Star Wars and PC gaming are inexorably linked for me. When I was 11, I had about ten PC games, and seven of them were Star Wars-related, from Dark Forces to Rogue Squadron to X-Wing. When it comes to the history of PC games based on Lucas's universe, we got it way better than any of the consoles did. The GameCube's gorgeous arcade shooter Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader is pretty much the only one I'm a bit sad didn't make the leap to PC. Otherwise, we lucked out in getting the vast majority of great Star Wars games, which crossed a bunch of different genres successfully, and were a big part of the reason the '90s were so exciting for PC gaming.
Last year, GOG.com did us a solid and brought most of the Lucasarts back catalogue to PC, compatible with Windows 7 and 8, including some games that had never been released on digital platforms before. I was delighted, especially as I'd had trouble getting Rogue Squadron and Jedi Knight to work on Windows 7 for years. I was worried that Disney's absorption of Lucasarts would let these games fester forever. Not so. In fact, Disney has been better for helping that stuff reach digital platforms than Lucasarts ever was. But not every game has made the jump. There are some still sat on the shelf that I'm desperate to give another go—and even in cases where it might be easy (if illegal) to emulate them, there are superior PC versions that we should be playing instead.
This is me starting a campaign—a campaign in the sense that I'll just leave this one thing on our website rather than actually going anywhere or doing anything—to complete the Star Wars back catalogue on PC, preferably on GOG so someone's keeping an eye on their compatibility with future operating systems. Here's some of the worthwhile titles we're currently missing out on, and a few terrible ones that should come to digital anyway. I understand that GOG used to stand for Good Old Games and some of these are only half-decent, but if Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness can make the cut, then so can these.
Shadows of the Empire
A weird one, this, as I remember critics not enjoying it at the time, despite loving it myself. Revisiting it on N64 recently, I think it's an average game but a great Star Wars experience, putting players in control of a Han Solo archetype called Dash Rendar in a storyline that fills in the gap between Episodes V and VI. Rendar is an awkward fit for the Star Wars universe, really, and is a deeply '90s man with his ludicrous name and absurdly puffy jacket. But in Shadows of the Empire we see how he helped Luke and company fight the Black Sun, a sort of organised crime appendage to the Empire. It opens up a few new angles on the Star Wars universe, showing us Luke Skywalker as he's constructing his second lightsaber on Tatooine, or brief glimpses of the underbelly of Coruscant. It seemed like a big deal at the time, even if its status as canon is in question since Disney took control of Lucasfilm.
The game itself is part minigame compilation, part third-person shooter, and hits a decent number of beats in that universe. You defend Hoth in a Snowspeeder, in what's a surprisingly busy-feeling version of that battle; you man the turret of Dash's ship, the Outrider, as you escape the Empire through an asteroid field; you even fight Boba Fett and Slave I in a jetpack battle on an eerily remote Imperial planet. The shooting was maybe too simple and awkward to control, even for the time, but for a Star Wars-deprived mid-'90s, an era before the dreaded prequel trilogy, and long before the Clone Wars/Rebels cartoons (kids have it too good these days), it was a worthy chunk of new, well-produced Star Wars stories.
Why not just emulate the N64 version? Well, aside from the whole legality thing, the PC edition had voiced cutscenes, as opposed to the mere comic book-y panels of the 64 version, as well as superior sound quality, different control schemes and better visuals. It's well worth salvaging on PC, in my opinion. Also, I've lost the CD of my copy since my parents moved house a few years ago, and I'm livid about it.
Battle for Naboo
An essentially forgotten Rogue Squadron spin-off, this came out in 2001, long after everyone had already decided Episode I was a bit rubbish, stopped crying about it and moved on (let's ignore the fact that people are absolutely still crying about it today). Battle for Naboo was solid fun, and it mixes Rogue Squadron's Starfox-y arcade shooting with ground combat through the streets of Theed during the invasion of Naboo in Episode I (I'm getting bored just thinking about that film). It looks like a reskin, but the levels are all brand new, and it felt different enough to Rogue Squadron to be worth paying for.
It ended with the last battle from Episode I against the droid control ship that Anakin blows up by accident with R2 in the back (what a terrible movie). This ship-heavy final level has the sort of scale that Rogue Squadron lacked a bit for me, and even if Naboo starfighters are nowhere near as fun to look at as the X-Wing, they fundamentally feel the same in Battle For Naboo. There's even a bonus level where you get to control Darth Maul's pointy ship.
