Review - Star Wars: Rebel Assault

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Martin III
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Review - Star Wars: Rebel Assault

Post by Martin III » Wed Oct 24, 2012 3:49 pm

[Suggestions for improvements to this review are welcome, as I'm planning on submitting it to GameFAQs.]

Rebel Assault sees Lucas Arts dipping a toe into interactive movie style gaming, delivering 15 levels of FMV-supported rail shooting in a variety of styles and cinematics in between. The trouble is, the PC version of the game isn't remotely up to the standards of the 3DO hardware, and Lucas Arts made no improvments, instead just tossing 3DO owners a straight port. The overall product is thus mixed at best when considered as a 3DO title.

First off, the story is woefully underdeveloped. You play a rookie pilot in the rebel forces, going through training missions before taking on the imperial forces themselves, with the destruction of the Death Star being the climax. That's essentially it. The manual provides some back story on your rebel comrades, which helps you care about them a bit, but this doesn't compensate for the fact that almost nothing is done to develop the characters or plot. The whole thing is little more than an excuse to recreate movie scenes like the battle at Hoth and the assault on the Death Star in playable form. Which is fine, but the story could have been something which added to the game's quality, instead of just being there.

And while the story itself is a null, the presentation of it is a negative. The cutscenes are exceedingly grainy, and though presented in FMV-style, are not even full motion; often the only thing animated are the characters' jaws. The fact that realistic designs were used for the characters makes this look all the more silly and dated, especially when compared to other 3DO titles of the era. The one saving grace is the full voice acting. The actual quality of the acting isn't great, but the style undeniably fits the films to a T.

Levels fall into three gameplay styles: third person, overhead, first person, and on foot. Except for the on foot level, they're all rail shooter levels with FMV backgrounds. Unfortunately, 9 out of the 15 are first person, which is typically the most frustrating. Since the scenery is FMV you can't maneuver your ship, just lean it slightly in one of the four cardinal directions, which is used to dodge asteroids and can only be done by moving the aiming reticule to that side of the screen. This does give you more options than Burning Soldier or the shooter parts of Cyberia, but the fact that you can't aim at enemies and dodge at the same time is a pain. Sometimes if you don't shoot a set of enemies the moment they flicker onto the screen, you're forced to chose between hitting an asteroid and taking a round of enemy fire.

The controls are a problem across all four styles. They're jerky, making the cursor jump a significant interval each time the D-pad is pressed. To compensate, the aiming reticule will lock onto any nearby target if the cursor is kept still for a second. Thus, shooting a target in Rebel Assault calls for a combination of speed, patience, and simple strategy, as you need to move the cursor near the most appropriate target, hold until it locks on, then immediately fire. It can make for an engaging challenge that sets the game apart from other rail shooters, but it is hard to get used to, and some gamers won't have the patience.

The on foot level, while a nice change of pace, can be more frustrating than the first person levels. Mostly what you're doing is shooting at imperial troops while avoiding fire by dodging from side-to-side and hiding behind cover, which is fun enough, and the control scheme works well. But in between sections you have to choose from two paths, one of which automatically costs you a life and starts you over at the beginning of the level! The correct path is randomly selected each time you play, too, so you can't use your memory to get around this guessing game.

It must be said that the 3DO version at least wipes the floor with the Sega CD version, but it's technically poor compared to other 3DO titles. Besides the issues already mentioned, the frame rate is quite unimpressive.

Yet, for all the low-quality FMV, weak story, jerky controls, poor frame rate, and moments of immense frustration, I have to say that I overall enjoyed Rebel Assault. Shooting down Imperial Walkers and enemy craft is a thrill, and struggling with the quirks of the gameplay is a challenge that made me rethink my gaming instincts. As frustratingly hard as levels 6 and 12 are, when I finally beat them I felt not relief, but exhilaration and pride. It may not be intelligent design, but there's something about this game that made me rise to its challenges, and enjoy overcoming them.


And now, the subordinate stats followed by a final judgment:

Graphics - Some of the most horrifically grainy FMV seen on the 3DO, even if it does look miles better than the Sega CD version.

Sound - The score from the films is used well here, and the voice acting sounds like it could have come from deleted sequences in the movies.

Longevity - Runs about an hour, and is reasonably challenging on medium difficulty. The multiple difficulty modes, alternate paths, and secondary objectives ensure that a second run will be a little different. Definitely not a game that you'll play over and over, but it lasts long enough.

Gameplay variety - I like the selection of styles available, but the game is too dominated by the first person style, and I enjoyed the third person and overhead styles more.

Rebel Assault is far from a technical triumph, and it certainly isn't for everyone. If you don't like rail shooters, it won't change your mind, and if your frustration threshold is low, you probably won't get more than a third of the way through the game. Even those who like it will admit it's more of a guilty pleasure than a quality game. For what it is, it can be very enjoyable, but you probably shouldn't pick it up unless you have some special interest.

