It's been a long time in the making, and it's finally here, but was it worth the wait? X-Wing was a fascinating game, and to this day there's still a lot of fun and excitement in that game and its expansion packs. Tie Fighter had one up on X-Wing because it let you be the bad guys -- a dream come true for most of us.
After all, who wouldn't want to fly the sleek and sexy looking Tie Interceptor, or the loaded-to-the-teeth Imperial Gunboat which that game introduced? It's not just the addictive gameplay, good cut-scenes, and large variety of missions that made these products successful, it was the fantastic story that tied both games and all of their add-on packs together and which made the player feel like a part of the Star Wars universe.
Before you read any further, I'll tell you right now: X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter missed the boat when it came to a story. In fact, there isn't a story or plot at all. It's just not a very good solo game. 'Nuff said.
X-Wing looked good for its time, then Tie Fighter came along and, though it used low-res VGA too, it looked better. Then the Tie Fighter CD was released, and SVGA finally became part of the package... but it wasn't the super-stunning SVGA as we know it today, just plain flat polygons, with some shading here and there.
X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter is not a Direct3D or 3Dfx enhanced game, but DAMN, it looks good. First off, you can choose between 256 and 65,000 color modes. In 16bit, it looks really good. Not spectacular, but pretty darn impressive. Still, there's no denying that Direct3D or specific hardware support for 3Dfx or Rendition chipsets would have looked even better. All of the models look just as they did in Tie Fighter CD, but they're textured, shaded, and just generally more realistic. A 3D update is in the works, and Larry Holland of Totally Games has claimed it will be available in 60-90 days, MAYBE sooner. All hope is not lost yet. :-)
Audio-wise, XvT isn't very different from Tie Fighter CD. It sounds GREAT, because Tie Fighter did. The laser blasts, concussion missiles, explosions... they all bring back fond memories of Tie Fighter and X-Wing. There MAY be a little more radio chatter going on in XvT, but that's about all I noticed. And, I can't forget to mention the awesome background music supplied by John Williams which you'll hear throughout the game.
You'll have to look at this game from the proper perspective in order to fully appreciate it. Don't expect a novel to set up the plot and put you in the shoes of a character. Don't even expect a plot! You won't find either in the XvT box. What you'll find is a keyboard reference card, install troubleshooting guide, a manual, and a jewel case containing the two X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter CD-ROMs.
You just can't compare X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter to Tie Fighter or X-Wing. If you do, you'll realize how inferior XvT really is as a single-player space sim. You've got to look at the single-player portion of XvT as a training grounds for multiplayer XvT. Over a LAN, XvT is just what most of us Star Wars fanatics have always dreamed of: the ability to jump into the cockpit of an X-Wing, with your best friend going head-2-head against you in Darth Vader's Tie Advanced! Best of all, LucasArts gives you 2 CDs, so you can play with a buddy without having to buy the game twice.
There are around 50 missions to choose from. Rather than offering a campaign structure like its classic predecessors, LucasArts has broken the missions down into five categories: "Exercise", "Melee", "Tournament", "Combat" and "Battle".
Exercise consists of missions that seem to be designed for newbies who've never played the original X-Wing or Tie Fighter products. Objectives include basic shooting skills, how to use lasers, setting the different recharge rates, using secondary weapons systems, etc. In all, there are seven basic single-player missions, seven cooperative missions meant for two-players, and an additional four missions meant for eight player cooperative LAN or internet training which recreates historic battles. The training missions offer the voice of an instructor while you're in the cockpit -- an additional plus for newbies who don't like reading the manual before playing the game. :-)
Melee is just what it sounds like, a proving grounds. Here you'll find six free-for-all missions, including choices like "Basic Furball", "Furball for Two-Man Teams", "Furball for two Four-Man Teams" and "Furball in an Asteroid Field". A few "two four-man team" and "four two-man team" missions are also included under the Melee option. All of the Melee missions are won by an overall score, which is determined by how many kills are obtained.
Tournament simply groups together some Melee missions, and then the pilot or pilots who win the best out of so many missions is/are the victor(s).
Combat missions are very much like the original X-Wing and Tie Fighter missions. Actually, some may very well be the same missions. It's been a while since I've played either game, but I swear I've played through some of these missions before... only they didn't look this awesome then! Again, like the other missions, so many can be played head-2-head or cooperatively.
Battles simply set you up to play through so many of the Combat missions, and the person or team winning the most missions is the victor.
All missions can be played solo, and most can be played co-op or h-2-h. Best of all, you can choose to play as the Empire or the Rebels. LucasArts claims that, depending on which side you choose, you'll have a completely different mission. The only thing that really changes about a given mission is that you're playing it from the other side. Instead of the aggressor, you're the defender, or vice-versa.
There are nine different craft to choose from. Fly for the Empire and you get to select from the Tie Fighter, Tie Advanced, Tie Bomber, Tie Interceptor and the Assault Gunboat. If the Dark Side isn't your thing, flying for the Rebel cause will let you choose from the X-Wing, Y-Wing, A-Wing or Z95 Headhunter. Wait a minute, where's the B-Wing, and where's the Tie Defender? MIA! There's just NO excuse for not including these two VERY popular craft... but that's just one of XvT's many let-downs.
The game is a lot of fun to play, but once you've flown the missions over a few times... even after using the "Random" option it gets old. It's nowhere near as immersive a solo game as the original X-Wing was, BEFORE any of the expansion packs came along... and it's not even CLOSE to the same league Tie Fighter CD! Nothing links the missions together at all, which really makes a it much more dull experience than it had to be. There's only one cut-scene, and it's the opening sequence, and to add insult to injury, it's not even all that great.
