The Star Wars spin-off industry has grown to the size of a red giant since the movie was released 19 years ago, and the enhanced CD, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, is an indication that the tie-ins are getting a little baroque. We're talking a soundtrack for a book: a swollen orchestral John Williams-wannabe score by Joel McNeely tied to the latest SW hardcover. The enhanced section is strictly for bug-eyed completists, with publicity bios of the creative parties (George Lucas included), paperback cover art, storyboards, and information on Star Wars comic books, toys, and videogames. My advice: Wait until Lucas delivers the next movie.
Shadows of the Empire is the first port of a Nintendo 64 game to the PC platform. However, despite the great disparity of graphics performances between the two systems, both versions are quasi similar, with a light advantage surprisingly going to the PC version. This of course is not without raising a question. How can a PC game be better than its counterpart on the Nintendo's 64-bit console? The answer is simple, the game relies on the power of 3D graphics cards. Consequently, only the owners of such cards will be able to enjoy the newest Star Wars title from LucasArts.
Unfortunately, not all 3D cards are equal, and should you own a card that is not supported by the game, it will be like having the fastest car with no gas to drive it. We can reasonably imagine that LucasArts will release patches that, once applied to the original game, will add support for other 3D accelerators. But as of now, only 3DFx Voodoo, Rendition Verite 1000, Permedia 2 and other chipsets capable of similar performances will do the trick. With no specific reasons given as to why only these 3D chipsets were initially selected, we can only hypothesize that it was either because of DirectX 5.0 or because of the relative importance of each card on the market. Still, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth of card owners such as the Matrox Mystique, ATI and NEC/Videologic cards, who at the best, will have to wait several weeks before they can download a patch from LucasArts.
Leebo and Dash Rendar
For the others though, Shadows of the Empire (SOTE) is probably one of the best 3D action games to grace their computer. With a graphics extravaganza that gives no rest to the eyes, SOTE delivers incredible game play coupled with amazingly fast graphics. Depending the amount of memory on your 3D card, you will be able to play from resolutions ranging from 512 by 384 to 800 by 600 through standard SVGA modes 640 by 400 and 640 by 480, all modes displaying 65,000 colors simultaneously. Compared to the Nintendo 64, the PC version offers higher resolutions and sharper images which undeniably provides the player with a greater visual comfort. Throughout the game, players will enjoy a great variety of textures, which, with the help of the 3D cards and their graphical functions such as bi-linear filtering, appear absolutely stunning and assure the game of realistic environments.
Through the ten levels of SOTE, players will assume the role of Dash Rendar, a mercenary friendly to the Rebels' cause. Divided into four episodes, the story line of the game will have you participate into events whose chronology takes place between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. In the first, "Battle of Hoth", Dash will help to defend the Rebel base against the Imperial forces sent by Darth Vader, escape from the Echo Base invaded by Snowtroopers, and then avoid an Imperial Cruiser with its horde of Tie-Fighters and Tie-Bombers through an asteroid field. The second called "In Search of Boba Fett" will see Dash going through the Ord Mantell Junkyard to locate the IG-88 droid and find the exact location of Boba Fett. It is in the third part entitled "Hunting the Assassins" that you will meet Luke Skywalker after a chasing race through the city of Mos Eisley and Beggar's Canyon. The last part, "Lair of the Dark Prince", is where you will need to infiltrate the Prince Xizor's palace and place explosives on the access to the Skyhook. The game will end with the final battle, where Dash's mission will be to destroy the Skyhook space station. Prior to each level, a 3D cut scene will reveal a part of the plot, featuring a movie-like format and subtitles, if selected in the options. Speaking of options, among the list, you can enable the fog effect, CD audio sound and force feedback for compatible joysticks.
Although it fits perfectly into the action genre, SOTE is not a game of one unique style. What this means is that you will perceive the game's experience through distinct perspectives, which themselves can be seen through different views. Thus, you will successively pilot a Snowspeeder in the Battle of Hoth, a Swoop in the streets of Mos Eisley, and the Outrider Corellian freighter spaceship in the Skyhook battle. In between, you will explore in person places such as the Echo base, gorges on Moon Gall, sewers and the palace of Xirzo. In each game mode, you will have access to various views that depend on the mode you are currently playing, ranging from a third-person external view to a first person perspective through an independent camera view. A fourth view provided by an above head camera is only available when you control Dash, and reveals itself particularly useful when precise movements are required. As in Dark Forces, your character has a range of different movements, which in addition of the traditional four directions, include left and right strafe, jump, crouch, activate and fire. In sequences such as the pursuit in the Mos Eisley city, new movements will become available such as brake, reverse, left and right kick. The manual will describe in details the movement's list for each level. Controlling the game is done through the keyboard, mouse or joystick, with several configurations available for each device in the options.
The Gall Moon
During the game, players can gather power-ups and challenge points. Power-ups consist in two different health packs (a small and a large), full health, life and invincibility power-ups, as well as various weapons like a flame thrower, impulsion cannon, seeker missiles and disrupter. More difficult to reach and recover are the challenge points scattered throughout the levels. If you collect enough of them during one level, they will reward you with supplementary lives to help your progression throughout the game. In case you complete the game after having recuperated all the challenge points, you will even be given a game secret! While it is relatively easy to advance further into the game when playing at the easy level, it's an all new challenge at another level of difficulty as enemies get tougher. Regarding the Artificial Intelligence, LucasArts managed to simulate realistic behaviors for the enemies, their intelligence being sometimes remarkable, especially when playing at harder levels.
Sounds and voices in SOTE are clear and crisp, and represent the perfect companion to the non-stop action featured in the game. In addition, the orchestral music from the Star Wars movies, edited for the needs of the game, is a must for all players, and definitely the icing on the cake for Star Wars' aficionados.
Although a deceiving lack of multi-player support, Shadows of the Empire is brilliant and remains an excellent buy. Backed by the Star Wars' license that it carries, Shadows of the Empire will appeal for action players who are eager to brave the heroic adventures told in the Star Wars Trilogy. This first port from the Nintendo 64 is a total success, and if this is only the first of a series, I really look forward to see what the future will bring.
People who downloaded Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire have also downloaded:
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 3D, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance, Star Wars: Rebel Assault, Star Wars: X-Wing Collector Series, Star Wars: X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, Star Wars Episode I: Racer, Star Wars: Dark Forces
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