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I have you now! Star Wars stocking fillers from another age

The light and the dark side of the gaming Force explored

By Mike Plant, 24 Dec 2015

Nothing quite says games like Christmas time, so Electronic Arts was therefore in like a shot with the latest telling of its Battlefront epic.

Sure, it’s all lovely and pseudo HD, but isn’t it worth remembering just how we got here, and the fantastic journey we've had?

Indeed, if the games of the Star Wars universe were in attendance at one of Princess Leia's shiny medal presentations, each would get a peck on the cheek and leave with a much deserved 'Best Star Wars game ever' awards hung around their digital necks.

Star Wars: Battlefront DARTH VADER. Electronic Arts

Preliminary honourable mentions go to the Lego Star Wars and Star Wars Supremacy for really making our lightsabers swoosh, but even these couldn't make the final cut as we bring you the seven games to play before heading out to see Luke, Han and co reunite.

Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine, Boba Fett, Jabba, Darth Maul, Count Dooku, General Grievous and a whole lot of storm troopers: these are the titles that gave your boys one hell of a beating.

Star Wars: TIE Fighter, 1994 (PC)

There was only room for one of LucasArts' phenomenal spacecraft sims and TIE Fighter just gets the nod, narrowly fending off the light side-hugging endeavours of X-Wing and X-Wing Alliance.

Fighting for the Empire not only meant you could 'blast those Rebel scum' – a fun activity, as any storm trooper will tell you – but also handed players the keys to some of the most iconic fighters in a galaxy far away.

The game had depth too, with the completion of secondary mission objectives paving the way for your induction into the Emperor's secret service and the special ranks thereof. And TIE Fighter had one final ace up its sleeve by way of a mission in which you flew as wingman to Darth Vader himself.

Star Wars TIE Fighter

Drive some of the most iconic fighters in the galaxy

Surely Disney can see that we simply have to have virtual reality version of this made ready in the next couple of years? Even the Emperor couldn't help but crack a smile at the prospect of that.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2003 (Xbox, PC)

In developing the first Star Wars role-playing game, BioWare took us 4,000 years back in time. Perhaps making the setting of Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) more accurately described as a 'long, long time ago (but still in a galaxy far, far away)'.

BioWare took its Dungeons & Dragons-based RPG formula, as already perfected in Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights, and successfully adapted it to Star Wars. The result was the perfect blend of strategic combat and choice-based questing, as players hopped their way across the galaxy in search of the Star Forge – the source of power of the suitably nefarious Darth Malak.

As anyone who has delved into the recent mobile re-release of KOTOR will tell you, its reams of multi-branching dialogue choices, as well as its combat system, haven't aged quite as well as you might hope. Nevertheless, it is a shining example of how much scope there is for story-led Star Wars games. It's just a shame that all that potential is currently being poured into MMORPGs rather than something more akin to Fallout 4.

Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire 1996 (N64, PC)

Too ambitious for its own good? Probably. But Shadows of the Empire still makes this list by virtue of being the first game to convincingly bring the entire Star Wars universe to life.

This third-person adventure saw players take a walk in the boots of Dash Rendar, a smuggler out to rescue the oft-captured Princess Leia from reptilian crime lord, Prince Xizor. Han, Luke and Boba Fett all had cameos to play, but it was Rendar who led us from Hoth to Coruscant, via a host of planets.

Development struggles – including a bizarre situation where Nintendo would only provide an prototype N64 pad as long as it ensconced it in a box – meant the rest of the game never quite lived up to the fabulous opening stage on Hoth. Regardless, Shadows still stands as a fine example of how to capture that quintessential Star Wars vibe.

Star Wars: Jedi Knight 1997 (PC)

Star Wars: Jedi Knight ... a classic first-person shooter

The adventures of Kyle Katarn – a man with the best traits of Luke and Han and the beard of Chewie – have provided the best examples of story-based shooting for Star Wars fans so far.

The Doom-era Dark Forces may have got the series off to a good start, but it was Jedi Knight that perfected the formula. The scale of Star Wars suited PC gaming's new found appetite for big, brash 3D-accelerated polygons, while its live action video cut scenes were both strangely cool and unintentionally hilarious.