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Re: Review - Star Wars: Rebel Assault

Post by Trev » Wed Oct 24, 2012 4:37 pm

Martin III wrote:The trouble is, the PC version of the game isn't remotely up to the standards of the 3DO hardware, and Lucas Arts made no improvments, instead just tossing 3DO owners a straight port.
Exactly! It's a shame they couldn't have taken advantage of the hardware (I think the Mac port might be enhanced) Dissapointing, as the visuals really do detract when playing the game on a 32-bit system.


I'm like you though, I also enjoyed Rebel Assault. Flaws and all, I think it was a fun game.

Good review. :)
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Post by goldenband » Fri Nov 02, 2012 6:52 am

I'll have to give this one a shot at some point. The Sega CD version becomes almost unplayable on Hard because the targeting lock-ons disappear, so with the horribly compressed video, you end up with enemies that are impossible to spot amidst the grain and clutter of the washed-out backgrounds. I was only able to beat the Death Star trench run by replaying it on Normal while my girlfriend took copious notes on where everything was, and then having her read the notes back to me as I played it on Hard. :D

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Post by Martin III » Fri Nov 02, 2012 1:20 pm

LOL, that's pretty amazing.

I actually found it really confusing how on medium difficulty, the cursor is invisible on the Stormtroopers level. Not because it's particularly hard to aim an invisible cursor on that level, but because I didn't realize there was a cursor at all! I thought you could only adjust your aim horizontally. Occasionally I let my thumb rest on the up directional, and I'd have no idea why all of a sudden none of my shots were registering! :o

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Post by goldenband » Sat Dec 08, 2012 5:17 am

I just played through this on Hard tonight. I was expecting it to be a slam-dunk victory over the Sega CD across the board, but actually there were a couple faults.

The lack of a targeting reticule in the Stormtrooper level is a huge blunder -- what were they thinking by removing that? It's not ultimately that much of a problem, but it does make the third battle in that level a drag. I'm not exactly sure what triggers it, but there are two possible locations for the third battle, and in one of them I was never able to shoot enemies in the extreme upper left -- but they sure could shoot me! Fortunately I was able to clear the alternate location, where I was able to shoot all of my opponents, but I had to replay the level a bunch of times.

In the process, I noticed that in the first battle, the stormtrooper on the right will never actually shoot you -- his shots will all go around you. You can focus exclusively on the left trooper (who always shows up at the same spot) and simply ignore the one on the right! It becomes so mechanical that I just changed over to TV and watched Wheel of Fortune with my fiancée while holding down the fire button and waiting for the battle to finish. :D

I also discovered that when you're choosing between left and right paths, you can let your character sit idle and heal all his injuries. Since it can take several minutes for him to fully heal, that too was a Wheel of Fortune moment.

The other issue was that, in some of the space missions, the targeting reticule moved in a very "granular" way -- in little steps, instead of a smooth motion. That made it harder to aim, and adds to the frustration in some difficult ("Cut the chatter!") areas with fast-moving enemies. I don't remember having that problem in the Sega CD version.

That said, the graphical and framerate upgrades over the Sega CD version are huge, and the improvement in visibility makes a big difference to gameplay. Another plus is the improved HUD, which (among other things) adds a "LOCK" cue that tells you when your targeting reticule is overlapping an enemy. So now you can see your enemies and know when to shoot them, which makes the Death Star trench run infinitely more playable (at least on Hard). But the asteroid mission is still a memorization game, unfortunately.

There's also an additional mission that's not in the Sega CD version, in which you fly through narrow caverns and blow up Imperial drones. The maze element is a nice touch, but I'm not the biggest fan of rail shooters that combine obstacle navigation with must-kill enemies who never miss a shot. Being asked to steer and aim at the same time inevitably leads to unfair situations, though the level itself isn't as tough as some.

Anyway, I gave the Sega CD version 3/10, and I'd give the 3DO version around 5/10. The asteroid level is still kind of inexcusable, and taking away the reticule in the Stormtrooper mission was just dumb. But there's still a fair bit of fun to be had from the game, and certainly some satisfaction in beating it.

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Post by Martin III » Sat Dec 08, 2012 3:12 pm

goldenband wrote:The lack of a targeting reticule in the Stormtrooper level is a huge blunder -- what were they thinking by removing that?
From what I'm told, it's part of the difficulty mode gradient. Easy mode has the targeting reticule; normal and hard modes don't. Also, since the 3DO version is basically a straight port of the PC version, I suspect it's not that they added this element to the 3DO version, but that they removed it from the Sega CD version.

