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SummaryStar Wars perfection
The GoodThe last in the X-Wing games closes the trilogy with a bang (yes, trilogy. I don't want to hear anything about an "X-Wing vs Tie Fighter". Understood?). Basically it just wraps up everything the original games were known for, adds the multiplayer genius of XWvsTF and the best 3D accelerated graphics circa 1999. Plus it throws a neat collection of original features that set it as one of the best games of it's kind.
Let's deal with the graphics first. As I mentioned, the game looks niiice, real nice. It's basically the same engine of XWvsTF, but the texture detail and resolution have been completely overdone, and small details such as the cockpits now sport fully polygonal models and cleaner huds. These new cockpits work like a charm as they allow the game to let loose with all sorts of funky colored lighting (from the laser fire, explosions, etc.), the ship models seem much more detailed than before (specially notable on big ships like the Calamari cruisers) and space itself is much more detailed, with lots of colorful nebulas, asteroids, stations as well as interior locations such as space stations and platforms. Add to all of this glitz the usual LucasArts production values for a Star Wars game and you have in your hands a class-A product that just oozes Star Wars coolness, with sights that match the sounds ripped right from the movie soundtracks and SFX libraries.
The gameplay itself remains unchanged save for the premise and mission design, and it's in these two areas where the game rises above the rest of the saga and crowns itself as the definitive Star Wars space sim. Instead of being a nameless Rebel fighter you take on the role of the youngest member of the Azzameen family, a struggling merchant family that operates from a modest space station and which has to deal with piracy and shady competition from smuggling gangs. So yeah, the game doesn't start with you shooting down imperial scum from the cockpit of your X-Wing, but instead places you in the comfort of a Millennium Falcon-lookalike from which you take on a series of trading-oriented missions that serve as a tutorial to the many new gameplay additions such as turret handling and auto-docking as well as initiating the n00bs in power management and basic dogfighting.
The main hub for the game in these early moments are the living quarters of your family ship, from which you can read mails from other family members and friends as well as check out your stats, initiate the next mission or check out your always growing collection of "souvenirs" that you get from each mission (such as a contraband brandy or part of the hull of your first Tie Fighter kill). This somewhat quiet existance fortunately ends before it gets too boring and after a nasty incident with some smugglers, you find out that you have been sold out to the empire, which comes knocking at your door with guns loaded. Tragedy ensues and next thing you know you find yourself running to the Rebel Alliance for protection (and a chance for revenge). This returns the player to the classic Concourse hub we all know and love, from which you can access all the classic features in the X-Wing games such as the ship's database, training grounds and missions selection, from which you engage the Imperial forces through a series of campaigns that take you from the aftermath of the Hoth battle to some original campaigns dealing with drone fighters and Imperial battles and culminating in the battle of Endor from Return of the Jedi (more on that later on). The real genius touch however, is that the Azzameen ship remains as a sub-feature of the main Concourse, and thus allows you to switch back and forth between the militaristic Rebel/Empire conflict (which weaves it's own storyline) and your own personal struggle as you contact your surviving family members and go out in "family missions" that follow a plot of it's own. This not only keeps the gameplay always fresh as it provides a change of pace from each game style (the family missions are usually much more puzzle-oriented while the Rebel ones are more classic space dogfighting) but also serves to add a little human touch to the always stale military plots that these types of games always have. I personally couldn't care less about the nameless pilot from the original X-Wing, but your character in Alliance is someone you can relate to, because you watch how he gets developed as a Rebel fighter, deal with his friends and family, and ultimately get involved hands-on in his personal struggle.
Of course, all of this would be for naught if the game's missions were all a bunch of "kill all the Kilrathi" borefests. Fortunately Alliance is blessed with some of the best mission design ever in a space sim, throwing in every kind of mission you can think of and involving everything from head-on engagements, chases, stunt flying, etc... To keep it all fresh the game also makes a steady use of puzzle elements and scripted events, which range from simple flag-checking events to full-blown puzzles in which you have to infiltrate military enemy bases or create an ambush. The puzzle-oriented design sometimes takes too much of a front seat in some missions, but never to the extent of games like say... I-War, and ultimately serves it's purpose as a way of deepening the gameplay. And while in most games complex features like power management and weapons configuration can always be set under "safe" settings and left alone for the rest of the game, Alliance calls for you to truly understand and properly manage them (specially the power settings) which gives the game an incredible gameplay depth as well as adding a lot of adrenaline to some moments such as when you find yourself escaping to a jump node at full thrust while you pray that you can squeeze a little more speed from your power station and at the same time try to dodge incoming fire while redirecting shield strength aft... and no, those enemy flyboys aren't any idiots either...
Anyway, as I mentioned above, the game also ends with a reproduction of the Endor battle and I dare say that it's a flawless reprisal of what you saw in the movie, complete with a massive engagement with the imperial fleet (divided in 3 missions) and the final tunnel-run and final escape through the Death Star itself. Yes, the tunnel-run too, because you get to fly the Millennium Falcon itself! Waaahoo!! Now if that isn't the coolest thing ever then I don't know what is!
Oh wait, I think I do: How about the same kickass multiplayer and mission generator element from XWvsTF with the chance to fly with or against practically every ship in the Star Wars universe? No seriously, even Dash Rendar's Outrider is here, as he makes a cameo appearance along with Luke in the single player game!
The BadThere's isn't a whole lot one can bitch about a game of this pedigree, it's downright fantastic. I will point out that there are some bugs every now and then, mostly dealing with bonus objectives, and there's the fact that the Azzameen plotline is left hanging at the end of the game... This one is really puzzling, you just get to a point in the story and then there's the battle of Endor and that's it! ?? I remember reading an official answer in a LucasArts forum about that really being the end of the game... there's no point-related secret ending as in other X-Wings... man, what a downer.