But it was the addition of light and dark side force powers, and a free-swinging lightsaber, that really elevated Jedi Knight. The thrill of squaring off against the game's legion of dark Jedi has barely been bettered since, while the light and dark RPG-lite elements were way ahead of its time.

Star Wars (Atari arcade) 1983 (Atari 2600)

For many, Atari's frankly beautiful arcade cabinet was a first insight into how video games could portray the adventures of Luke, Han, Leia and company so excitingly and in such jaw-dropping fashion.

Conveniently, its wireframe graphics even managed to perfectly mimic the targeting computers of original film's movie-based space fighters, as players cruised about the surface of the Death Star, blasting wave-upon-wave of TIE fighters.

Without doubt, though, the stand out feature was the sit-down arcade cabinet that put you inside your X-Wing fighter. The control stick itself – which loosely mimicked that of the X-Wings of the silver screen – was enough to make you swoon like Han at the touch of Princess Leia.

Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader 1998 (GameCube, PC)

It's rare for a third-party game to snatch the limelight from Nintendo’s own line-up on console launch day, but that's exactly what Rogue Squadron II managed upon the GameCube's debut.

Never had the Death Star’s trench, or the Battle of Hoth, been recreated with such pizazz – the developers even adding dialogue and story elements straight from the original trilogy. It all meant that your fellow squadron members went down in a blaze of glory at just the right moments, and in perfect synch with that iconic soundtrack.

Admittedly the game began to plod along slightly during the few missions that weren't ripped directly from the films. But, on the whole, the sound and visuals shifted what we might expect of Star Wars games to another level.

Star Wars: Empire at War 2006 (PC)

Empire at War was a RTS with a hint of Civilisation, designed to have players flexing their strategic muscles in all four corners of the galaxy.

Colonising and capturing planets in a bid to wipe out your rival was the order of the day. With the game giving rise to a vast collection of land- and space-based vehicles, including some new inventions (especially when it came to the Rebel's ground forces).

Star Wars Empire at War

Flex your strategic muscles with Empire at War

Mass producing AT-ATs on a galaxy-wide scale never quite seemed to be in the Star Wars spirit, and its space-based conflicts couldn't touch Homeworld. Nevertheless, for those looking for a dose of strategic Star Wars play this still stands up.

The dark video games of the Force

Much as there's a Phantom Menace for every Empire Strikes Back in the roster of Star Wars films, so is there an absolute Sith Lord of a video game for ever Jedi Knight just waiting to ruin your day.

Over the years we've seen a game starring nothing but Gungans – yep, because they proved just so popular on silver screen. Another title that could have finally let us swing a lightsaber (but didn't) and even one that attempted to apply the Mario Kart formula to pod racing (not quite terrible enough to make this list but awful all the same).

Here we detail seven titles that Vader would Force-choke on sight, Jabba would throw to the Rancor pit, that come up short (for a storm trooper), that even a sarlacc wouldn't digest and that would have been best left in a galaxy far, far away (and then some).

Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi 1997 (PS One)

If a 'Teras Kasi' sounds like something rather unpleasant you might find floating in a public toilet, it could go some way to explaining why LucasArts thought it could get away with taking the piss by releasing it.

Best described as Tekken meets Star Wars (though that's being especially unkind to the former), Teras Kasi was a 3D beat-em-up designed to rinse what was a particularly popular genre at the time.

Han could fight Vader (and win), Luke could spank Leia to his heart's content (so finally rekindling those repressed feelings of incest) and a bunch of barely recognisable aliens and droids could get their groove on too. A shame then the game was terribly designed, sported some of the worst 3D visuals of the PS One era and was generally unplayable.

Star Wars Kinect 2012 (Xbox 360)

They say it's the hope that kills you, don't they? And so it proved with Star Wars Kinect, a game that promised so much only to force choke our dreams to death.

What Microsoft billed as the Kinect's redemption – a Star Wars game that let you swing a lightsaber exactly where you wanted – instead marked the beginning of the end for Microsoft's doomed peripheral. Reducing your participation as a Jedi Knight to jumping on the spot, ducking and wildly flailing your arms about was bad enough. But a 'bonus' mode where Star Wars met Just Dance was the final straw.

