Star Wars: A history in video games
Not just one of the biggest movie franchises in history, Star Wars has also spread its influence across the world of video games. From expansive role-playing titles, third-person action games to flight simulators; George Lucas’s universe has provided a variety of gaming genres ever since the original film in 1977. This week, players will get the chance to dive into Star Wars Battlefront II, a sprawling multiplayer shooter that also features a single-player campaign from the point of view of the Empire, and have been able to try out an open beta earlier this year. So, here’s a brief history of Star Wars’s best video game entries.
Star Wars Arcade – 1983
One of the earliest Star Wars games was a first-person space simulator built for the arcades. Considered a classic during the ‘golden age of arcade video games’ alongside Space Invaders and Atari’s Asteroids, it simulated the attack on the Death Star from the 1977 original using vector display technology. Its popularity later saw it converted to multiple home consoles, including the Atari 2600 and Commodore 64.
Super Star Wars (SNES) – 1992
The franchise met classic run-and-gun gameplay in this smash series of games for the SNES. With multiple playable characters from Luke Skywalker to Chewbacca, and various vehicle-based stages, these notoriously difficult titles were the most popular Star Wars games of their age. It was later revived on the Wii Virtual console in 2009 and is currently slated to be re-released again on the Playstation 4 for a Darth Vader console bundle.
Star Wars: X-Wing series (PC) – 1993
Lauded with acclaim at the time of release, the first entry in the X-Wing series arrived during a significant technological jump in gaming with the rise of 3D polygon graphics. It was followed by Star Wars: TIE fighter which surpassed the original in almost every way, pitting players directly in the cockpit of the most iconic spaceships with cutting-edge production value.
Star Wars: Jedi Knight series (PC, Playstation) – 1995
Making lightsaber combat a core focus, the Jedi Knight series began with Dark Forces, the first official Star Wars first-person shooter. Its sequel, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, was not only a mouthful, but introduced a hugely popular online multiplayer mode which became a signature of the series; allowing 32 people to master the force against each other across the world.
Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (Nintendo 64) – 1996
Set between the events of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Shadows of the Empire was part of a multimedia experiment which, in hindsight, opened the gates to a variety of spin-offs. Running alongside a novel and a comic series, the game follows new character Dash Rendar; a human male smuggler, as he hunts down notorious bounty hunter Boba Fett. While rough around the edges, there was an enjoyable shooter to be found here, and at its time, featured one of the best recreations of the snowy planet, Hoth.
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron (Nintendo 64) – 1998
Factor 5’s Rogue Squadron was a technical showcase and thrilling marvel. The sequel, Rogue Leader for the Nintendo Gamecube, was the series high-point; bringing the iconic Death Star trench chase to life with barrages of lasers and swarms of swirling TIE fighters. A follow-up entitled Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike introduced on-foot sections, but these games will always be remembered for the sensational dogfights among the stars.
Star Wars Episode 1: Racer (Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, Arcades) – 1999
The best sequence of The Phantom Menace spawned an entire series of pod-racing spin-offs. The first for the Nintendo 64 captured the speed, destructive takedowns and treacherous courses to a tee. An arcade version was also released which offered actual thruster controls; an essential experience for anyone with a vivid imagination and pent up road rage.
Star Wars Episode 1: Jedi Power Battles (Playstation, Dreamcast, Gameboy Advance) – 2000
Ugly, clunky but still bizarrely addictive; this tough 2-player co-op adventure was a source of both buggy frustration and intermittent joy back in 2000. Players could pick from Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn, Mace Windu, Adi Gallia and Plo Koon, as they rattle past endless droids over the events of Episode I. You’ll just have to overlook the frustrated tears and broken pad trauma caused by the dreaded ‘platforming’ sections.
Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds (PC) – 2001
What happens when Age of Empires meets Star Wars? You get Galactic Battlegrounds. While an obvious Star Wars reskin (built on the same engine and borrowing many of the same mechanics), Galactic Battlegrounds was still an enjoyable riff on the real-time strategy formula. An expansion pack was also released entitled the Clone Campaigns, to tie with the release of Attack of the Clones.
Star Wars: Bounty Hunter (Playstation 2, Gamecube) – 2002
Possibly the best character introduced in the prequel trilogy; Jango Fett, father of Boba, received the slightly-above-average video game treatment back in 2002. Set before Attack of the Clones, this title was a riotous blast before its repetitive nature creeps into play – offering jet-packs, his trademark blaster pistols, hidden flamethrowers and signature jet-pack rocket. It was a solid outing which certainly deserves a sequel during the next, imminent wave of Star Wars video games.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (Xbox, PC) – 2003
Widely considered the greatest Star Wars game series, BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic was an RPG delight which served as a precursor to their own critically-lauded Mass Effect series. Rich with lore, excellent dialogue and deep combat systems, it played a significant role in expanding the Star Wars universe far beyond the movies, and is a regular staple of ‘greatest games of all time’ lists.
Star Wars: Battlefront & Star Wars: Battlefront 2 (PS2, Xbox, PC) – 2004 & 2005
Two of the most fondly remembered shooters of their era, Star Wars: Battlefront and Star Wars: Battlefront 2 (distinguishable because it has a colon, that’s the only way to tell the difference by name), are still played to this day. While it has a strong campaign that takes place across the Star Wars timeline, it does end up being somewhat of a horde shooter, where you feel like a hero. That’s definitely not a bad thing though.
Lego Star Wars (Playstation 2, Xbox, Gamecube, PC, Mac) – 2005
It’s hard to remember a time before Lego games. Batman, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Marvel Superheroes; they’ve all earned the blocky treatment over recent years, but it was Star Wars which began the stud-collecting phenomena. The original, released in 2005, covered the events of the prequel trilogy, but fans weren’t truly satisfied until September 2006, when Traveller’s Tales released a comical spin on the adventures of Luke Skywalker and co. Addictive, light-hearted and accessible to all, Lego Star Wars kept the force alive for an entire post-prequel generation.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii) – 2008
Possess a natural tendency for the dark side? The Force Unleashed sees you play Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, ‘StarKiller’, who is tasked with hunting the Jedi and slaughtering slews of rebel forces along the way. With lightning-fast action and some excellent force-based physics to experiment with on enemies, this series provided a refreshingly darker take on the usual Star Wars video game fare.
Star Wars: The Old Republic (Windows) – 2011
Developed by BioWare, Star Wars: The Old Republic didn’t meet much fanfare when it came out. Up against the likes of World of Warcraft in the MMORPG genre, it struggled to find its place at first. Over time, with content updates and after eventually going free to play, it’s had a strong following since, with the sixth expansion being released in December 2016.
Kinect Star Wars (Xbox 360) – 2012
When Microsoft’s advanced motion-detecting camera was first unveiled, imaginations immediately turned to unleashing our inner-Jedi. Unfortunately, those dreams were soon quashed by Kinect Star Wars from Terminal Reality. A collection of mini-games better suited to ushering young padawans into the series who can’t tell their Wookies from their Ewoks, it was a disappointingly tepid title, which barely scratched the surface of the Kinect’s potential. So it’s all on you, virtual reality.
Star Wars Battlefront (PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One) – 2015
A new hope for Star Wars video games; Battlefield developer DICE revamped the Battlefront series into an grand-scale multiplayer shooter which delivered the most authentic fan service to date. An issue with longevity and a fragmented player base after new paid-for maps appeared meant that it didn’t entirely fulfill its potential, but its upcoming sequel, Star Wars Battlefront II, is looking to do just that.