In most Star Wars games, you’re playing as the good guys. The Republic, the Rebels, doesn’t matter, the forces of evil are represented as an endless parade of cannon fodder. Outside of a major villain or two we never get to know the Empire or its countless personnel, they exist solely as obstacles in the way of our heroic journey.

Not in Tie Fighter. Playing as an Imperial pilot, you get to see the Empire at ground level, wandering its hallways, using its tech and meeting its officers as colleagues, not targets. This alters the tone of the entire game, not just outside of missions, but in them as well. In X-Wing, playing as a Rebel pilot, you’re constantly up against it, outnumbered, outgunned and on the run. In Tie Fighter, you’re the hunter, not the hunted, and that feeling of superiority and control makes many missions - especially at the beginning of the game - feel almost relaxing (though this is compensated for somewhat by the fragility of some Imperial craft compared to the bulkier Rebel ships).

Painted in movies as the ultimate bad guys, utterly irredeemable, in Tie Fighter you see that there are good people in the service of the Emperor, and the division between soldiers doing their duty and the truly evil men at the top is explored in the way Tie Fighter’s storyline evolves to include so much more than just hunting down Luke Skywalker and his friends.

It’s amazing how well this game holds up. Yes, the visuals can seem basic in this post-Squadrons world (the 1994 edition’s polygons are muddy and the 1998 edition has some icky menus), but in terms of how it handles, how the missions play out, it doesn’t feel - in the way 90s PC games often do - that you’re playing something sluggish, overly-complicated, obtuse or confusing.

You get dropped into a huge space battle, you fly around with smooth-as-butter controls, you make use of a dynamic but incredibly simple energy mechanic, you shoot some stuff, you move on. It is, for what the genre requires, almost everything it needed to be. It gave you enough systems to blow stuff up, not enough to confuse you, and then made the combat as fast and exciting as it needed to be.

I think that’s the reason, above all others (even the decline of the joystick), that the space combat genre went away. Why Wing Commander focused on presentation, not gameplay. Why Tie Fighter’s sequel, X-Wing Alliance, is never mentioned in the same breath. Why even Squadrons, with all its backing and hindsight, is more of an arena shooter than a true space sim.

Because Tie Fighter was pretty much perfect. It was everything a space shooter ever needed to be. And still is.

This review was originally published in 2014 but has been revised and updated for Backlog Month.