The game still stands out in my mind as being such a massive opportunity that was missed. Perhaps now, in this brave new world of Disney-based Star Wars, we might see the announcement of the game that Kinect Star Wars should have been.

After all, imagine the potential profits in a VR Star Wars game with accurate duelling – the possibilities (and lightsaber peripheral sales) are surely endless.

Star Wars Episode I: The Gungan Frontier 1999 (PC)

Quite who thought it would be a good idea to take the Gungans – possibly the worst race in Star Wars – and use them as a means to resurrect the already best forgotten SimEarth is beyond us. But that’s exactly what LucasArts set out to do in Gungan Frontier, a game that perfectly matches The Phantom Menace for quality.

Even stranger was the decision to have Boss Nass (that fat Gungan from everyone’s favourite movie) bark constant updates at the player. Everything from ‘the Rancors wiping out a species’, to ‘there’s a shortage of moss’, was reported in one of gaming’s most irritating ‘help’ features ever. As Yoda might say: Shame, feel, you must LucasArts.

Yoda Stories 1997 (PC)

Imagine an early top-down Zelda game, with Luke Skywalker cast in the roll of Link ... and you have Yoda Stories. Described like that, the premise actually seems a reasonable one, but sadly being ordered to complete a series of thankless fetch-and-carry quests for Yoda proved about as much fun as it sounds.

Especially given that said quests involved using the same objects over-and-over as Luke looked to warn Rebel bases of impending attack, or sabotage Imperial bases according to Yoda’s randomised whim.

Jarring movement and staccato fighting only added to the game’s issues. Oddly enough though, if Disney was to tighten and repurpose the idea of a Star Wars meets Zelda hybrid for mobile, it would almost certainly make millions.

Rebel Assault 1995 (PC)

Rebel Assault may have been released during a similar window to the likes of X-Wing, TIE Fighter and Dark Forces but don’t assume it has anything approaching the same substance of those classics.

Instead Rebel Assault was an early example of an on-rails shooter that epitomised style over substance, with the game’s advanced (for the time) graphics assuming that lifting entire sections from the original trilogy could take priority over anything resembling gameplay.

A wild crosshair didn’t help matters, nor did a lack of mid-mission save points – while the combination of the two proving particularly galling. A later sequel that added equally terrible (and equally on-rails) over the shoulder shooting sections did little to pull the franchise out of the fire. No wonder that LucasArts eventually decided to let it follow Boba Fett into the gaping maw of a sarlacc.

Bounty Hunter 2002 (PS2, GameCube)

If ever there was a Star Wars character in need of some fleshing out it’s Jango Fett. His back story and the reasons why Palpatine chose him to base his clone army upon are barely touched on in the films and Bounty Hunter was LucasArts’ attempt to right that wrong.

In some ways the studio actually succeeded here too. Bounty Hunter’s plot went some way to showing why Jango might have caught the Emperor’s eye and even served to show how moments in Episodes 2-3 came to be. However, beyond this slight service to new trilogy apologists this third-person shooter was largely a disaster.

Star Wars Bounty Hunter

A weak third-person shooter lacking the satisfaction of combat

An absurdly generous auto-targeting system took much of the satisfaction out of combat, mission objectives were so vague as to be non-existent, and Jango was left staring anywhere but where you wanted him to thanks to a terribly implemented camera. Another case of a Star Wars nearly, but not quite.

Force Commander, 2000 (PC)

Command & Conquer collided with Star Wars for the first of many times in Force Commander – it’s just a pity that this first marriage wasn't a happy one.

All the right ingredients were there, with AT-ATs, AT-STs and land speeders all being faithfully recreated. But the game was badly hampered by AI that seemed hell-bent on going the long way around wherever possible, or else forgetting to return fire at nearby enemy units.

The final straw was a later Imperial mission on Endor where hidden Ewoks would tear your forces apart with traps made of rocks and felled trees. Cute in Return of the Jedi, perhaps, but excruciatingly frustrating here. ®

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