Geeks everywhere are still mourning the loss of of Ralph McQuarrie, the visionary conceptual artist who played an integral role in designing the look of the original Star Wars trilogy. Even if you weren’t familiar with McQuarrie by name or even if you’re somehow not a fan of Star Wars, it’s undeniable that McQuarrie’s work has left an indelible influence on all sci-fi movies, comics, anime, and of course, video games.
It’s hard to find a sci-fi game that wasn’t influenced by Star Wars in some respect; ranging all the way from 8-bit classics like the original Phantasy Star to modern hits like Mass Effect or Halo, the continuing influence of Star Wars on modern sci-fi is undeniable, and McQuarrie deserves a lot of credit for Star Wars’ evergreen appeal. Like I said, even if you don’t like Star Wars, gamers in general should show McQuarrie some respect, as his work has probably inspired or influenced a lot of the games you play today.
With that thought in mind, I thought it’d be pertinent at this time to list off my personal favorite Star Wars games, because what better way is there to show off Star Wars’ influence on games than by showing off the franchise’s best direct contributions to the medium?
Now, there have been a lot of Star Wars games made over the years, ranging all the way from the days of the Atari and the ZX Spectrum all the way up to the modern age. Star Wars hasn’t just made an appearance on every major console, but also in almost every genre as well: there are Star Wars platformers, action adventures, RPG’s, MMO’s, first person shooters, flight sims, fighting games, RTS’s, and even Chess games. Star Wars video games have been around longer than most video game companies have, so obviously there’s a lot of choices and I obviously couldn’t list all of the good ones in one article.
So before you go on some poorly worded, Return of the Sith styled Anakin Skywalker-ish rant about why my opinion is wrong (lawl) in the comments, let me once again state that the following list is comprised of just my personal favorites, and is by no means meant to be a comprehensive or definitive ruling on what the best Star Wars games of all time are. So before you post some angry (probably unintentionally hilarious) rant in the comments section (see the other lists I’ve written for examples.) Just calm down, breathe, and do try to behave rationally. Like I said, these are just my personal picks, so no need to get angry. It’s not like I said Greedo shot first or anything.
Also worth noting: I didn’t have a proper gaming PC until recently, so I’ve missed out on 90’s classics like X-Wing Vs. Tie Fighter. Please don’t take the absence of certain games from this list to mean I hate them or purposefully snubbed them (unless you’re talking about Masters of Teras Kasi, a game which I still hate, by the way.) I only have five spots to fill, so obviously I couldn’t pick every worthwhile Star Wars game, so allow me to extend my apologies to the PC Master Race (*snicker*) as this list is pretty console centric.
5. Star Wars Rogue Leader
Star Wars games can be divided into two categories: there are games that try to recreate the best moments of the movies, and games that take place within the franchise’s “Expanded Universe.” Rogue Leader is one of the best examples of the former: most of the games stages are pitch perfect recreations of the original trilogy’s climactic space battles, beginning with a New Hope’s run down the Death Star trench and ending with Return of the Jedi’s Battle of Endor. Everything about Rogue Leader feels authentic: the HUD, the narration during mission selections, the beautiful graphics (which still look impressive today, more than ten years after it’s release,) the iconic sound of a TIE Fighter whizzing by… It’s obvious the development team at Factor 5 loved Star Wars and loved working on this game.
Rogue Leader doesn’t just succeed on it’s presentation either. The game’s accessible but challenging arcade like gameplay still holds up today, and there are few space combat games that manage to provide more satisfying dogfights than Rogue Leader does. The game is damn hard, but never feels unfair; by the time you get good enough to weave your way through the Death Star II’s interior, you’ll genuinely feel like an accomplished pilot. Without a doubt, Rogue Leader stands as the ultimate form of wish fulfillment for guys like me who grew up playing with X-Wing and TIE Fighter Micro Machines.
4. Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
Jedi Knight began as a sort of spin-off to Lucasart’s Dark Forces shooter series, which were good enough games in their own right, but let’s face it: as fun as shooting Stormtroopers with a blaster is, everyone’s preferred method of combat in the Star Wars universe is with a lightsaber. While Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast wasn’t the first game to let players eviscerate their foes with the series’s most iconic weapon, it was one of the first games to do Jedi combat right. Whether you were hacking off the arms of people who didn’t like you or force pushing crowds of enemies off of ledges, Jedi Outcast was one of the first games to truly succeed in making players feel like Jedi.
