Star Wars Rogue Squadron II Rogue Leader
Image: Disney / LucasArts

Feel old, everyone — Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader is now two decades old.

The GameCube-exclusive title launched alongside the console itself in the US and was something of a show-stopper in the visuals department. Developer Factor 5 had turned in an excellent arcade-style X-Wing action game with the original Rogue Squadron on N64, of course, but this sequel took the visuals to a whole new level and showcasing the understated power of Nintendo's new hardware.

The prequel trilogy was already in progress at the time, and for Star Wars fans there was something incredibly special in seeing the classic original trilogy spacecraft rendered so faithfully onscreen. Revisiting the game recently, we have to say that Factor 5's graphical work still holds up incredibly well — surprisingly well, in fact, and it makes us hunger for a re-release even more.

Simply upscaling a vintage game to high-definition will deliver a sharp image, but often exposes low-quality textures and highlights the limitations of the era — you only need check out screens of the recent Knights of the Old Republic port to see character models and environments that, while fine in context, show just how far we've come in the last 20 years. Rogue Leader still looks phenomenal, though.

Nintendo consulted Factor 5 while creating the GameCube platform, so it's not surprising that the team knew its way around the hardware. However, there are reasons that the visuals stand up so well in 2021 that are less to do with programming prowess and more with the nature of the game. The Star Wars universe is filled with flat, angular ships that are (relatively) easy to recreated with polygons, and having a big ol' star field as your background most of the time also simplifies matters.

The real thing that makes Rogue Leader look spectacular, though — even by modern standards — is its lighting. As any 3D modeller, photographer, or ageing actor will tell you, the right lighting makes all the difference. An intelligently lit scene can make a substandard 3D model look acceptable, or a great 3D model look incredible; Rogue Leader's lighting conveys the atmosphere of the original trilogy perfectly.

Throw in the patented Star Wars audio, and you're left with a stunning package comprising some comparatively simple gameplay elements executed with impressive precision. Indeed, the developers were able to squeeze a two-player version of almost the entire game onto the second sequel, Rebel Strike — a freebie that is arguably far better than the follow-up game itself.

It's the wrong aspect ratio, but this still looks amazing

Having gone back to the game, we were astonished at how good it still looks — indeed, we're having trouble thinking of an older 3D game that looks better than this. Perhaps a simple upres could work in this case. We almost got a re-release on the Wii, but we'd let a wookie tear off our arm for a go at an official HD re-release.

Can you think of a 3D game that holds up anywhere near as well as this does after two whole decades?

Is there a better-looking 20-year-old 3D game than Rogue Squadron II?

Feel free to let us know other vintage 3D games you think hold their own in 2021, and share the 20th birthday love for Rogue Squadron II in the comments below.