Since it's out today on GoG, meaning a bunch of people are going to be playing it for the first time, let's talk about X-Wing Alliance. And how it has the best ending of any Star Wars game ever made.
X-Wing Alliance, the third in Lucasarts' trilogy of space shooters, took away years of my life. It had — and this has been all but forgotten — a terrific multiplayer component, which for the first time let people engage in big, fun missions in the Star Wars universe without battling against primitive online lobbies or dial-up ping (unlike X-Wing vs Tie Fighter, which was probably a year or two ahead of its time).
Yet over a decade later, what sticks with me most about the game — and what I think it best accomplished — was its finale, which let you play through the entirety of the Battle Of Endor. Or, at least the parts in space.
The series had done this kind of homage before; 1993's X-Wing finished up with a replica of New Hope's trench run, as you zipped along the Death Star surface and fired as torpedo into the exhaust port. It was a decent attempt, but it felt slow and unexciting compared to the movie scene it was trying to copy, and as such ended up a bit of a letdown.
The Battle Of Endor wasn't a letdown. It pushed the game's engine, and the team's ability to design around it, to the absolute limit. Of course, a game released in 1999 was never going to be able to accurately model the entire battle, with hundreds of capital ships and fighters swarming around, but what Lucasarts did was use some clever smoke and mirrors to make it seem like it could.
It combined actual capital ship models with a textured background that blended in, adding dozens more. It combined actual enemy fighters and dogfights with random laser lighting effects that if you looked closely enough weren't actually going anywhere, but out the corner of your eye really added to the mayhem of the battle.
And then there was the Death Star. In the movie, Lando and Wedge have to fly through a long, cramped tunnel at high speed, avoiding Tie Fighters en route to blowing up the station's core. They then have to turn around and fly out as fast as they can, avoiding a speeding ball of flame and then the explosion of the Death Star itself. It's one of the coolest scenes in any Star Wars movie.
In X-Wing Alliance, you did pretty much the exact same thing. OK, so the way in is a little slower (and longer), and you don't get quite the same feeling of tension from your pursuers (since you can't see them like you can in the movie), but on the whole, it's a pretty faithful recreation! Especially the way out, which not only has frantic radio chatter, but even the onrushing fireball in your rear view, which unless you really screw up is timed just right so that you scream a little when you make it out. Or chuckle like Nien Nunb. Whichever is easier for you.
If you want to try this out for yourself, a few things: know that you'll need to finish the rest of the singleplayer campaign first, which could take you a while. Also, you'll probably want to install this stuff as quickly as possible, so that the game looks a little less crusty to your modern eyes.
Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.