Star Wars: Rebel Assault II - The Hidden Empire
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty with Rebel Assault 2, let's rewind back to 1993 and remind ourselves of the blistering success of its predecessor. Rebel Assault, er, One. It sold more than a million copies - making it the best selling pc cd-rom game of all time -and probably did more to influence the sales of CD drives to pc owners than any amount of smarmy in-store sales talk ever could. It looked great, sounded great, contained loads of fullscreen fmv and was so 'Star Wars-y' in look and feel that many a sci-fi fan began to feel sexually aroused when they first saw it running. It was an Industry Landmark.
Er... financially, at least. For a while Rebel Numero Uno sent cash registers worldwide ringing like a red alert in a bell factory, it divided the opinion of gamesplayers at the same time. There were those who loved it so much that they had to build makeshift shrines in its honour in the corner of their living rooms. And then there were those who said it was a swizz, a con, an insult to 'real' game players everywhere, and wished a pox upon the game and its followers.
Anyway, the two sides bickered endlessly over the game's merit, and although the debate became heated at times, they preferred to joust in the letters pages of games mags or clash in the depths of the Usenet newsgroups instead of doing the logical thing: in other words, arranging for the two sides to meet in a park somewhere over the Bank Holiday weekend, strip to the waist, and settle the thing like men. Anyhow, whichever side of the fence you're on, you probably have some preconceptions about the merits of Rebel Assault 2; that is unless you're new to pc games altogether, in which case you're probably too busy trying to work out what 'full-screen fmv' in the opening paragraph means to have even read this far. So hurry up, slowpoke.
Obligatory plot description
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a noble band of Rebels took on the might of the evil Empire and succeeded in blowing up the awesome Death Star, an immense and terrifying eyeball-shaped weapon of destruction capable of destroying entire planets, thanks to a couple of well-aimed photon torpedoes up its architectural ringpiece. The Empire was. to put it mildly, miffed. So miffed in fact, it set about building a secret weapon in order to finally give them Rebs what for.
And since no weapon can really be kept 'secret' if you're going to set about testing it somewhere where people may notice (such as the Pacific Ocean), the Empire decided to begin trial runs of its new hardware in the middle of the Dreithton Nebula - a spooky, scary corner of space surrounded by rumours of weird goings-on and the like. Well, this sort of skullduggery really isn't on. so you (yes. YOU), have been sent into the area along with a few chums, to find Sam Hill they're up to.
Your mission leads you through a variety of scenarios - perilous asteroid belts, one-man assaults on military bases, covert sabotage operations -but somehow things always seem to end up the same way. That is, with you emptying endless rounds of laser fire into virtually anything that moves.
Ooh, it looks nice, doesn't it?
Yes, it does. From the offset, Rebel Assault 2 rolls up its sleeves, grabs the back of your head and plunges it firmly into a bucket of LucasArts gloss. Sumptuous cut-scenes. that familiar rousing score, and a smattering of instantly recognisable icons (Big Bad Darth. Stormtroopers, and a couple of errant R2 units) draw you in before you've so much as picked is outstanding: a seamless blend of live action and rendered graphics that wouldn't look out of place up there on the silver screen.
The game itself looks equally classy, and features plenty of variety to keep you entertained. It's basically a mixture of on-foot combat scenarios, cockpit view interstellar blasting, and external view ship manoeuvring, spread across 15 levels. One minute you're donning infrared goggles to hunt down Stormtroopers in the dark, and the next you're trying to get the Millennium Falcon through a nightmarish maze of tunnels with its chassis and no-claims bonus intact. Movement is fairly limited, and you have hardly any 'choice' over your path; for instance, in the cockpit sections you can steer the ship quite a way up. down. left, or right - but you can't avoid hurtling inexorably forwards towards certain doom as you do so. Think of it as a grand metaphor for life. Meanwhile the on-foot sections are a matter of choosing when to duck and which direction to fire in. It's simple, but it's fun.
When all's said and done, however, it has to be said that Rebel Assault 2's main appeal stems from its astonishing visuals and high-fibre Star Wars vibe. However, as far as gameplay goes, it's a no-brainer, a shoot 'em up with the odd 'piloting' bit bunged in. Now don't get me wrong, I've nothing against mindless shoot 'em ups in the slightest (I've even listed my faves in a panel to prove it), but I know that there's plenty of you who do. More to the point, there's plenty of you who'd prefer to spend your money on games with more depth. If that's the case, stick to X-Wing or TIE Fighter (both of which are far more rewarding than either of the Kebel Assault games).
If, on the other hand, you fancy a bit immediate action, and you're itching for a game which a) doesn't require you to read a 256-page manual and spend a month memorising the controls, and b) will impress the kecks off your next-door neighbour, then Rebel Assault 2 may be a smart purchase. It's certainly very addictive in the short term; each time you lose a life you'll be right back in there, determined to clear the round this time, and the added bonus of a fully customisable difficulty setting (with which you can choose the number of enemies, damage, etc etc) means that it should keep avid fans going until the wee small hours.
And this presents me with a little problem. It's time to come up with a score, y'see. Now, if I award Rebel Assault 2 a spooktastic 90-plus rating, loads of you will rush out and buy it. Half of you will love it to pieces and kiss it and cuddle it and take it off to a dark room and do downright disgusting things to it. And the other half will consider it a shallow blasting exercise and a terrible waste of money. Then there'll be a bloody big row. and since I'm stuck in the middle of it. I'll probably come off worst. I'll get my hair pulled, and my nose bloodied, and it'll just get me angry. And as if that's not bad enough, because I'm such a big, scary, street-fighting sort of bloke. I just might end up inadvertently killing someone simply because I don't know my own strength. So to avoid any such unpleasantness. I'm going to split this thing right down the middle.
Obviously, it has to be said that the game is brilliant... for most people. It has Star Wars references, lots of shooting, excellent visuals, cool sound and er. Star Wars references. It also has a story that's easily as cool as most of the new novels that have been produced by the likes of Timothy Zahn et al.
On the other hand, if you hate Star Wars, you are not only clearly mad and in need of medical attention, but you also stand a pretty good chance of not enjoying this. Secondly, if you hate linear arcade shooting things, this really isn't going to appeal. People like this will not agree with our 90 per cent rating. We acknowledge this... so don't write in and tell us. We know.
Download Star Wars: Rebel Assault II - The Hidden Empire
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode