X-Wing – Part 4

Playing X-Wing has been on the backburner for the last week as Summer hit the UK for what seems like the first time in a couple of years. I did forgo the decent weather on a couple of evenings to finish it off though.

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The remainder of tour #2 dealt with protecting ships carrying the data on the Death Star interspersed with some memorable missions to take out another Star Destroyer. These involve attacking its various escorts in some build up missions followed by a direct assault where I have to destroy its shield generator towers on the top of the bridge as shown in before and after shots above.


Destroying these towers is simpler than it sounds. I make a beeline straight for them and shoot out both at short-range with torpedoes. I then have to survive long enough for groups of Y-Wings to inflict enough damage which is where the real challenge lies as this must take about another 15 minutes. It goes down with a satisfying explosion in the end.

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It’s back to the protection missions after this with the end of tour cut scene popping up a mission early as Princess Leia safely delivers the plans. I was starting to lose interest a little when the missions in the middle of this second tour got a little shaky but it picked up in the last third again.

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The final tour is never going to suffer from any lack of momentum as it deals with the rebel search for the Death Star. The missions are gradually getting bolder with bigger more complex operations such as capturing an entire frigate.

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The first cutscene of the tour recreates some famous parts of the movie where the Death Star is test fired, complete with hand painted Peter Cushing and a guy ducking out of the way of the firing beam.

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As this final campaign progresses I find that I’m starting to die a whole lot less whether that’s because the missions stop getting harder or me getting better. There is certainly a sense that everything has already been thrown at me by this point in the game. The 3 varieties of TIE are relatively straightforward at this point since they only require a handful of hits and combat with the gunboats has also lost its novelty. I could have sworn I got to fight TIE advanced fighters in this last tour but there is no sign of them by the time we track down the Death Star and it makes its first appearance as a bitmap in space.

This is a strange mission where I have to destroy a comm-sat orchestrating the defences but nothing else. It may not be the right way to play it but I just make dashes for it alternated with flying round in circles avoiding missiles. Once I’m close enough for a missile lock I quickly fire off a shot not waiting for full lock and it’s mission complete without ever firing my lasers.

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What I’ve really been wanting to get to are the missions on the death star surface which complete the game. For the first of these I have to destroy four hangar points “disguised” as ordinary cargo containers as well as taking out all turbolaser towers within 2km of a nav buoy. First impressions of the death star surface are that it’s a mass of featureless grey…

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… but I’m glad to say that there are a lot more features when I fly lower down with trenches along the surface, laser towers and other features. Everything stuck on the surface can be blown up as well and this does still look fairly decent for a game of this age. I just about remember getting this far on my 386 only to find that these missions were all but impossible as they ground to a halt. Thankfully that isn’t a problem these days and it’s just as fluid as the rest of the game.

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The four hanger ports will continuously launch fighters until I destroy them so first priority is to deal with these. They are placed in trenches so for the most part I can’t just torpedo them at distance and have to fly to each in turn although there are two in each trench 6km apart so they can be taken out in pairs if I line up my ship with the trench first.

After ignoring them at first, I found myself getting swamped by TIE’s by the time I destroyed the 3rd hangar so I thinned out their numbers destroyed the last and then could have some piece to move onto the turbolasers. This is simply a case of targeting the nav buoy and flying within 2km of it shooting anything tower shaped. The towers do shoot back but they don’t do nearly enough damage for this to be a challenge and I got through this mission on my second attempt.

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At long last I reach the anticipated trench run. This plays out just like the film where I have to dive into the trench, my R2 will somehow manage to double my ship speed, then I have to fly down it and land a torpedo into the vent.


I start out a good distance from the trench with 3 TIE’s to deal with. I also spot some TIE advanced fighters while I’m out here but I was nearly at the trench at this point so I kept going. I presume these were there as a little bonus + a sign of what was to come in the first expansion pack.

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The trench is littered with laser shooting targets and varieties of beams which need to be avoided. This is where the time on the maze at the start of the game comes into its own as this is much the same skillset needed here. I remember finding this hugely difficult in the past and ultimately resorting to a curious strategy of diving in and out of the trench from what I recall. Coming over the top would reduce my speed but did mean I wasn’t in danger of flying into beams all the time.

