Video Game Thoughts: Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire

Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire was a 1996 third-person shooter game by LucasArts. The whole Shadows of the Empire project was a really cool idea. Lucasfilm basically took a chance creating everything that surrounded the making of a movie, without making the movie. So they commissioned a novel, a soundtrack, a video game, comics, and many other things. Since my specialty was video games, that was the product I got into.

The game mostly followed the story of the novel. They couldn’t cover everything in the novel. They just took the best parts with the most action and made video game levels of them. They were able to take some liberties with the game. For example, if the player had to infiltrate an imperial base, the book might describe a few scenes. The game covered all the action because the player got to do all of it.

I really liked the story because it didn’t focus on the main characters from the movies. Pretty much all Star Wars games focused on the movies. I was really happy to see the main character, Dash Rendar, was all new. He did meet-up with the major heroes during several levels, but they were more cameo appearances. They didn’t take over the scenes from Dash Rendar. He was the main hero of this story.

The production values for Shadows of the Empire were huge, having the full weight of all the Lucasfilm companies behind it, but the gameplay itself was a mixed bag. It started off amazing. The first level was a recreation of the Battle of Hoth from the movies. The player got to pilot a snowspeeder shooting down probe droids and AT-STs. The best part was tripping the AT-ATs with the tow cable. It was amazing to be able to play this famous scene from The Empire Strikes Back. The Hoth level was the exception though.

Most of the levels were on foot, featuring light puzzle solving combined with exploration and dispatching of enemies. Many levels had bosses to fight. It was fun going to the various locations and fighting the bosses, but they just weren’t that interesting after the first time. Dash only had a simple blaster pistol. The player could find special weapons for him to use, but ammunition was limited for them. He would quickly run out and be back to using the simple blaster. The enemies usually didn’t have amazing AI. It was just about memorizing all their locations and relying on the auto-aim system to hit everything.

I really enjoyed this game but I think it was more because it was Star Wars than because of the gameplay. It was far from the worst Star Wars game I’ve played, but also far from the best. I think the developers put in a good effort in though. I can’t fault them for being lazy or anything. Many of the ideas they come up with in Shadows of the Empire were later polished up and used in other Star Wars games. For examples, the flying segments were polished and used to make the Star Wars: Rogue Squadron games. The on foot segments probably helped make the Jedi Knight PC games.

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