(This is part of my journey going checking out X-Wing. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)
In the annals of Star Wars video games, there are plenty of examples of great and terrible titles. The X-Wing and TIE Fighter series acquitted themselves wonderfully in the 90s, generating a rabid following of space sim pilots who ate up similar titles like Wing Commander. X-Wing released in 1993 to tremendous acclaim, creating a Star Wars game that wasn’t about Jedi and stormtroopers, but instead aiming at recreating the films’ thrilling space battles.
Yes, I actually played this — and TIE Fighter — back in the day, but haven’t touched it since college. I don’t have a lot of strong memories about it, other than I enjoyed it, talked about it with friends, and generally hated the Y-Wing fighter. So I figured that snapping up the GOG.com CD special edition was a good way to possibly unlock further memories while taking a look back two decades to see if — crude graphics notwithstanding — the fun still holds up.
X-Wing begins with an introductory cutscene showing star destroyers attacking the Rebel fleet, with plenty of shameless callbacks to the films. Including Admiral Ackbar and his PVC pipe chair and bellbottoms up there. It’s neat and all, but I can’t help but wince at hearing the classic Star Wars soundtrack butchered by MIDI. I generally don’t mind MIDI, but since I know the orchestral version far too well, it’s pretty grating here.
There are several modes from which to choose, but I’ll go with the main story, which is broken up into a five-part tour. Tour I is “A New Ally: The Empire launches a campaign against the rebellion.” Here we go!
Mission briefing screen — again, shades of Wing Commander. Heck, photocopy of Wing Commander, really. Not that I mind, really. This genre (flight and space sims) was super-hot in the 90s, and mission briefings were an important way to get us the info before the action got frantic.
And it’s about the time when I’m jumping into hyperspace to the fight that I realize that I have absolutely no idea how to play this. Being a man, I boldly skipped the tutorial and hadn’t thought to download any key mapping chart. I probably played it with a joystick back in 1993, but I do not have one today and am not going to buy one just for a 22-year-old title.
I consider the first mission a bust, so I mostly fiddle around. I figure out how to flip between lasers and torpedos, how to link my shots together, and how to shift my shields around (you can do balanced, double front, or double back). What I can’t really do is slow down or make sense of the radar and the battlefield. The red dots are the bad guys, green the good, but it’s not very clear where I should go and how to set up waypoints. Again, the tutorial might’ve helped.
I did end up finding what was probably the corvette we were sent to protect, but I was so excited to have a target that I armed my torpedoes and blew it up nice and good. And then crashed into it, because that’s the Syp style. Always keep your enemy guessing.
So after a mission there’s a neat feature to get to watch a replay from a different perspective and even make a movie of it. BEHOLD! THE AWESOME GLORY OF EARLY 90S 3-D!
Hey, 3-D was a big step up from the sprite-filled world of Wing Commander, so don’t buck it.