Probably thanks to the extra horsepower I’ve got available to run this now the mission turns out to be a cakewalk and I’ve soon got the vent in sight. Any temptation to slow to a halt has to be resisted due to the huge number of lasers surrounding it which would no doubt shred my shields if I hung around. I keep it traditional instead impacting the surface with my first torpedo shot but hitting with the second one at closer range.

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With the universe saved for now I’m awarded another medal and it’s back to the concourse for another tour. That completes the original game though and it’s where I’m going to stop. From what I recall of the two mission packs Defender of the Empire was brutally difficult and fully introduced the TIE advanced to mix things up a little. B-Wing added a whole new ship to fly but most of the campaign was spent escorting tug pilots ferrying the things around before they made their way into service. They were both worthy additions but I’ve blogged enough on a game that shouldn’t strictly be on an Origin Systems site in the first place.

The two main reasons I wanted to play this again were to see if it lived up to my memories and also see how it stacked up when compared to Wing Commander. I’d have to say that it’s arguably not quite as good I remembered with a lack of variety in opposition. It also wasn’t anything like as difficult with the tactics needed for each mission being readily apparent most of the time. Basically if you are protecting a ship (and you usually are), take out the bombers, shuttles and transports in preference to everything else. Also, if any particular ship/squadron stands out as being unusual make a beeline for it as you can guarantee that is the one targeting whatever it is you are protecting. If it had been as difficult as I recalled then I probably wouldn’t have made it to the end of course as this is a game that required a serious investment of time. Successful missions take long enough without having too many replays.

Despite a slight lack of variety in enemies, the mission design made up for it and X-Wing is still extremely good fun to play without a doubt. There are precious few modern equivalents to compare this to but I was far more engaged with it than Strike Suit Zero for instance. It’s stood the test of time exceptionally well but it would benefit from being in higher definition. I’m usually a traditionalist but as such I would recommend the remake for that reason even without the original music.

As for a comparison with Wing Commander I just don’t see them as being all that similar. X-Wing clearly has its roots in traditional flight sims whereas I would see Wing Commander being a product of arcade shooters. It’s a little like comparing Ridge Racer to Grand Prix Legends (if admittedly much less extreme). As such people are bound to have preferences for one or the other but the vitriol this debate seemed to spark for Wing Commander in much of the UK press in the 90’s was ludicrous and it looks a whole lot like fanboyism. Speaking for myself, I would still side with X-Wing in the gameplay department although I could imagine that the slow pace would infuriate some gamers.

Where Wing Commander really has X-Wing beaten is the presentation and story. It’s curious that the Star Wars game is the less cinematic but even Wing Commander 1 puts it to shame. The X-Wing series at it’s best could never be as involving for me as playing Wing Commander 4.

Ultimately picking a winner between these two is pointless so I’m not going to when I could be playing one of them instead. I’m now an owner of the impressively oversized PS1 dual joystick controller so if this thing actually works the intention is to get back to WC4 next.

X-Wing – Part 2

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Each of the 3 ships in X-Wing comes with 6 historical missions of increasing difficulty to be completed before the player moves onto the real combat, although once again this is entirely optional and could be skipped. I wouldn’t dream of doing that of course and will work my way through each of these missions ship by ship.

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The briefing before each mission comes with an animated map talking me through the mission followed by a few pages of text containing further details and storyline. On this CD re-release all of this has digital speech with surprisingly decent voicing. Apart from a handful of cutscenes this is all the storyline that X-Wing will have to offer. It’s enough to give the missions some character and purpose but the storyline isn’t what will keep you playing ultimately. There is however the lure of flying the trench run at the end of the game which certainly grabbed my attention as a teenager. The first historical mission is an attack against a ship yard with some unmanned ships, others that move but don’t fly and a couple that fight back if I loiter long enough.


Before launching, we see one of the more unusual aspects of X-Wing in that I can assign saved human pilots to other ships in the mission. I can’t say this is something I ever tried but as I understand it it’s possible to train up a second pilot and put them in any of the other ships (or just use your friend/relatives pilot). Their skill in the mission would then be based on the score amassed with that pilot presumably at the risk that they could die off and lose all their progress (not that all this couldn’t be got around with some file copying in DOS). If this option isn’t used I think the friendly computer pilots skill level is based around your own when going into the mission.