Where XvT really excels is in the multiplayer department. Ever want to get together with some friends to take out a Star Destroyer? How about letting your buddy try and prove that he can kick your X-Wing-flying-ass with a Tie Advanced? You can do that and more, because XvT comes with a special second CD just for multiplayer games. Play head-2-head or co-op, over a LAN, serial connection, or modem... or battle it out over the internet via Microsoft's Internet Gaming Zone or Kali, right out of the box!
What's very annoying about XvT is the fact that it's impossible to judge just how far you are from capital ships. Just when you feel you're at a safe range from a Star Destroyer, it's already in your face, blasting the hell out of you! They REALLY need to work on getting the scaling done right.
We played XvT on the following systems...
Playing the game on the higher-end systems didn't pose much of a problem in 256 color mode. When we bumped it up to 65,000 colors, the performance hit became noticeable on some systems. On the P166 it was VERY noticeable, and when a mega-battle ensued, the frame rate took even more of a hit. Of course, the same applies to the P133. LucasArts' claims of XvT running so well that it doesn't need 3D support are BS. Even on our 200MHz MMX system with loads of RAM, the action became noticeably choppy when we got close to Star Destroyers and Frigates in the middle of a fierce battle with other Imperial and Rebel fighter craft darting all around. On our brand new 266MHz Pentium II, I can't say we noticed a performance hit, but we haven't messed around with the game on that machine enough yet to say for certain.
X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter finally offers analog throttle support, but unless you actually tried your throttle, you'd never know it. They don't bother saying anything about that in the manual or README files. Moving the throttle produces Zero, 1/3, 2/3 & full throttle settings. Nothing more.
It would have been nice if it worked like an aircraft throttle, changing in slight increments, instead of fixed settings. Still, they FINALLY come around and support an analog throttle, and they don't tell us. What's even worse is the fact they've bothered coming that far, but they still left rudder pedal support out of the picture!!! C'mon LucasArts! Wake up! It sure would have been nice to use pedals to roll instead of having to hold down one of the targeting buttons.
Even the twist action of a Sidewinder 3D Pro would have been a nice alternative to what it takes to roll the craft now. The throttle support is also problematic. We've tried XvT on a few different systems, with a few different throttle devices, and sometimes it gives you full, 2/3 & 1/3 throttle, but no zero throttle.
Other times you'll get zero, 1/3 & 2/3, but no full throttle setting! Suffice it to say, they NEED a patch to fix the crappy analog throttle support, and hopefully to add some rudder support. Those of you who were cozy playing X-Wing or Tie Fighter with a mouse or the keyboard alone, may be shocked by XvT>'s lack of support for mouse or keyboard play. A joystick or Direct Input device is REQUIRED to play the game, and there's no way around it that I can think of.
Internet multiplayer games aren't problem-free either. Using the Internet Gaming Zone is not what it was when we played Outlaws over it. My experience with Outlaws gave me the impression the IGZ was really awesome. XvT is nothing at all like Outlaws. You can always find someone to play with at the IGZ, but the process of getting the PCs all hooked up sucks. Lots of times you'll be sitting there, not realizing you'll never connect to the other players.
Other times it connects up real nice, and the gameplay is pretty acceptable, but it's NOTHING at all like a real LAN game of XvT. It's a 50/50 thing over the IGZ. Over Kali, it's not quite as bad. There's just as many people playing it over Kali, and it's been that way since the day XvT was released. Once you've used up your lives in a multiplayer game, and other players are still in combat, you're dropped into a map screen to watch the remainder of the battle. It's a pretty kickass map screen... reminds me a lot of the 3D stellar cartography deck in Star Trek: Generations.
What I DON'T like about multiplayer games of XvT is the fact you can't simply join a game in-progress like you can with Quake. Also, I've encountered an occasional loss of SFX while playing. I can still hear the background music, but no SFX. In another incident, the game just locked up randomly. There are still MANY issues that need addressed in this game. When it works right, it's a kickass multiplayer LAN or modem game, but it's also a very unstable and buggy piece of software.
As much as I hate XvT, I love it just the same. Buying it with multiplayer gaming in mind is the only way to go. If you're expecting all the fun and depth of Tie Fighter CD or the classic X-Wing disks, you'll be extremely disappointed because XvT doesn't deliver half of that. X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter over the modem, LAN or a serial connection can be very addictive, and that's about as good as it gets.
The single-player missions should be considered nothing but a proving grounds or "training wheels" for the multiplayer missions. It is one of the BEST multiplayer games this year, but it has a few serious downfalls. For one, it desperately needs the promised 3D accelerator support. Even on a 200MHz MMX system with 64MB of RAM, it can get a little choppy during some of those SERIOUS mega-battles.
The Internet-play isn't what it's cracked up to be either, because the game tends to poop out on you when you're syncing up with other players. Kali has been a little nicer to us than the Internet Gaming Zone, but your mileage may vary. Also not to be overlooked, the omission of the B-Wing and Tie Defender. They would have made XvT a little more enjoyable.
LucasArts says they didn't include them "...to balance the sides...", but I think it was nothing but a lazy-ass move to leave these two very important spacecraft out of the game. If Larry Holland and Totally Games come through with their promises, we'll have the 3D accelerator support we so desperately need, and there may be a few maintenance updates as well. And, who knows maybe a mission disk giving us what we wanted from XvT in the first place, that's a REAL single player game as well!
If multiplayer gaming is all you expect, XvT is one of the best for LAN & modem play. After all, now we can finally do what we dreamed of so many years ago -- chase down a buddy in an X-Wing or Imperial craft, proving just how good of a hotshot we really are!
Originally published at PC Multimedia & Entertainment Magazine/pcme.com
May 26, 1997
Written by Rod White/Edited by Michael Bendner