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Star Wars: The Force Awakens is upon us, and that seems like an ideal time to look back at the franchise’s history in games.
We want to celebrate Star Wars by specifically looking at some of the best games to ever take place in a galaxy far, far away. If you want a list of recent games that may help you prepare for The Force Awakens, we got that as well. But this is all about remembering the games that made us fall even more in love with Star Wars over the last 38 years.
Star Wars: Republic Commando
Platform: Xbox, PC
Why we love it: In the dark age of the prequel trilogy, it was the games that really gave us something to get excited about. Republic Commando is one of the finest examples of this. It took a cool idea — a team of special-operations officers during the legendary Clone Wars — and built on it with easy-to-understand tactical gameplay. It was also one of the few non-space games where developer LucasArts realized it didn’t have to rely on Jedi and Force powers to make something interesting.
Republic Commando is especially notable because its team-based gameplay enabled you to take on a huge number of enemy forces without feeling like you’re a one-man army. We’re used to Call of Duty and Halo, where one marine/space marine can kill hundreds of people to turn the tide of a battle. But here, where you simultaneously control four highly skilled clones, it was easier to believe.
Finally, it doesn’t hurt that it looks great. It uses on the Unreal Engine 2, and it features that character and world design fans love about the Star Wars universe.
How to play it now: GOG
Shadows of the Empire
Platform: Nintendo 64, PC
Why we love it: This blurry, polygonal sidestory is the reason that we now judge Star Wars games by their Hoth levels. Shadows of the Empire was a major event for Lucasfilm and LucasArts. It had a novel, comic books, toys, and a soundtrack, but it is the game that most people remember. And that’s because it was an impressive launch title for the Nintendo 64.
It told the story of Dash Rendar, who looks like someone put Han Solo and Kevin Costner in the machine from The Fly. It’s an action game that takes place between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
The truth is that most of Shadows of the Empire is bland and forgettable, but its re-creation of Episode V‘s battle of Hoth made players feel like they could take on the empire whole empire themselves. Using the Nintendo 64’s 3D capabilities, LucasArts finally let players use a T-47 speeder to wrap up an AT-AT walker’s legs with a tow cable. We’ve had better Star Wars flight sims before this and since, but Shadows of the Empire was the first time a game successfully imitated a scene from the movies.
Star Wars: TIE Fighter
Platform: PC, Mac
Why we love it: We’d had plenty of chances to fly starfighters for the Rebels, going back to the 1983 Star Wars’ brilliant arcade game (yes, The Empire Strikes Back hit Atari in 1982, but T-47 airspeeders adapted for the cold aren’t fighters). But we didn’t get a chance to strap into one of the Empire’s near-limitless TIE fighters until 1994.
Improving on the mission design, combat, and graphics of 1991’s X-Wing games, TIE Fighter showed us a different point of view on the Galactic Civil War. It also incorporated a narrative, something X-Wing attempted as well. As you blasted Y-Wings and Corellian Corvettes, you also stopped internal threats to the Empire, showing Imperial forces as the guardians of peace in the galaxy.
Oh, yes, and you get to fly as Darth Vader’s wingman.
TIE Fighter remains just as challenging and fun today as it was in the mid-1990s. And GOG.com makes it easy to download and enjoy it on modern PCs.
How to play it now: GOG
Star Wars: Empire at War
Platform: PC, Mac
Why we love it: By 2006, LucasArts had made some amazing Star Wars games. But every attempt to capture the Rebel-vs.-Empire conflict in a strategy environment was … pitiful. Star Wars: Rebellion had its moments in 1998, and 2001’s Battlegrounds real-time strategy is hot garbage.
But Petroglyph, a studio whose founders included veterans of Command & Conquer and Dune, finally figured out how to make strategy work in Star Wars. It streamlines resource development, dispensing with worker units, and it let you control troops both on the ground and in space.
While it had campaign and skirmish modes, its Galactic Conquest sandbox mode is where Empire at War shines, allowing you to get a taste of fighting with both Star Destroyers or Mon Calamari cruisers and ground forces like speeders and AT-ATs. A wealth of mods added units and scenarios from The Clone Wars and the Expanded Universe.
How to play it now: GOG
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
By: Mike Minotti
Platform: Xbox, PC, mobile
Why we love it: Star Wars games used to come in one of two flavors: original trilogy or prequels. BioWare, the same studio responsible for role-playing game masterpieces like Baldur’s Gate, instead set its Star Wars epic far in the lore’s past, letting it stand completely on its own from the films. However, fans really lovew KOTOR for its great story and memorable characters, especially the meatbag-hating droid, HK-47.
Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
Platform: PC, GameCube, Xbox
Why we love it: Star Wars has a history with first-person shooters almost as old as the genre itself. Jedi Outcast is the third in the Dark Forces series, which focuses on mercenary-turned Jedi Kyle Katarn. It’s like Luke Skywalker and Han Solo did a Dragon Ball Z fusion dance (and then grew an awesome beard). He’s one of the best original characters from the old Expanded Universe, and Jedi Outcast was his greatest adventure. Not only does it feature fun gunplay, but it gives players a bunch of Force powers, like the ability to run extra fast, jump high, or shoot lightning.
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