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This first mission proves to be a good chance to get used to basic dogfighting against some easy targets. The empire uses 3 fighters in the earlier stages of the game which are TIE fighters, bombers and interceptors. Bombers are the only ones to carry torpedoes and will provide the main threat to larger ships. Interceptors are faster and have an extra pair of lasers over the other two. None of these fighters are shielded and will die with 2-4 full power hits so the main challenge is in scoring those hits as TIE’s are extremely small and quick to turn, especially when the pilot skill level increases later in the game. The experience of trying to shoot them perfectly captures the essence of the films although it’s fairly easy in these training missions of course. I soon recall the hard way however that the ships have a habit of splitting in two when defeated and these pieces fire off in random directions at some speed. Being too close results in an embarrassing death on my first attempt.

Aside from the fighters the mission shows some of the larger vessels (transport ships and shuttles) which have shields and are extremely dangerous in their own right because of it. They are much slower and easier to tail but require many hits to get those shields down. There are unarmed freighters and containers for carrying cargo which will be the basis of many a mission as the game goes on but just need blowing up here. Not appearing in this mission are any of the cap ships such as corvettes, frigates, shuttles and of course Star Destroyers. The later two tend to be the basis for launching waves of fighters. Unlike Wing Commander, enemies will never pop out of nowhere unexplained in this game although some vessels can hyperspace in. It’s a healthy number of ships for a game of this era and each has its own characteristics for the most part with the only two that are seemingly interchangeable being the shuttles and transports.

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The second mission is a straight dogfight where I’m supposed to be watching my wing leader take out TIE fighters but that would take forever so I opt to do the job myself instead. It’s about this point that the time spent blasting targets in the maze might actually start to pay off as the same skillset is used to score hits at close range should I manage to get on a TIE’s tail. Without afterburners achieving this isn’t quite as easy as in Wing Commander and has to be achieved under regular power. It’s definitely a requirement to be able to hit targets at range here and given that I have shields and they don’t a head on chicken run is a decent tactic for thinning the numbers.

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The later missions get more complex such as this one involving several waves of rebel fighters, the disabling of freighters and the protection of the craft subsequently sent to board and capture them. This sort of mission is typical of the game from what I recall with guarding other vessels being a major factor. There is a very strong tactical element to X-Wing with a lot of these objectives in terms of making sure to take out the correct wings of enemy craft in order to protect whoever is the most vulnerable. A lot of the time this amounts to flying toward a Star Destroyer to intercept waves of bombers as they are launched. For some reason TIE fighters appear to always be launched in wings of 3 at least so far. If the Star Destroyer emptied its hanger in one go we would be quickly overwhelmed so it keeps things manageable if a little unbelievable.

The missions definitely involve a degree of waiting for things to happen when rebel craft need to dock or enter hyperspace and with no time compression they do take some time to play. It’s been fine so far as I’ve managed to play through them most of them first time but when things get tougher I may have less patience for restarting the entire mission again. I seem to recall that X-Wing had a bad habit of not telling you that you had failed an objective until after the time had run out also but I’ve not run into this yet. Keeping track of the in-game messages isn’t always easy as they appear one line at a time at the bottom of the screen and hang around long enough that a huge backlog can develop since all my speed changes interrupt them with messages of their own.

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The Y-Wing missions start out in much the same way with attacks on stationary ships building up in complexity as before. In combat the marginally slower speed of the Y-Wing really does make quite a difference to the experience of piloting it as I’m forced to attack from longer range more of the time. The nose lasers make long range shots far more accurate to help this and blocking their path with a stream of laser fire can also be used to make a TIE change direction giving me a chance to catch it up.

The ability to disable craft with the ion cannons comes into play in some of the missions such as the one above where I have to identify and disable a shuttle carrying Admiral Ackbar. One of the possible weaknesses in mission design shows up here in that this mission is only really possible if you already know which ship he is in. The time limit otherwise is extremely tight for the rebels to come in and board the disabled shuttle. Since it’s the same shuttle every time this mission really needs to be done in multiple attempts.