Anyway, I like the way the 3DO version does it better. It makes sense for you to have an aiming reticule in your ship's cockpit, but if you have an aiming reticule in your eye, something's very wrong with you. :lol: Its absence gives that mission a much more realistic, immersive feel, and helps set it apart from your typical rail shooter level.
goldenband wrote:In the process, I noticed that in the first battle, the stormtrooper on the right will never actually shoot you -- his shots will all go around you. You can focus exclusively on the left trooper (who always shows up at the same spot) and simply ignore the one on the right! It becomes so mechanical that I just changed over to TV and watched Wheel of Fortune with my fiancée while holding down the fire button and waiting for the battle to finish. :D
He should be able to shoot you unless you took cover on the right. While you obviously can take cover on one side and just shoot the stormtroopers on the other one, I found it more fun (and still easy enough) to take them all out. This was on normal mode, though...
goldenband wrote:That said, the graphical and framerate upgrades over the Sega CD version are huge, and the improvement in visibility makes a big difference to gameplay. Another plus is the improved HUD, which (among other things) adds a "LOCK" cue that tells you when your targeting reticule is overlapping an enemy. So now you can see your enemies and know when to shoot them, which makes the Death Star trench run infinitely more playable (at least on Hard). But the asteroid mission is still a memorization game, unfortunately.
Yep, that asteroid mission, while essentially fair, is quite a pain. I'm shocked to hear that you prefer the game on hard mode.

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Post by goldenband » Sat Dec 08, 2012 10:32 pm

Martin III wrote:From what I'm told, it's part of the difficulty mode gradient. Easy mode has the targeting reticule; normal and hard modes don't. Also, since the 3DO version is basically a straight port of the PC version, I suspect it's not that they added this element to the 3DO version, but that they removed it from the Sega CD version.
Ah, that makes total sense. I didn't consider that possibility, since I was used to the way the Sega CD version handles difficulty.
Martin III wrote:Anyway, I like the way the 3DO version does it better. It makes sense for you to have an aiming reticule in your ship's cockpit, but if you have an aiming reticule in your eye, something's very wrong with you. :lol: Its absence gives that mission a much more realistic, immersive feel, and helps set it apart from your typical rail shooter level.
Fair point, though I was thrown by the disconnect between the shooter's pose and the angle at which the bullets come out. Sometimes it would approach 45 degrees!
Martin III wrote:He should be able to shoot you unless you took cover on the right. While you obviously can take cover on one side and just shoot the stormtroopers on the other one, I found it more fun (and still easy enough) to take them all out. This was on normal mode, though...
You know, I have to confess that I completely forgot you can move around in this level (admittedly, it's a little counterintuitive). I don't even know if I ever moved around in the Sega CD version -- I just took everyone out.
Martin III wrote:Yep, that asteroid mission, while essentially fair, is quite a pain. I'm shocked to hear that you prefer the game on hard mode.
Oh, I don't prefer it by any means -- I'm just one of those weirdos that doesn't really feel like he's beaten a game until he beats it on the hardest difficulty setting. :) And since I'd beaten the Sega CD version just a few months ago, I figured I'd just skip straight to Hard when I started the 3DO version (though I did practice the asteroid mission on Easy, and also played through Beggar's Canyon on Normal when I first tested out the disc).

I personally don't think the asteroid mission is quite fair on Hard, since you really don't have enough information to judge what's going on without memorization. That's a big pet peeve of mine in FMV games, and for that matter I've never been a fan of rail shooters that force you into foreign objects (if pressed, I'd probably say I prefer my rail shooters collision-free). But either way my old notes got me through after only a few attempts.

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Post by Martin III » Fri Dec 14, 2012 2:50 pm

goldenband wrote:
Martin III wrote:He should be able to shoot you unless you took cover on the right. While you obviously can take cover on one side and just shoot the stormtroopers on the other one, I found it more fun (and still easy enough) to take them all out. This was on normal mode, though...
You know, I have to confess that I completely forgot you can move around in this level (admittedly, it's a little counterintuitive). I don't even know if I ever moved around in the Sega CD version -- I just took everyone out.
Yeah, it is a bit counterintuitive. For that matter, I must confess I initially assumed that you could only adjust your aim horizontally on that level! My thumb would occasionally rest too hard on the up or down directional, and I'd wonder why the heck I suddenly couldn't hit any of the stormtroopers, thinking it must be some weird bug! :oops:
goldenband wrote:I personally don't think the asteroid mission is quite fair on Hard, since you really don't have enough information to judge what's going on without memorization. That's a big pet peeve of mine in FMV games, and for that matter I've never been a fan of rail shooters that force you into foreign objects (if pressed, I'd probably say I prefer my rail shooters collision-free). But either way my old notes got me through after only a few attempts.
I like dangerous scenery in rail shooters fine, though I don't think it works well in first person, as in the asteroid mission. It can be hard to judge where the obstacle is coming from. Still, I found that with most of the asteroids in that mission, I could tell which way to dodge on the first time. So to me it seemed pretty fair. My biggest hangup with the mission was actually the instances where you're almost simultaneously assaulted by ships and an asteroid.

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