Factor 5 struck gold when it released the sublime Star Wars: Rogue Squadron for the Nintendo 64 way back in 1998/1999. Then, in 2001/2002, the development studio topped this already impressive feat with the astounding Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader. So when it announced that it had a third Rogue Squadron game in the works — and for the GameCube no less — there was good reason to be excited. However, it soon turned out that the Force just wasn't quite as strong when it came to this third and final instalment in the series.
Now, it's fair to say that Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike has all the workings of a great game; it is, after all, a direct follow-up to the superb Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader. Nevertheless, this title fails in comparison to its predecessor not because it is any less technically impressive, but rather there is a clear lack of focus or direction in terms of the game's design. It's obvious that Factor 5 wanted to distinguish it from previous games in the series by implementing new gameplay ideas. The problem, however, is that these changes are detrimental to the overall experience; it's severely lacking in the gameplay and fun departments.
This time around, rather than focusing solely on key events from the film trilogy, Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike attempts to tell an original story set within the same period. Luke Skywalker, Wedge Antilles and Co. must deal with a traitor among their ranks. Unfortunately, it doesn't really work, mainly because it's spread out over an unnecessarily long period. Moreover, Luke and Wedge have separate story trees that can be played independently of one another. As a result, it's hard to get a sense that events in one story arc are impacting the other, unless you specifically know the order in which to play the missions.
The plot does revisit some of the key moments, usually to give a player a different perspective of a mission from a previous game. For example, Battlefield Hoth follows Luke's escapades after his snowspeeder gets shot down in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, while Triumph of the Rebellion focuses on the ground battle that takes place on Endor's moon near the end of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
This is where one of the title's most considerable changes to the series comes into play; no longer are you bound to a starfighter, and instead, many of the missions involve on-foot and ground vehicle segments. The latter works well for the most part, with the AT-ST missions proving to be quite fun, if a bit linear in their design. When it comes to the on-foot sections, however, it's a completely different story; clunky controls, awkward camera angles and uninspired, unchallenging combat all go hand-in-hand to create an incredibly dull and tedious experience. Your character's weapon automatically locks on to enemy soldiers meaning that these on-foot sections amount to little more than mindless button bashing. The majority of these sections occur at some point during most planet-side missions, and when they do, they really kill the pace.
It's a real shame that these sections feature so prominently, because this game does have some genuinely brilliant moments — it just so happens to be the case that nearly all of these are when you're in a starfighter. One of Factor 5's aims with Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike was to clean up the visuals and allow for more enemies to appear on-screen simultaneously. In this regard, it has definitely succeeded, with many of the dogfights featuring an overwhelming number of enemy fighters, with little to no slowdown. The only problem, however, is that these moments are simply too far and few between, with the ground vehicle and ghastly on-foot sections cropping up more often than they should. While you can't blame a developer for wanting to try something new, the changes make little sense when it already had a brilliant gameplay formula that wasn't in need of fixing.
The pacing is further exacerbated by the poorly executed cut-scenes. Most of these seem badly edited, with constant cuts to a black, blank screen occurring every few seconds or so. Sometimes this is to signify a new scene, but other times it happens during the very same scene, without any perspective change whatsoever. While the former is understandable, the latter is completely unacceptable, and makes it difficult for you to immerse yourself in the story. It doesn't make sense why this occurs in so many places, especially when it is of no benefit to the player.
Much like the previous title in the series, Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike again suffers as a result of being woefully short. There are a good number of bonus missions to unlock, yet many of these take place on foot and, thus, aren't very fun. Nevertheless, the game has one ace up its sleeve in the form of its cooperative multiplayer. This is perhaps the best reason for buying this game, as it allows you to play through Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader's story mode with a friend. It's nothing short of spectacular, mainly because it still looks fantastic and runs exceptionally well. Tweaks have been made to some of the missions which provide each player with a specific role. For example, in the mission Imperial Academy Heist, you have to steal the shuttle Tydirium (as seen in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi). Originally you were on your own, whereas here you not only have an extra wingman, but that second player also becomes a rear gunner on the shuttle when you steal it, making it a slightly easier, yet still frantic experience. Otherwise, there's a versus multiplayer mode, but it's limited to only two players and, as a result, is far less action-packed and exciting than the meaty cooperative campaign.
Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike is a disappointing title, as a result of a number of issues that could have easily been avoided. Factor 5 chose to mix up the series' tried-and-tested gameplay formula by shoehorning in on-foot segments that simply don't work. Moreover, these sections — as well as the poor plot and cut-scenes — detract from the game's few great moments. The exciting and fast-paced aerial/space combat that the series is renowned for is woefully underused, despite the fact that this is when the game is at its most fun. The inclusion of a cooperative mode which allows you and a friend to play through nearly all of the second game is this title's saving grace and should be the main reason for anyone considering it. Otherwise, this is a mostly passable affair, which is a great shame given the series' impressive legacy.