X-Wing Alliance is light years ahead of previous combat sims

Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance
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Unless you’ve been living on another planet, I’m sure you know that the new Star Wars movie is out. Contrary to what those so-called critics said about it (face it, with the exception of Leonard Maltin and Roger Ebert, critics hate science fiction), I found it to be a wonderful movie, and have already seen it multiple times.

And while waiting for the new Star Wars Episode I games to be released, I spent most of my time working on the latest X-Wing game, X-Wing Alliance, and have been enjoying it for what it is.

XWA takes place between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but at first, it doesn’t involve the Rebel-Empire story line. The story revolves around two trade families, the peaceful Azzameens, and the notorious Viraxo. However, all is not as simple as it seems. During a voluntary supply mission to assist the Rebel Alliance, you (named Ace) and your sister, Aeron, suddenly get involved in the Rebel-Empire conflict.

At the beginning of the game, Ace pilots a Corellian YT-1300 transport (and eventually a YT-2300, a miniature version of the Millenium Falcon) on simple delivery missions. But over time, you will board the Mon Calamari cruiser Defiance as a Rebel Pilot. The Rebel missions will feel right at home to veteran X-Wing/Tie Fighter players. Personally I found the Rebel missions a lot more fun to play than the family trading missions.

Previously, missions were only flown in one system, and hyperspace was used to end a mission. XWA changes that by allowing missions to take place over various systems. Pilots can even jump back to their home system base to restore their weapons and repair their ship should matters get out of hand.

The X-Wing series always had a large amount of starfighters and starships, but in the case of X-Wing Alliance, that number just keeps increasing. Not only do we have the same Rebel (X-Wing, A-Wing, Y-Wing, Z-95 Headhunter, B-Wing) and Imperial TIES (Fighter, Bomber, Interceptor, Advanced, Defender, Gun and Missile Boats) but we now have over five new TIE prototypes, pirate fighters, starbases, neutral craft, and of course, the Millennium Falcon, which will be piloted during the final Death Star run at the Battle of Endor.

Graphics have gone through another evolution. With X-Wing we had simple polygon fighters. TIE Fighter incorporated Gouraud shading. X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter added full textures to the mix. And now, with the use of 3D accelerators, we now have effects that were previously only displayed in high end shooters like Wing Commander Prophecy and Descent: Freespace. Lens flare, moving light sources, particle explosions, you name it. It’s all here now.

I did, however, notice a drop in framerate when running at a resolution higher than 640×480, which I was wondering about since I thought my Voodoo3 card could easily handle up to 1024×768. But in this case, it turned out to be wrong.

XWA also adds multiplayer gameplay, similar to X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter. However, I noticed the same problems I had before with lag and twitchy controls. Sometimes you have an enemy locked on, and suddenly he will disappear. I hope that a patch will be released soon that will relieve this, because I see how well this could play over the net if done right.

X-Wing Alliance comes pretty close to dethroning its older brother, TIE Fighter. However, the pain-in-the-cockpit family missions (almost reaching the challenge the original X-Wing had) keeps the rating down.

Still, XWA is enjoyable, and a good extension of the series. It earns 4 GiN Gems, and let’s hope that the eventual Episode 1 space combat simulator [come on, there’s got to be one] will be just as good.

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