“Oh, so it can play DVDs then?” my dad asked inquisitively as I stared at the ugly orange box behind the glass. The glass was my most hated enemy that day, a barrier keeping me from reaching out and just… touching one of those wretched “Spiced Orange” GameCubes that came out in America or Japan or wherever. I desired it more than anything despite its garishness. On the tiny TV next to it, the console was idling and playing a demo of Rogue Squadron 2’s Battle of Hoth, a demo so convincing that I have this horrifically cliché story to tell of my auld da confusing a game for a film.
Do you remember those 1997 Special Editions of Star Wars, though? They were my entry into the Star Wars franchise (sorry) at the age of ten and looking back, some of the new CGI (i.e. most of the stuff added to Star Wars) was pretty terrible. Jabba looked like a chew toy a labrador had swallowed, unceremoniously shat out on the carpet in front of you and showed not a hint of remorse as Harrison Ford digitally walked over it. Specifically though, remember the bit they changed (for the better) where the X-Wings and Y-Wings are flying towards the Death Star; originally a load of models poorly composited together, it was replaced with nicer CGI models.
Rogue Squadron 2’s recreation of that scene, in-engine, looked better than that.
So four years later, teenage Rob is standing outside some indie import game store (you know the kind) in God-knows-where London pointing out proudly to his dad that he had been saving up for this specific toy and yeah, let’s be honest, on a shitty small TV it did look better than the stop-motion snow battles of Empire.
Rogue Squadron 2 was a technical masterpiece, a launch title that looked better than any other (console) games at the time. Did you know it was made in eight months? I mean, this wasn’t so long ago that games were being made in a few months or half a year either; the two-year dev cycle practice we see today was already pretty standard by then. This was a new console as well, an unreleased console, and they were adding in new tech as they went like surround sound as well. Apparently it alsomaybepossibly ran at 60 fps but honestly no-one gave a shit then and you really shouldn’t now.
However much the little Nintendo and Star Wars fanboys (me) said otherwise at the time, having the game look that good was a massive selling point. It felt like I was playing Star Wars (yeah I’m rolling my eyes too), and it really didn’t hurt that it followed the story all the way through the original trilogy as well. Or that, you know, it was a genuinely good game.
With all that insane work going into making it look as great as it did, they also managed to put a good game underneath that spit and polish. Objective-lead levels reminiscent of the X-Wing games with controls and difficulty curve that weren’t all over the place like the original Rogue Leader. Each craft responded as I felt it should in my feeble mind - the painfully lumbering Y-Wings, the bloody nippy A-Wings and all the other adjectivey adjective Letter-wings.
It was a dream come true to be part of that universe, whether it was jumping into scenes from the movies or helping connect the dots between them. Firing ion blasts at satellites, liberating important Rebel personnel, purposefully crashing into a Star Destroyer to get a Gold Medal or weaving around a dried out river bed under the radar to make a daring mission to steal the shuttle Tydirium.
All the levels were great fun (apart from the Asteroid Field one), offering something pretty different in each one that wasn’t just a standard “shoot TIE Fighters until there are no more TIE Fighters to shoot and you move onto shooting other TIE Fighters” thing. Although it was a relatively short game, there were more levels based on scenes from the movies locked behind medal collection and that was a pretty great incentive to replay. Got me hunting them down at least, although I never did get a Gold on Death Star Attack. The bastard.
Honestly, I lost hours to this game. When my third-party memory card crapped out (mum bought me a new one) I had to do it all again and I didn’t even care. I remember having my telly on barely above mute so as to try and not wake everyone up in our little house on a Saturday morning (it didn’t work). I still have fantastic muscle memory for the trench run. That Battle of Endor level is still probably my favourite level in any videogame and it made me like a film where Carebears capture and almost eat a powerful space wizard and Harrison Ford.
Apparently I was a bit of a prat when I was 15 (still am) and one of the things I remember being impressed with was the voice acting. We’ve all been having a laugh over how crap the voices are in Battlefront but at the time I marvelled at how good they were in Rogue Leader 2. Mainly on account of them taking clips directly from the movie but they also had a good Luke and somehow convinced Dennis Lawson to reprise Wedge. The man despises Star Wars. Here’s a picture of him used on the Rogue Leader wikipedia page, which I can only assume was taken as he heard someone whisper “Star Wars” nearby:
To me it is probably one of, if not the best Star Wars games ever made. Which isn’t hard when there’s only four and a half good Star Wars games in general. It’s also definitely up there with Super Mario 64 as one of the best console launch titles; not much else has really captured my imagination and made me excited to own a new console. This is what Rogue Squadron 2 was for the GameCube, a glimpse into just how much more power there was to play with now, how much more you could do with it.
And nothing ever really topped it on that system.