It is funny returning to something you haven’t been with in twenty plus years. Many things have changed over that time period. The gap between when I last played LucasArts 1993 FMV rail shooter and now is at least that long. Rebel Assault hasn’t changed a bit but, I have and so has the gaming landscape.
I’ve nearly always been ravenous for Star Wars stuff. The movies, the toys, the books, the comics, the video games, whathaveyou, I wanted it. Of course I couldn’t always get it, being a kid, not having a job or money and such, but my parents did their best to accommodate my wants when they could. That said, my house did not get our first PC until I was nearly out of high school and so, my main way of playing games was on console.
Rebel Assault launched in 1993, a half year after X-Wing did, but X-Wing wasn’t on consoles so I took what I could get and got the Sega CD version of Rebel Assault. I can’t sit here and tell you I have super fond memories of Rebel Assault on Sega CD, in fact I don’t remember it much at all except for loving it because it was Star Wars and I took what I could get. Some time later, when my family got our first PC, I got both Rebel Assault and X-Wing, as well as the far superior TIE Fighter (arguably still the best Star Wars game). All this is to say my memory of the game is a bit fuzzy. I use fuzzy there purposefully because my memory of Rebel Assault is as fuzzy as the visuals now look on my new monitor.
Today, Rebel Assault is an ugly game. Like, really, really ugly. Everything is super pixelated. I’m sure at the time it looked amazing but today, not so much. But I don’t believe that graphics make a game good. They can enhance an experience to be sure, but actually make it good, no.
Unfortunately Rebel Assault is also a tragedy of a game to play now and I really think that my memory is fuzzy about playing it on the Sega CD and enjoying it because… D-pad for this? No-way. Not doable.
Rebel Assault, allows for both mouse and controller handling. I figure I used my flight stick to play it on PC originally but that stick is long since gone. Mouse control didn’t feel good to me years ago and it still doesn’t feel good now. So, controller control is kind of the way to go here but… its also not very good. I used an Xbox One controller to play and the game will calibrate it for you upon start up. The calibration though seemed to never be perfect and always left me feeling the controls were way too loose. Considering this is an on-rails shooter, where you are either maneuvering through a set path of obstacles or targeting things moving on your screen, tight controls are kind of a must. I mostly played the game frustrated that I couldn’t pinpoint things the way I wanted, especially since I’m pretty good at it in more modern games.
So it kind of looks like crap and plays like crap. What does that leave to save it? Well let me tell you about the narrative and the sound.
Sound wise, the game is still quite impressive. The development team at Lucas Arts compiled a great selection of sound clips from the films and handpicked some excellent music as well. It’s the most Star Wars thing about it and no matter how much you may dislike the rest of the presentation, its hard to come away from how the game sounds without saying, that’s pretty damn good.
The narrative on the other hand is a disappointing disaster. The player takes on the role of Rookie 1, a Tatooine farm boy/girl, as they join the Rebellion and ultimately destroy the Death Star. You read that right, Rookie 1, not Luke Skywalker blows up the Death Star oh… and the Empire knew about Hoth before Empire, in fact the Rebels evacuated Hoth before the Battle of Yavin and then must have decided to go back there because, why would the Empire think to look on an ice planet we’ve already used previously and had a battle that we lost on?
I understand what they were trying to do here, by making the player the hero instead of Luke, but it doesn’t work. By the time this came out the original film would have been out for 16 years. Luke’s heroics were a cultural touchstone, rewriting them like they did here is kind of silly. I think if they had approached it more in the vein of X-Wing or TIE Fighter it would have worked better.
All of this makes for a pretty piss poor play experience in 2018, and I can only imagine that my favorable memories of it come from the fact that it was a new piece of Star Wars in 1993 for me to play with. I can’t seriously recommend this game to anyone unless they are exploring Star Wars or FMV games historically.