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The Features, Additions and Plot
I am a large Star Wars fan, I even loved the poor gameplay but superb graphics and atmosphere of Rebel Assault a few years back. If there has been one major disappointment over the past few years of Lucasarts Star Wars games, it has to have been X-Wing Vs. Tie Fighter, as it tended to move too much towards multiplayer gaming (No I'm not against it, but Star Wars games need stories) and away from the Single Player storyline games.
Lucasarts listened to all of the complaints against X-Wing Vs. Tie Fighter and now X-Wing: Alliance sees Larry Holland move back to his story-driven missions, but also allowing for multiplayer environments. The multiplayer features mostly remain unchanged, although there is a new addition of a "skirmish" mode, which allows players to generate custom missions and fly any of 28 ships. There is also a racing mode, where players can compete with each other by flying through an obstacle course of armed hoops, both the racing mode and the skirmish scenarios can be played solo.
The single player part of the game features 50 story-driven missions and the storyline is possibly the best seen in any of the Star Wars games so far. The In-Game engine also features new additions including updated graphics, special effects and massive battles across the Death star (Ohhh Yes).
Here is the list of features off of the box:
Installation, Intro and In-Game Options
Installation is simple, just put the CD into your drive. Autoplay runs and then you get to select the directory in which you wish to install the game, once you have decided on that part, the game will install - It takes up around 250MBs of hard-drive space. Lastly it asks if you want DirectX installed (I already have it, so there was no need). Finally - I setup my joystick (You have to have a Joystick, Mouse and Keyboard installed to play the game). My choice of joystick for X-Wing: Alliance is the Microsoft Force Feedback Pro as the game has support for Force Feedback and the joystick by itself isn't half bad.
Next we have the intro movie - The graphical style of these movies hasn't really changed from X-Wing Vs. Tie Fighter. It certainly isn't bad quality, but I did expect more, it also ended up looking like a Deep Space Nine intro (This is just my opinion as I know many other people who love the cutscenes in X-Wing: Alliance).
Once you are past the intro your droid friend Emkay greets you. Pressing ESC takes you to the main options area from which you can change controls, sound settings, graphics and difficulty levels. Currently I would recommend not using the 3D sound option if you are using a SoundBlaster Live! Card (The drivers still suck) as it tends to slow the game down in parts, Lucasarts are currently working on a patch to fix the issue, although it does seem to be more like a problem Creative should fix as it crops up on a number of games.
From the Family Transport area (Where Emkay greets you) you can start missions, try out the combat simulator, which is where you can take part in the skirmish mode I mentioned earlier, read pilot stats, check your e-mail (Keeps you in touch with the story) and also keep a check on all the medals and souvenirs you can collect throughout the game. The further you venture into the games missions the more chance you have of joining the rebels and then you get a change of scenery with the Cruiser Concourse as your base ship. This area offers more details on all the crafts in the game and a pilot proving ground so you can show the rebels just how good/bad you really are.
I haven't had this much fun in a Star Wars game since Tie Fighter. There are so many good things to say about X-Wing: Alliance's gameplay that it could take up the whole review, I also don't want to spoil some of the plot for you, so I'll keep it to a minimum. You can fly almost all the ships in the game (None of the Star Destroyers yet though), which is a blessing for any Star Wars fan, and at last you can get your hands on the Millennium Falcon, and even take control of its gun turrets (Remember in Star Wars?)
Missions are varied and mission objectives can change through the game whist you are flying. Every so often you will get the chance to fly with Wingmen who actually seemed to know what they were doing. Throughout each mission you are in radio contact with a number of other pilots, these dialogue parts help keep you up to date with what is going on in the mission, and they can sometimes save your life when an enemy Tie Fighter is on your tail.
The only problem I have with the game in respect to missions is that the difficulty seems to suddenly make a major jump from around Mission 7 onwards. While I am all for games that keep a good level of difficulty so you don't complete it so quick, I would have liked to see it level out gradually instead of make this massive change all of a sudden. Thankfully Lucasarts have added a "Leave of absence" option that allows you to skip up to 3 Rebel missions during the game. You can also toggle the difficultly levels during the game or even go onto invulnerability mode if you find a certain mission far too tough.
There are also a few bugs that crop up, they are most noticeable early on in the game when your wingman tell you that you have completed an objective so you should fly to the next jump point - this despite the fact that you are around 1% away from completing the actually objective, thus if you do fly back to base thinking you have completed the mission, you will be greeted with a "Mission failed" screen...These bugs don't crop up often, but when they do - they can be extremely annoying.
Graphics and Sound
Graphically X-Wing: Alliance is way ahead of X-Wing Vs. Tie Fighter and its data disc release Balance Of Power. X-Wing Alliance comes with 3D hardware acceleration features straight out of the box, and it shows. Detail on all of the ships in the game is amazing, with damage showing up, shields lighting up when hit by laser fire as there is all kinds of different colored lighting used during the game. Explosions are far greater than in any of the previous games as well, this time round debris fly's at your ship when you destroy a large Star Destroyer or enemy base, and the debris isn't just for looks as it can also damage your ship too.
Sound, as expected from Lucasarts is of the highest quality. The music (John Williams soundtrack) is taken straight off the CD and reacts to the current situation you are in. All of the sound effects are taken straight from the movies, so there is little that Lucasarts can improve on now until the new set of films come out. As I mentioned earlier, the only problem I have with the sound is the 3D hardware setting slowing the game down, but you won't notice much difference anyway when you switch it off as the sound is already top notch.
Multiplayer is also a major part of X-Wing: Alliance. I have played only a couple of multiplayer games via Microsoft's Gaming Zone without much slowdown (And that is saying something on a 56kbs modem). There are a number of new features in the multiplayer part of X-Wing: Alliance, including Starfighter Racing modes in which you compete against other players in a race through the rings of the pilot proving grounds, and we also have the Quick Skirmish mode so you can setup your own parameters in the game.
Lucasarts have finely blended both Single and Multiplayer gaming with X-Wing: Alliance. Everything about the game is class, from the detail on the crafts, to the in-depth missions. Despite my earlier complaints about the difficulty levels, I can't really complain much because this helps with the longevity of the game and in this day and age of easily completed games I feel most of us would rather a game was a little harder than too easy. I can recommend this not only to Star Wars fans but also to anyone who is interested in Space Simulators as it is currently top of the class.
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In The Box?
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