Putting Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance into the Star Wars timeline, it takes place at the same time as The Empire Strikes Back and continues through Return of the Jedi. You play the part of the youngest son of the Azzameen family, owners of a shipping and storage company. Before beginning, you can name yourself anything, but throughout the game your character will be known as Ace.
The family business faces tough times as many of its competitors are involved in organized crime and include Imperial-backed conglomerates. Your family business is one of honor, but most others run theirs through bribery, corruption, deceit and thievery. One of the companies backed by the Empire also happens to be your rival, the Viraxo family. While helping your family business survive, you will learn the skills of a fighter pilot. Eventually, Ace will join the Rebel Alliance and take part in the Battle of Endor.
X-Wing Alliance is divided into missions, similar to games such as X-Wing and TIE Fighter. After joining the Rebel Alliance, there are a total of nine ranks to be promoted through as you complete missions. During the game, there are a number of ships that can be piloted other than the X-wing. They include the Y-wing, A-wing, B-wing, Corellian transports and the Millennium Falcon. Multiplayer modes provide players with a choice of 28 different craft (including Imperial ships).
X-Wing Alliance is the fourth game in the venerable Star Wars space combat series, following such landmark games as X-Wing and TIE Fighter, as well as the most recent installment, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter (XvTF). Like the others, Alliance was created by Lawrence Holland's Totally Games group, so those of you familiar with the series will be on comfortable ground. Totally Games again puts you in the seat of a number of Alliance fighter craft and a few new ships that you've never had the pleasure to commandeer. So what are the results like this time around? Well, not bad over all, but Alliance isn't without its shortcomings.
One of the best features of X-Wing Alliance is the background story, which will unfold as you play through each mission. The narrative has everything to make a good feature movie, and it translates well into a space combat game. There's action, deception, action, changing loyalties, action, intrigue ... and let's not forget the action. It really is superb in its intricacies. You assume the role of Ace Azzameen, beginning your career as a cargo pilot working for your families shipping business, Twin Suns Transport Services. Although you mainly run cargo for the Empire, your father has seen the profit potential in aiding the Alliance and is not above making a few illegal runs for the Rebels if the price is right. Well, I won't ruin the rest of the story for you, you'll just have to check out the game for yourself to get all of the juicy tidbits. But I can tell you that you'll eventually join the Alliance forces and get to test out some of the hottest starfighters the Rebellion has to offer.
Gameplay as a smuggler starts out slow and most of your early missions center around shipping cargo, inspecting cargo, picking up cargo, cargo sandwiches, cargo soup, cargo salad ... wait a second, that was a different movie altogether. Totally Games could expand on the early missions and make an entirely new game called Star Wars Customs Inspector, but it would probably be as boring as these first missions prove to be. You'll take control of a stock Y-1300 Corellian Transport right off the bat, the same base ship as the Millennium Falcon, only Han and Chewie modified theirs out the yin-yang. You'll quickly progress on to your father's YT-2000, a larger cargo ship, once you get past a handful of training missions whose only purpose seem to be familiarizing you with the game interface. There's certainly nothing inherently challenging about these early missions (except for the occasional AI problem ... read on) and, as much as these beginning missions try to walk new players through the interface, they do little to get you ready for the intense space combat that lies only a few missions away after you join the Alliance.
The military phase of the campaign begins following the Battle of Hoth, with the Rebel Alliance struggling to regroup after that devastating defeat. Now this is where the game gets fun. Ace, now a member of the Rebel Alliance, must work through a series of increasingly more difficult missions, culminating in the climactic strike against the second Death Star during the Battle of Endor. A strike--if you remember your movies--in which the Millennium Falcon played a pivotal role. In these later missions, you'll pilot a variety of Rebel military craft like the A-Wing, B-Wing, Y-Wing, Z-95 HeadHunter and, of course, the most famous one of all: Rudolph ... I mean the X-Wing. You even get to take the helm of the Millennium Falcon itself in the incredible final showdown and fly the fastest ship in the galaxy into the belly of the Death Star to deliver the fatal blow.
One of the neatest new features of Alliance is the addition of a hyperdrive system which allows you to move from star system to star system. As you may remember, all of the missions in the previous games were confined to action within a single system. Now you can travel between up to four mission areas during each assignment by using your hyperdrive. This allows for much larger and complex missions with multiple objectives and varied backdrops and I assure you that the light drive system is much more reliable on stock Corellian Transports than the one found on the jury-rigged Millennium Falcon. In addition to a larger playing field, you'll notice that the space battles are much larger than any of the previous Star Wars flying games with up to 96 ships going at it in the darkness of space.