This sort of complaint is more about the realism than the effect on gameplay. I wouldn’t want this to be too easy and so far I’ve not had any real difficulty with any of the historical missions. Some required several attempts but that’s as it should be and it was mainly through errors on my part as I relearn the game. While the maze got a little tedious, all of these missions have brought back just why I love this game so much. The whole atmosphere is incredibly true to Star Wars with the interactive iMuse soundtrack doing a great job of setting the mood throughout. The combat is varied and constantly challenging but not so hard that I can’t see how to progress if I fail. There are little things that could be improved. I can’t see what shields or damage any of the ships have taken. It would be helpful to be able to see what ships any given fighter was attacking so I could form my strategy. Time compression would be good for those occasions where I’m just hanging around at the end of the mission. All of these would be addressed in Tie Fighter of course (although I’d still argue that X-Wing was the better game). None of it really detracts from the experience provided you are willing to put the extra time and effort in which was a common enough requirement for PC games of the era.

Before I started this game on Sunday, I wondered if playing it again after so would ruin my memories of it but I honestly reckon this stands the test of time and is every bit as good as it ever was. Higher resolution graphics would be nice but I’m enjoying this far more than Descent Freespace which was the last space sim I played. I’ve always been of the opinion that one of the main reasons the space sim genre died out was that it didn’t really have anywhere to go and ran out of fresh ideas. The timelessness of playing X-Wing offers some proof of this but hopefully Star Citizen and Elite Dangerous will tread new ground and usher in another era in the genre. In the meanwhile, I still have 6 A-Wing missions to be getting on with before I can move on to my first tour in part 3.

X-Wing – Part 1

In the course of this blog I’ve scanned numerous Wing Commander reviews from various magazines. Some of these were more flattering than others but from WC3 on they all had one thing in common in that Wing Commander was being compared to X-Wing. It’s a tenuous reason to blog through it on here but I thought it would be fun to join the rebel alliance once again and see how the game stacks up 20 years later. I should say now that my opinion isn’t going to be all that unbiased as X-Wing is without a doubt one of my favourite games of all time but prior to this I can’t even remember the last time I played it.


X-Wing was published by Lucasarts in 1993 between Wing Commander 2 and 3 and was helmed by Lawrence Holland and Edward Kilham. Kilham had previously worked on adventure games for Lucasarts but Holland had a long history of serious flight sims such as Secret Weapons Of The Luftwaffe which is very apparent in the approach taken to the game. X-Wing used a full 3D polygonal engine which was extremely impressive at the time although it was years before I had a PC capable of playing it properly. Allegedly Lucasarts held off making the game for years until the technology had arrived to do it justice as they didn’t want to do anything unworthy of the Star Wars brand. They were clearly not the same company 10 years later.

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X-Wing is a game that has seen numerous expansions and re-releases. It was followed later in 1993 by two expansion packs, both adding a new tour of duty of around 15 missions. There was also a combined floppy disk release shortly after with the original game and both of these expansions. A year later came the CD Collector’s edition which expanded on this further with some extra speech included while in the cockpit and some of the missions having been optionally tweaked to make them slightly easier. I don’t have the box for it but that’s the version I’ll be playing


Finally in 1997 there was another re-release this time for Windows using the X-Wing Versus Tie Fighter engine. This greatly improved the graphics with the hitch that it now used CD audio instead of the original MIDI soundtrack which wasn’t to everyone’s taste. The gameplay remained the same and it was a great update if you didn’t miss that music. I do recall that it wasn’t exactly easy to run on newer versions of Windows. This remake saw the light of day again in the X-Wing Trilogy in 2000 which also included X-Wing Alliance.

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X-Wing starts with a lengthy intro in true Star Wars style with the scrolling text and a giant Star Destroyer travelling across the screen. I’ve grown incredibly tired of this being used in countless games and a handful of best forgotten movies since but it was quite the novelty at the time. The intro goes on to show the new X-Wing fighters repelling a Tie Fighter strike. I remember being mightily impressed with all this although the mostly hand drawn artwork does look more than a little dated now. It’s a sign of the age of the game that these cutscenes even had different options for slower computers with less/no panning of the 2D artwork on slower machines. I do have to wonder about the efficiency of the code here as Origin FX was doing this sort of thing on a 286.

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With the intro done, I find myself as a new recruit waiting to sign in on the rebel flagship Independence. There isn’t any story given either in the intro or the skimpy manual and I’m just another faceless recruit to the rebellion.

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In something of a nod to Wing Commander the interface is based around the ship interior with all the various options being behind different doors. There is a camera room which can be used to view footage captured in game + a room with all the ship specs. I won’t be making use of either of these and instead head straight for the pilot proving grounds.


