Retro Game Review: Star Wars: Rebel Assault II: The Hidden Empire: Death by ColonsJuly 29, 2011 at 10:38 am | Posted in Video Games | 4 Comments
Every now and then (read: once every ten years or so) I get the urge to clean up my dreaded Technology Closet of Doom. Like a time capsule lost to the ages, this closet contains delightful relics of a bygone era, when apps on a cellphone consisted entirely of Snake and CPU clockspeeds were measured in these archaic units called megahertz. With much sadness, I took these ancient items and placed them in boxes to be discarded. Farewell, Pentium II motherboard and chipset that I have no idea why I kept. So long, broken Sega Genesis that I was never going to find the time to fix. Goodbye, VHS copy of that horrible anti-drug mashup of cartoon characters that … Okay, I have no idea how this got in there.
While knee-deep in old technological artifacts that probably belonged in the possession of the Smithsonian, a CD jewel case caught my eye. Picking it up and turning it over, I discovered that it was my copy of Star Wars: Rebel Assault II that my dad bought for me way back in 1995 when I was seven. Cue nostalgia music. It had been about fifteen years since I had played it last, but Seven-Year-Old Lane thought it was the greatest game ever to grace the family computer at the time. I used to rush home after school to load it up and play through levels I had already beat dozens of times.
Twenty-Two-Year-Old-Lane began to wonder if the game still lived up to the warm, fuzzy memories that lingered in my head. That kicked off the Saturday Lost to Running an Old Game in Windows 7. Grabbing the old Gravis two-button, two-axis Joystick that was also in the Technology Closet of Doom, I went to work installing the game. Eight hours, a trip to Best Buy for a game port to USB adapter, and a virtual install of Windows 95 later, I was set to fire up the game for the first time in years.
Five minutes into playing the game, I made a discovery. Nostalgia is a horrible liar and Rebel Assault II is one of the worst games I’ve ever played.
For a bit of background, Rebel Assault II is an on-the-rails arcade game that features live-acted characters in front of a green screen. I use the term “act” loosely. Right at the top the player is greeted by a pre-rendered video of three Rebel redshirt pilots that I’m fairly certain were borrowed from a local area community college drama program. The game itself takes place shortly after the Battle of Yavin. Darth Vader has developed a new secret weapon (I swear, the Empire goes through a new secret weapon every other week) designed to cloak Imperial TIE starfighters and render them invisible to the eye and sensors. The player assumes the role of Rookie One, a random Rebel pilot, and engages in a meandering search for the Phantom TIE production facility to steal one of the new starfighters. Should you succeed, you return home to a celebration and you get The Girl. Did I forget to mention there’s a contrived romance subplot? Should you fail, you’ll get to enjoy one of a dozen or so death sequences!
The plot, much like the acting, is nothing to write home about. So let’s get onto the gameplay, hopefully that can redeem the mess this game has been so far.
We start out piloting a B-Wing under siege by a swarm of TIE Fighters. The aim of this section is simple, shoot the TIE Fighters before they shoot you and destroy your ship. This isn’t so bad and was fairly easy to breeze through. After you’ve completed the level, another cutscene where, after all that, you get shot down anyways by invisible TIE starfighters. That moves us to the next level, and a horrible realization about the game. The difficulty curve looks something like this:
There are some levels of this game that are joystick-chucking hard. Any stage where you’re on foot and are using a clumsy cover mechanic are bad. The worst? The level where you’re riding a speederbike and fending off mynocks. Out of the blue, the game controls suddenly become twitchy and you can only take a small handful of blows before you’re killed. Up until this point you could take a pretty good battering before you’d die and have to restart the level (provided you had enough lives left over). Now, I remember having struggled with this and other levels all those years go, but I dismissed it as me being seven and not very good with the twitch reflexes.
No, it wasn’t me. The game’s difficulty curve was just plain broken.
Perhaps the worst thing about this was that the gameplay mechanics weren’t half as fun as I remember them being. Looking back on it, my seven-year-old self was merely enamored with the idea that I was flying a B-Wing, X-Wing, TIE Fighter, and a YT-1300 freighter that was clearly supposed to be a stand-in for the Millennium Falcon. Bitter, jaded twenty-two-year-old me realized that every level featured the same arcade-y action that might have been fun with a light gun but was a bore with a joystick. It just had a different ship slapped onto the stage that controlled in the exact same way.
From the terrible acting to the horrendous gameplay and plot, Rebel Assault II definitely did not live up to the nostalgia test. I nearly threw my copy out with the other junk I was getting rid of, but I decided to keep it as a memento.
If nothing else, it’s a reminder that I had terrible taste in video games as at age seven.
Posted by Lane for Roqoo Depot