3. Star Wars Battlefront II
There’s always been something about Star Wars’ up-close and personal, down-in-the-trenches style of combat that’s always been more appealing to me than the more sterile and physically distant warfare of other sci-fi franchises; Wrath of Khan not withstanding, I’ll take Star Wars’ World War 2 style dogfights and face to face lightsaber battles over Star Trek’s more cerebral Naval-style combat any day.
Just as Rogue Leader managed to perfectly recreate the feeling of the movies’ iconic dog fights, Battlefront II manages to perfectly recreate the franchise’s biggest infantry battles, albeit in a multiplayer setting. Fighting a group of stormtroopers was always fun, but that thrill is intensified when you know that you’re going toe-to-toe with real people instead of simple AI bots. Whether you strafing enemy groups from the air in a fighter or turning the tide as one of the game’s unlockable Jedi characters, Battlefront perfectly manage to recapture the epic feel of a big Star Wars battle. Hell, it even managed to make the Prequel era seem interesting and fun, and that’s no small feat, and the surprisingly meaty (though sometimes repetitive) single player campaign actually succeeds in giving some pathos to the movies’ faceless squads of clone/storm troopers. The game is still available today for a pittance on Steam, so if you’re in the mood for a great multiplayer shooter with a Star Wars twist, give it a shot.
2. Star Wars: The Old Republic
Like Battlefront II, one aspect of The Old Republic’s appeal is giving you the chance to explore (and blow up parts) of the Star Wars universe with your friends over the internet. But while The Old Republic isn’t the first Star Wars MMO, it’s arguably the best, and part of what makes it such a great MMO is it’s ability to let players shun the usual MMO trappings completely.
Now, that may sound strange, but as fun as it is to play with others, dealing with the crowds and the dailyl grind of MMO’s can get tiresome. Thankfully, Bioware has managed to make The Old Republic a fun solo game as well; while companionship is great, lone wolves or those tired of Guild drama will be glad to know that most of The Old Republic is completely playable solo, and like Bioware’s single player offerings, the narrative here is engaging enough to keep you entertained even if you don’t have any friends to play with (or friends, period). Sure, The Old Republic isn’t perfect — as with any other MMO, it has its fair share of bugs and balance issues, and the overzealous admins seem to use any excuse to ban players — but The Old Republic is one of those rare games that has something for everyone; people who play MMO’s for the social aspect will find a healthy community of mostly pleasant players to hang out with, while traditional RPG fans will find plenty of the high-quality stories that Bioware is famous for.
1. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Sure, The Old Republic may have a multiplayer element and technically more story content, but as far as I’m concerned, nothing beats the original Knights of the Old Republic. The game simply has one of the best narratives ever committed to a game: its cast of characters is as witty and memorable as the cast from the original trilogy (especially the sociopath droid HK-47,) the dialogue is witty, and the game has what is undeniably the coolest and most unexpected twist to ever happen in a game’s story ever.
While the game’s blocky, low-res graphics haven’t aged well, the gameplay still holds up: players can customize their characters with a slew of interesting skills and equipment, and the combat system manages to find the right balance of accessibility and depth. But like I said earlier, the reason why Knights of the Old Republic is so fondly remembered is because of its amazing story, and it’s still worth going back to and playing if you haven’t experienced it yet. As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one true prequel to the original Star Wars trilogy movies, and it’s KotOR.
With only five spots, I couldn’t fit in every great Star Wars game, but here’s a few that just barely missed the cut: The Lego Star Wars games are great if you’re looking for a shallow, but fun action/platformer, and their perfect for introducing younger gamers to the Star Wars universe. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Star Wars Republic Commando, which somehow manages to successfully shoehorn a gritty, squad-based shooter into the setting of the prequel trilogy; I hate both the prequels and military shooters, but somehow, Republic Commando makes both work for me. Republic Commando is available on Steam, but it seems to have trouble running on modern videocards, so it might be best to just play it on an Xbox 1. Finally, there is of course JVC and Sculptured Software’s Super Star Wars series of games for the SNES, which, outside of a few frustrating Mode-7 based vehicle levels, are pretty fantastic 16-bit platformers. You can pick up all 3 of the games in the Super Star Wars trilogy for a few bucks each on the Wii’s Virtual Console, but if you’ve still got a SNES, it’s worth noting that the actual cartridges of the games only sell for a few bucks more.
Now if you excuse me, I have to get back to Mass Effect 3, another game which owes a lot to Star Wars and the work of Ralph McQuarrie. From what I’m told, ME3 even has an ending on par with Return of the Jedi’s completely awkward Ewok dance party, so the influence there is strong indeed.