Unfortunately for Alliance, it's not without its downfalls. The biggest drawback to the entire experience is the linear mission design. Although there are an impressive number of missions (50 in all), the game follows a straight path and, if you fail to complete even one minor detail in a mission, you have to fly the entire sortie over again. This gets very frustrating and a design structure similar to the Wing Commander series' branching mission tree would have done a lot to enhance this game. The frustration is compounded by a few minor scripting bugs, such as one in the third mission where your wingman confirms that the mission is complete when, in actuality, it isn't. I flew this extremely boring cargo inspection mission a dozen times before finally completing it and moving on, simply because one container wasn't inspected ... and my wingman was supposed to take care of that one. If you really get stuck on a mission, Totally Games has included a few key hints at the end of each which answer most of the questions you may have as to what you are missing on a particular assignment. However, you don't necessarily get all of the clues and you'll occasionally have to struggle with a mission several times before you actually discover exactly what you have to do to progress.
OK ... enough of the bad. Let's get back to the good. The graphics in Alliance are certainly better than average and the game shows off ship details better than any of the others in the series. It's definitely the best looking Star Wars title from Totally Games, boosting twice the number of polygons per ship over XvTF. Unfortunately for those of you without 3D hardware support, this graphical detail does not translate well in software mode, and the game looses much of its detail. The little details like the chunky explosions, lighting effects and shadows add those cinematic touches that make you feel like you're actually in the Rebel Alliance fighting in a never-to-be released movie. But as much as I was impressed by the ships and attention to detail, I simply didn't get a feel of 3D space while playing Alliance. The planets and natural phenomena such as nebula and gas clouds appeared extremely flat and lifeless and the thin star field looked like someone had poked hundreds of tiny holes in a piece of black construction paper. There's no twinkling and there simply aren't enough stars to give you the feel of actually being in space surrounded by millions of distant suns. I also ran into a few framerate issues when I played in 800x600 with the graphics pumped up to the highest level. I was really surprised that I would encounter performance issues on a P450 with SLIed Voodoo2s after seeing how smoothly Alliance performed at 640x480.
As is expected from LucasArts games, the sound design team should be praised for their effort on this one. All of your mission objectives are outlined in the ongoing dialogue. So what do you do if you miss an important piece of information because you're too busy focusing on the action? To help you with this, the ship interface keeps a running account of all of the game conversation in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. If you miss something simply look in the recap box and you should be back on track. In addition to the full speech throughout the game, Alliance also includes a dynamic soundtrack which changes to suit the mood (like when an Imperial Destroyer enters the area), sound effects directly from the movies, and excellent 3D sound support. There's plenty for the ears to enjoy here, ya' hear?
Like the sound, the multiplayer options in Alliance are also top notch. Up to eight people can compete via a LAN or through the MSN Gaming Zone and, while I had considerable trouble connecting over the T1 line at the IGN offices, I was able to log onto the Zone with my home modem with relative ease. In the multiplayer games, pilots can choose between 28 different fighter craft from both the Alliance and Imperial factions (as well as a few non-aligned ships), each offering a unique flying experience. For example, the A-Wing is swift and can out turn nearly every other craft in the game, but is lightly armored. The Imperial Shuttle, on the other hand, is a sloth in comparison, but it can dish out plenty of damage and take a beating to boot. In addition to the ship variety, there's a nice diversity of game types, ranging from simple races to the standard deathmatch to huge capital ship runs. Nearly every game variable is customizable by the host, who will have full control over such variables as time limit, point limit, and the setting of the mission (either in deep space, a mine field, or an asteroid field). But, as good as the multiplayer mode is, there are a few snags and downfalls that you're bound to run across. I've already mentioned the problems I had connecting to the MSN Gaming Zone from work and, from what I've read on the usegroups, I wasn't the only one experiencing difficulties. And even if you do manage to connect with the Zone, there are only about 100 people playing X-Wing Alliance at any given time. This means you'll often have to wait to play a multiplayer game as you can't jump in mid-scenario. I also encountered some lag issues in a few games and it wasn't uncommon to have a ship 'warp' out of the way of my blasters when it had just been in my sights a second before. Overall, though, multiplay mode runs relatively smoothly (if you can get it to run) and it certainly adds a lot of life to this title, even after you finish the single play missions.
In the end, X-Wing Alliance is a really good game which could use some minor tweaking to become a truly great experience. The story is well crafted, the sound work is nearly perfect, and the graphics are well done and only lacking in a few minor areas. It probably isn't destined to become a classic like the original X-Wing, but it is definitely worth checking out, especially since this may be your last chance to grab one of the old school Star Wars games. As LucasArts Alliance product manager Joel Dreskin told us, "This is the last of the classic Star Wars series games planned for the foreseeable future." With the new Star Wars trilogy coming up soon, LucasArts will move on and begin focussing on the new stories and characters for upcoming Star Wars games.
People who downloaded Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance have also downloaded:
Star Wars: X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, Star Wars: X-Wing Collector Series, Star Wars TIE Fighter (Collector's CD-ROM), Star Wars X-Wing (Collector's CD-ROM), Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 3D, Star Wars: TIE Fighter, Star Wars: Starfighter, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire
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