For the first time in more than a decade, we can play X-wing and TIE Fighter without having to break out ISO images and Dosbox thanks to Good Old Games, which released the two of them on Tuesday. It's been a long time coming. A really long time.
Up until now, fans of the LucasArts space combat sims have mostly only known frustration. Following the release of X-wing Alliance in 1999, the well of Star Wars space sims dried up as Totally Games moved on to other projects. Calls for a sequel were mostly ignored, and when LucasArts released a raft of Star Wars games on Steam a few years back, X-wing and TIE Fighter were conspicuously absent.
Excitement rose when Disney purchased the property and almost immediately announced Star Wars: Attack Squadrons—a free-to-play online featuring 16-player dogfights, but hopes were dashed when the game was canned earlier this year. X-wing and TIE Fighter fans just couldn't catch a break, it seemed. They couldn't get so much as an admittedly average-looking multiplayer Rogue Squadron knockoff.
Thus, when Good Old Games announced the release of X-wing and TIE Fighter on their service earlier this week, the relief and excitement was palpable. It didn't even matter that most people don't have flightsticks anymore, and that X-wing in particular doesn't hold up particularly well. All that matters is that Disney is finally willing to acknowledge two of the best Star Wars games ever made, perhaps opening up the door for a new game.
I celebrated yesterday by spending $10 on a copy X-wing Special Edition and hopping into the cockpit of a T-65 to shoot down a few TIE Fighters. I even used a CH Flightstick Pro, which I had purchased a few months ago to play TIE Fighter.
Before I continue, there are a couple important things you should know about these releases.
1. The 1994 version is way better than 1998 version: I give all the credit in the world to Good Old Games for putting out both 1994's X-wing Collector's CD-Rom and 1998's X-wing Collector's Series; but let's face facts: X-wing Collector's Series is not a very good upgrade. In fact, it's terrible. X-wing Collector's Series' marginally better graphics—the 1998 version is based on the X-wing vs. TIE Fighter engine—comes out at the cost of much of the original's flavor. It lacks dynamic music, launch cutscenes, much of the in-game dialogue, and the (admittedly not that useful) ability to set a wingman. In place of all that, it features slightly more detailed menus from the Mac version of the game, and a Redbook audio soundtrack from the movies that plays on loop. As much as X-wing doesn't really hold up—which I'll get to in a bit—the original is just more fun.
2. The port is worth getting for the strategy guide alone: X-wing and TIE Fighter gets my vote for the best strategy guides of all time. I mean, this passage alone tells you all you need to know about you're in store for:
X-wing's strategy guide takes the story from the Farlander Papers included with the original game and expands it into a full-on piece of Expanded Universe fiction. It was so good that it actually became canon for a time. Keyan Farlander, pilot of that one Y-wing that flees the Death Star alongside Luke and Han, even pops up in some of the later EU fiction.
For a young Star Wars fan circa 1994, it offered such valuable information as the origins of Palpatine's name and the origin of the Rebel Alliance, plus a lot of really sweet artwork. Until the Internet became more of a thing in the late '90s, the X-wing strategy guide was basically my Star Wars bible. If you're a Star Wars fan, it's worth spending the $10 just for the .pdf of the strategy guide, which Good Old Games has thoughtfully included with the package. It's a treasure.
As for X-wing itself, well, it's a bit rough these days. In comparison to the much more advanced TIE Fighter, it lacks such basic amenities as the ability to check mission objectives, and the lack of an "Abort Mission! Mission a Failure!" signal makes it difficult to tell when you've accidentally destroyed a vital ship, as I did in Mission 1. The lack of time acceleration also means spending a lot of time sitting around waiting for transports to dock with freighters. And it's worth noting that the ship variety in X-wing is quite limited, with the likes of the TIE Advanced, TIE Defender, Victory Star Destroyer, Light Calamari Cruiser, and Z-95 Headhunter not appearing until the sequel.
The core is there, though, which is what matters if you're a fan of the series. It's still a blast to zip around and shoot down TIE Fighters. It's also worth playing if you like a challenge, because this game is hard. Mission 4 is so hard, in fact, that it was immortalized in Michael Stackpole's X-wing novels as a particularly nasty training scenario for aspiring New Republic pilots. If you can beat that mission, then you know you've made it as an X-wing pilot... at least until you have to take out a rather large minefield solo in a later mission.
Personally? I'm sympathetic to the Rebel Alliance, but I think TIE Fighter is infinitely more playable these days. It's far more polished, has a better soundtrack, features a more extensive and interesting story, and has a much wider selection of ships, not to mention secondary objectives and bonus goals. In some ways, TIE Fighter Collector's CD-Rom, which is also available on Good Old Games, is the peak of the series.
If you prefer flying X-wings, however, there's always the chance that Good Old Games will eventually release X-wing vs. TIE Fighter and X-wing Alliance, both of which apply TIE Fighter's advances to the rebel side of the equation. X-wing Alliance in particular goes all out in dramatically expanding the scope of the missions and the engine. Some may prefer the feel of TIE Fighter to that of X-wing Alliance, but there's no denying that the latter is the most ambitious entry in the series in the date, and it would be a shame if it didn't make it to Good Old Games.
Mostly though, I'm just happy to be able to play legitimate versions of some of my favorite games again. Regardless of whether this is something bigger, I've never been happier to break out my flightstick and shoot down some TIE Fighters.