The pilot proving grounds (otherwise known as the maze) consist of a series of gates which have to be flown through within a time limit. These can have up to two targets which can be shot for a 2 second time bonus but also shoot back in some cases. There are an endless series of levels with every increasing difficulty with flight badges on offer for players who can complete level 8 in each ship. This isn’t a quick task as there are over 130 gates on each level but none of this is compulsory as such and players are free to jump straight into the game. The way I remember it, if you weren’t up to speed you could expect to die within minutes of starting a tour of duty so I may as well do this properly.

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After a not especially impressive launch sequence I’m into the game at last with a multitude of platforms ahead of me all of which carry 3 gates. One thing that strikes me immediately is just how smooth the engine is. There may not be a ton of detail with hardly a texture to be seen in this engine but the graphics do their job and it’s extremely easy to be precise with the controls when everything is this fluid.

I’m piloting an X-Wing for this first run and it’s certainly responsive and easy to steer if a whole lot slower to adjust speed than the ships in Wing Commander. The ship’s power systems are highly configurable and success in this game is only possible by tweaking these constantly. Each ship has laser and shield systems with five power settings. The middle of these maintains current charge if nothing drains either system and is how you start in each mission. Raising or lowering from here affects ship speed and system power accordingly. It’s possible to transfer power between shields and laser systems and since the laser system charges marginally faster than the shields the most efficient way to play the maze is to put max power to lasers, none to shields and keep transferring laser power as required. Wing Commander did add support for some power manipulation after X-Wing but it never required it to the same degree or offered any benefit of higher top speeds. It always struck me as being shoved in because X-Wing had it in all honesty. I’m not so sure either system is better than the other so much as just different. The versatility here is certainly welcome but after an hour of transferring power constantly my hand was starting to cramp up over the shift and F9 keys.

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The X-Wing has four lasers mounted on each wingtip and getting used to the slightly different trajectory when firing from each of these is another key to getting anywhere in this game. It’s particularly true on the maze as the difference is exaggerated when close to a target and it’s even possible to shoot targets when the are slightly off screen in the right circumstances. It is possible to link fire to either 2 or four simultaneous beams to get around this but I’d far rather have the higher fire rate at least for this part of the game. The different firing configuration is the main difference between the 3 ships I’ll be getting to fly and with the smooth engine allowing for extremely precise aiming making the little adjustments for each laser is all part of the fun.

About an hour after entering the maze I get to the end of level 8 having played through the lot in one go. I’m definitely not as good as I used to be at this but it all came back to me extremely quickly. I now get to do exactly the same in the Y-Wing and A-Wing.

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The Y-Wing has nose mounted lasers meaning that it almost fires in a dead straight line making it the easiest ship to aim with. It is also the only ship with a secondary laser system (Ion Cannons) which can be used to disable ships instead of destroying them. It has the downside of being the slowest of the rebel ships but it still turns quickly enough so it’s not comparable with the likes of a Broadsword in WC2 and is still a capable fighter.

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Finally the A-Wing is the newest and lightest of the rebel craft. This can’t carry torpedos and instead has the smaller concussion missiles but it’s far quicker than the other ships. It has two wing mounted lasers which have a similar separation to those on the X-Wing.


I spend most of a Sunday afternoon flying through the maze before I get all the flight badges. It’s undoubtedly refreshed some of my flight skills having possibly not played this game since the last millennium but it does drag out a little. I wouldn’t say it ever gets dull exactly as there isn’t time to dwell but it does seem excessive that I can’t skip to level 8 straight off having done it in one of the ships already. The 3 ships strike me as being extremely similar to pilot and there isn’t enough difference to warrant having to go through the whole thing 3 times but then I’m not being forced to as such. The differences between the ships will hopefully become more apparent when in combat.

I think it’s safe to say that you wouldn’t expect to fire up a Wing Commander and spend several hours flying through gates. I’m hardly fresh to this game so I can’t really say if this is needed practice for a new player or a little over the top at this point. It’s readily apparent that the game is being treated as a sim with the campaigns only being there for the player who has learnt all the skills needed to be a pilot already. To further emphasise this I’ll be flying historical missions in a simulator next with 6 for each ship. This does mean I should finally get to aim at a moving target and not before time.