The issue at the time was the quality of the port, with critics saying it was pretty difficult to control. I remember using a joystick, and both me and my dad managed to complete it at the time (and this was a man who never got past the sewer level in Dark Forces), so it can't have been that bad. Maybe that's something that could use a little bit of work if it comes to digital platforms, but even as a curio, I think it's well worth bringing this back to PC.
Episode I: Racer
I find the podrace sequence in the rubbish Episode I irritating these days, but at the time (I was 11) I thought it was pretty cool—a feeling emphasised by this Wipeout-style racing game that showcased all the meticulously designed pods in a way that distracted me from how much that scene didn't belong in the movie. Racer was the best thing to come out of Episode I, and despite being slightly too easy, the game captured the pace and sound of that sequence perfectly—particularly when the pods bashed against each other mid-race. The different planets where the races took place were varied and gorgeous, too, even if the idea of Anakin somehow flying to different planets to race his pod was even weaker than a small child driving a flying car in the first place.
It showed that the Lucasarts of the time was still able to adapt Star Wars into different game types and have them be industry-leading, even while some of its other output (we'll get to that in a minute) showed the glory days of the publisher during the mid-'90s was coming to an end. I'd love to blow through Racer again. I don't think I ever played as Sebulba, and it might be nice to use his weapons against some of the other racers. I'd happily pay to play this again.
Star Wars Trilogy Arcade
Okay, I'm cheating a bit with this 1998 Sega game, since it came to arcades rather than PC. But, this on-rails shooter is entirely controlled with a joystick, and it still looks pretty impressive today. Players blast through the three Original Trilogy films in any order they like, with scenes touching upon all the major parts of the movies, including the Trench Run, the Battle of Hoth and even one-on-one battles with Darth Vader and Boba Fett.
It's an enjoyable way to consume a lot of Star Wars really quickly, and it's way more fun than the almost non-interactive, overpriced Star Wars Battle Pod arcade cabinet that came out a few years ago. There are ways to emulate it, but again, I'd rather pay for a version I can play with no hassle on modern operating systems.
And the rest!
Okay, these aren't nearly as worthwhile, but someone should probably salvage them anyway just for fun... OK, 'fun' is debatable. The Episode I official game was a third-person shooter that was even worse than the film it was based on, with controls that ignored the good work of the Jedi Knight series in favour of a dreadful beat-'em-up framework that was way behind the times. If you thought Battlefront 2015 was a letdown, imagine being the kid who paid £30/$40 to play a game with an hour-long level set in the corridors of the Gungan homeworld (I wasn't that kid, for the record, because PC Gamer at the time pointed out it wasn't a mind-blowing game. Always read the reviews).
Force Commander was a real-time strategy game that was so slow, boring and bad that I remember it being a horrendous letdown after years of expecting it to be my ideal Star Wars game. It's arguably best left in the past, but it's the sort of thing I'd buy in a sale for £2/$3 after enough wine (I seem to have Daikatana in my Steam library, for example. Join the party). Then there's the desktop adventure Yoda Stories, which I only played through a demo that came with PC Gamer at the time. I seem to remember it having some fans, though.
These are perhaps less vital additions to the back catalogue, but good or bad, I think it's important to preserve old PC games, Star Wars-themed or otherwise. It's not just a matter of nostalgia, it's about being able to trace the history of our medium. Having access to so many games, old and new, is a fundamental part of my and many others' love of PC games, and any way that process can be easier for the user is just a good thing. I want to live in a world where I can waste an afternoon on Force Commander if I really want to, even if I've got XCOM 2 installed on the same PC.
Bring them back, please! Cheers.
Bringing these games to digital platforms just makes it really easy to get hold of them for both PC players who missed them the first time and existing owners, and it offers a fun way to follow Lucasarts' fascinating history with Star Wars games—and to see how they attempted to adapt to game design trends over time, for better or worse (better in the '90s, generally worse after that).
I think younger people who watch Episode VII would find it interesting how Shadows of the Empire told a new Star Wars story in a time where it was mainly left to novels to fill those gaps, or how Lucasarts once made a racing game that was far more fun than the film it was based on. Come on, GOG—bring the rest of the Star Wars back catalogue to PC. I guarantee a minimum of $30/£21 in revenue from this excellent business decision. If Rebel Assault can make it to modern PCs, then this bunch should too.
Do you think some of these Star Wars games are worth saving, or are they all better left in the past? Let us know in the comments.