Also known as Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader.
How many times do you have to pick up a game, play, give up, re-pick it up and put it down again before you are finally allowed to admit you just don’t like the game anymore? That is Rogue Squadron II for me.
Over a year and a half I have started and restarted it 5 times, and have struggled to get beyond the first set of missions.
But, is it a good game? Or has it crushed by my own nostalgia glasses?
On the surface there isn’t a plot, what you are doing is revisit key battles in the Star Wars universe between A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi timeline. After playing the game for a while, or reading the manual, you’ll notice that the levels follow a natural order. Level 2 is escorting supplies to Hoth, Level 3 is Hoth, level 4 is rescuing prisoners captured on Hoth. Everything is connected, but you could play the entire game and never notice.
The levels do make sense, but I’ll be honest, I only want to blow up Death Stars. It is cool as fuck reenacting the Battle of Endor, and Death Star battles. But between those levels there is a little too much filler. I don’t know what an “Ison Corridor” is, and I have no clue what “Kothlis” is supposed to be.
Not that any of this is a bad thing, it is good that they have played service to people like me that just want to hear Admiral Akbar shout “IT’S A TRAP!“, and people who have a deeper interest in the Star Wars Universe. As well as for people who actually want a game with a semblance of plot.
Rogue Squadron II is a flight combat game. You have a map, and you can fly with almost complete 3D movement.
Flying and shooting takes a very long time to get used too, and isn’t anywhere near as intuitive as Star Fox 64. Certain levels I generally can’t tell what the hell is going on. On Prisoners of Maw I find myself flying in a circle trying to kill Tie Fighters, and being constantly bounced around in a circle as I hit invisible borders.
Flying isn’t as fluid as in Star Fox 64 either, things like a barrel roll feel slow and laborious. No intuitive “double tap a button”, instead you hold “Z” then hold a direction button for the entirety of the spin, it only takes 2-3 seconds for the ship to spin around, but it feels like an eternity waiting.
Jesus Rogue Squadron II has some tough fail states, and requires a certain knowledge on your behalf for some levels to make any sense. On the Battle of Endor mission you need to protect the Medical Ship from enemies. Well, which one is the fucking medical ship! I have seen the films, but I don’t know my Medical Ships from the giant blob things. It took me 5 attempts to realise which ship was which, as everything is being attacked.
Other more obtusely difficult bits include the Death Star II attack, the level starts, and you have less than 3 seconds to blow up 3 Tie Fighters otherwise you fail. ZERO room for error. Terrible game design. There are more examples of this, but none as extreme. A lot of the time you are told to attack a particular thing/defend something, and none of it is clearly marked. Defend the Prisoners on Maw? What the fuck do I attack. Searching the downed Star Destroyer, which of the 3 types of Tie Fighter am I supposed to attack?
After a lot of playing you’ll learn everything you need to do, but the learning curve is just too “meh”, having to replay an 8 minute section to try and figure out why you instafailed is really boring. And this is how most levels pan out. Try, fail, try, fail, try, fail, realise your error, try, fail, try, get to next section, fail. As gameplay loops go, this isn’t an especially fun one.
There is a tonne of depth to the level progression and you are rewarded for being good. The problem is, getting good is a too much of a challenge. You need to medal a level to earn points to unlock a level. If you merely “complete” a level you get fuck all. You have to medal it to earn points, earn enough points and the next set of levels will unlock.
It is very much trying to make you run before you can crawl. Star Fox 64 is a perfect example of how to do this type of game: Complete a mission, move onto next. GIT GUD and you may unlock a different level. GIT GUDder and you’ll get a medal, earn all the medals unlock hard mode where you can try and medal everything again. It means there is a natural progression to the Star Fox 64, and as you improve, you’ll learn how to do things better.
With Rogue Squadron II you can’t progress until you have invested a tonne of time, and that is VERY off putting. Beat a level, tough shit, you didn’t beat it well enough. Do it again.
It means there is a lot of depth, and shit loads of replayability, but you are thrown in the deep end and you need to figure it out before you drown.
On top of all this, there is a shit load of unlockables, which will require 50+ hours of learning to get through it all. If you stick with it that is.
I don’t know how to score Rogue Squadron II the difficulty hump is insane, and very off putting, but you are rewarded with a decent enough experience if you are able to battle against the tide. There is fan service, there is depth and there is extended universe stuff, so whatever your angle on Star Wars you are covered.
I don’t like Rogue Squadron II anymore, but I can appreciate there is something great going on for those that are able to stick it out.
Pros: Tones of depth, the Battle of GOD DAMN Endor!
Cons: Doing a barrel roll, the fact it is so fucking hard. The voice samples are pretty poor. Admiral Akbar meekly says “its… a… tra-app”
Back In The Day
Rogue Leader sold well as a Gamecube launch title, but let’s call a spade a spade – it was a Gamecube title, so it didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Reviews were extremely positive, though fan opinion was split on the difficulty; because Rogue Leader is really bastarding hard.