Still, strangely, the most photo-real of the Star Wars games, despite being nearly a decade old. Rogue Leader didn’t quite surpass its N64 predecessor Rogue Squadron overall, but some of the set pieces here are as close to the films as we’ll ever get – particularly the opening versions of the Death Star assault and the Battle of Hoth. Rogue Squadron II gets rather tough later on, yet the quality of its cinematic presentation never wavers, climaxing with the impressively-realised Battle of Endor level that smartly uses audio clips from the film. Such a shame that the studio behind these games, Factor 5, met its demise a few years ago (and that the third entry in the series, Rebel Strike, soiled the formula with awful on-foot bits).
Renowned for being the only Episode I tie-in that wasn’t a bag of old toss, Racer recreated the Boonta Eve podrace scenes with real gusto, capturing the all-important speed of the competition and letting players tweak different parts of their pods. Most of all, though, I enjoyed Racer because it was the only non-Mario Kart racing game I’ve ever a) completed and b) been any good at.
Rather than picking either of the Lego Star Wars games (the Original Trilogy is best, for obvious reasons), I’ve chose this enhanced compilation pack, which handsomely rewrote some of the weaker parts of the first game and brought together both trilogies in one near-endless stream of platforming entertainment. Lego Star Wars simultaneously pays homage to and pokes fun of the saga, which is absolutely as welcome as the games that take the franchise quite seriously. The best value title on this list, then, as well as family-friendly, which is a term I usually despise in relation to Star Wars.
One of the few excellent pre-LucasArts Star Wars games. Personally, I played Super Star Wars ten years past its release date, so I never got into in the same way, but I know people in the office/on the internet will shout at me if I don’t give these decent side-scrollers a cursory nod. The subsequent two titles also marked a high point for early games based on the movies, and I wouldn’t mind seeing LucasArts having a go at remaking these in HD (although that also goes for every non-HD title on this list).
With a campaign set between Episodes IV and V, Rogue Squadron captured the essence of the epic ground battles in the movies, even if the brilliant film-inspired levels were hidden unlockables or saved for the almost-as-good sequel. With the final level set during Dark Empire’s Battle Of Mon Calamari (complete with V-Wings) long after Return Of The Jedi, one of many geeky Expanded Universe references, Rogue Squadron is a wonderful arcade-y alternative to the X-Wing sub-series.
The biggest, silliest Star Wars game of them all, giving the player massive battlegrounds to run riot in. Battlefront II let players jump in the cockpit of vehicles from the saga and dick about, destroying AT-ATs with snowspeeders or simply landing an A-Wing on a Star Destroyer and blowing it up from the inside. You can even murder Ewoks as Darth Vader. It captures every kind of Star Wars experience in the most fun format possible – a sequel that steps up the scale of that template is pretty high on my list of things to play before I die.
4. Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight
Probably the first Star Wars game to convincingly make you feel like a Jedi Knight, Dark Forces II offered players a choice between good and evil, as well as different levels and story content to match. It was a sophisticated and challenging FPS title, with massively-sized levels that captured the real gritty bounty hunter side of the universe. Also a delight were the live-action cut-scenes, which were presumably made for a budget of £3.49 using part-time actors from local theatre groups who had to bring their own lightsabers.
Underselling at the time due to the fading interest in simulation-based games, the final instalment in the X-Wing series debuted the most impressive 3D engine for the series yet, as well as letting players tackle the ultimate intergalactic set piece of the films: destroying the second Death Star in the Millennium Falcon. A wonderful send-off to this hardcore offshoot of Star Wars titles.
2. TIE Fighter
The selling point of TIE Fighter at the time was getting a rare glimpse behind enemy lines in the Star Wars universe, putting the player in the role of an Imperial Pilot and battling the Rebel Alliance. Like its predecessor, X-Wing, this allowed you to pilot starfighters with simulation-style controls – this time with the added bonus of fighting alongside Darth Vader. Few Star Wars games have offered such an interesting, different angle on the galaxy. But there’s at least one more that accomplished it…
1. Knights Of The Old Republic
A safe choice, sure, but the right one. Knights Of The Old Republic marked the pinnacle of Star Wars’ Expanded Universe storytelling, taking everything we loved about this fictional galaxy – good versus evil, worlds hanging in the balance and memorable characters – and making that interactive. With a wonderful Empire-sized twist, KOTOR turned out to be the most influential RPG of the modern age, as well as the perfect Star Wars videogame.
…And the rest
I have a lot of love for The Force Unleashed and its intriguing place within the canon of Star Wars, even if I maintain no love for its rubbish, cheap-feeling 2010 sequel TFU II (notable only for an arbitrary Yoda cameo). Neither deserve to be on the list, though, and the same quality control applies to Shadows Of The Empire on the N64, though I’d argue that it’s a great deal of fun and nicely handled in terms of its place between Empire and Jedi. Despite claims to the contrary, I thought Empire At War was an overbearingly tedious strategy experience. Masters Of Teras Kasi, Super Bombad Racing, Jedi Power Battles and The Phantom Menace were all total rubbish.
I aimed to get a good spread of the different franchise offshoots in there – hence why I didn’t include KOTOR II and the original Battlefront. I made an exception with X-Wing and Rogue Squadron, though. Not for any particular reason, other than the fact I like both series. So there. I seem to remember enjoying desktop-fest Yoda Stories, too, although not to a particularly memorable degree. The original Star Wars Arcade cabinet is also a simplistic treat. KOTOR II is in some ways better than the original, but so fraught with bugs that it’s a chore to run, even with a NASA-funded supercomputer. Jedi Outcast is underrated in the way it captures the Jedi Knight experience, yet suffers from some lazy level design before the Force stuff truly starts to get good.
Look out for my Top 3 Indiana Jones list, coming soon. Not really (although for the record – 3. The Last Crusade 2. Lego Indy 1. Fate Of Atlantis). But here’s Jeff Goldblum at the end of The Lost World on PSone, telling you to go outside.