X-Wing Alliance Review: The Best Star Wars Space Combat Sim?
A long time ago, in... Hang on, I can't start a Star Wars review like that! Let's try again. Back in the 1990s, LucasArts released a series of PC games that allowed you to pilot your way through your very own Star Wars storyline. X-Wing Alliance was the last and possibly the best of those games.
The Golden Age of Star Wars Games
From X-Wing to X-Wing Alliance to the Rebel Assault games, the mid to late 90's was a great time for Star Wars games - as long you had a PC. With the exception of X-Wing vs TIE Fighter, which was intended to be more of a multi-player version of the previous games with only a token single-player compenent, the games in the series all offered similar gameplay.
Each mission would advance the story, with your primary goal usually being to deliver cargo, protect transports, or engage the enemy, but missions also had secondary and sometimes secret goals and the protection and delivery missions would usually involve some level of dogfighting in order to complete your goal.
X-Wing Alliance was no different, and while the first part of the game sees you carrying out cargo-related missions for your family, they have their own personal little war going on, so you don't have to wait until you join the rebels before you get to engage the enemy.
DOSbox, Compatibility Mode... I Give Up
It's all very well writing about a 12 year old PC game, but is it actually possible to get it to run on a modern system? Well, yes, but it's not easy. These are the hoops I had to jump through to get it to X-Wing Alliance to work on 64-bit Windows 7:
First you'll need to create a temporary folder on your hard drive and copy the contents of cd1 to that folder, then download the installation patch and extract it to the temp folder you created. Run the X-Wing Alliance.msi file from the temp directory to install the game. Once it's finished, download and install the latest official patch. To run the game, use the XWingAlliance.exe file in the games installation folder.
If you want to bring the game a bit closer to modern day standards, then you might need to download the high resolution patch and high resolution fonts in order to run the game at a resolution higher than 640x480, but this might depend on what graphics card you have.
X-Wing Alliance is essentially a flight sim set in the Star Wars universe. A familiar yellow scrolling Star Wars introduction sets the scene for the game, which begins around the same period of time as The Emprie Strikes Back movie.
The story takes place over a series of missions, with you playing Ace Azzameen, who starts the game learning the family trade. These early missions can be a bit slow paced, with the primary mission aim usually being to deliver or inspect cargo.
Fortunately, your family has enemies, and you don't have to fly too many missions before you see some Imperial involvement. Once you join the rebellion, you start to feel a lot more immersed in the Star Wars universe, with later missions tied in with the storyline from the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi movies, with final set of missions taking place during the climactic Battle of Endor.
A joystick is by far the preferred control option, as the game has a lot of keyboard controls and you really need a free hand to make use of them. It might be practical to use a joypad with enough buttons if you put some of the essential keyboard controls onto it, thus minimizing the number of times you need to lunge to the keyboard and leave yourself vulnerable to attack, but it's not really suited to this style of game.
Each mission starts with a short briefing of what is supposed to happen, but don't be surprised if your aims change as the mission takes place. The bottom part of the screen shows your current target, and you'll need to make use of this feature to keep track of any ships that you are trying to attack, inspect or protect. The amount of keyboard controls dedicated to choosing the appropriate target (or even the appropriate part of a target) reflect the importance of this part of the display.
While ugly by the standard of modern games, once you increase the resolution (fullscreen only, I'm afraid) and the detail, X-Wing Alliance starts to look respectable. If you really want to try and bring it up to date, you might want to follow progress at xwaupgrade, where they're redesigning all the models in the game, but even without the new models, you should find the ships recognizable as their big screen counterparts.
X-Wing Alliance sounds a little dated if you were hoping for the full surround sound experience, but it does feature full speech and a familiar collection of Star Wars sound effects, as well as making good use of LucasArts iMuse system, which was very popular at the time and could dynamically alter a game's soundtrack to reflect the on-screen action.
If you have a modern system, this game makes you jump through a lot of hoops to make it run properly, but that's the price you to play some of these older games.
Your enjoyment of X-Wing Alliance will depend on how nostalgic you are for this type of game, but even if you aren't, X-Wing Alliance represents a genre that is sadly under-represented in the modern day. Basically, there just aren't enough games that let you blow up the Death Star nowadays.
However, if you are a fan of Star Wars, but X-Wing Alliance doesn't sound like the game for you, then perhaps there's something in our list of the Ten Best Star Wars PC Games.