to test them out they're slightly less welcome. Haven't I suffered enough!?

      Actually I'll just take your word for it and edit something in, because I'm incredibly unprofessional.

      Delete

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