Hello all! Last time, I talked about Lost Planet, a game that didn’t age well in some spots, but it’s still a fun, if brief, romp through the bug infested ice planet of Hoth *checks notes* I mean E.D.N. III.
Sorry about the breaks between these supposedly weekly articles, by the way. Those of you who follow me on social media know that the past couple of weeks have been exhausting and frantic, and I’ve not been able to devote time to older games for these articles. But I’d still like to stick around as much as possible.
Anyway, today’s game is a relic from 1997, set in a galaxy far, far away (although story is noticeably absent here).
Star Wars: X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter is a starfighter combat sim, similar in theory to Wing Commander or, for the more modern crowd, the combat of Elite: Dangerous. Sort of. There’s no plot in XvT (save for a plot-focused expansion titled Balance of Power); it’s primarily multiplayer focused aside from a bunch of stand-alone single-player missions. The basic concept is simple enough; you pick a ship belonging to either the Rebel Alliance or the Empire, select a loadout (really, just missile and countermeasure type) and fly through space attempting to eliminate your opponent before they destroy you.
Simple enough, but being more of a simulator than an arcade experience is what separates this game from, say, the also excellent Rogue Squadron series of Star Wars games, or even Battlefront. Managing every aspect of your starfighter is key; while dodging enemy fire, you also need to keep an eye on your laser and shield energy. You can’t just shoot indefinitely; your lasers need time to recharge, which means you may have to reroute engine power to charge them, at a loss of speed, of course. Shields also need to be recharged and you often need to decide on whether they should be aligned forwards or backwards. Speed, also, is important; your ship turns fastest at 1/3 speed, though obviously that’s quite slow. Not to mention, you need to switch between weapons, choose how many shots fire when you pull the trigger, and toggle between targets.
All of this means you’re generally punching keys rapidly while maneuvering via joystick (which is required), and it sounds like a lot. Kind of because it is. XvT never becomes unmanageable, though; what’s amazing to me is, when starting the game for this article, I somehow remembered what key does what—and I haven’t played this game in ages. Suddenly, I was back in the cockpit of my X-Wing (or, if I’m playing the Imperials, TIE Interceptor), fully engaged with what I’m doing.
That’s one of the reasons I loved XvT growing up (apart from my rabid Star Wars fandom); it was immersive, despite its heavy keyboard usage. For a few minutes (or maybe an hour; I didn’t have a lot of “computer time” growing up) per day, I wasn’t playing a game. I was a Rebel pilot (rarely, I was an Imperial pilot, too), launching a proton torpedo at an enemy fighter the instant I had a lock. What helped the immersion was the semi-realistic cockpit HUD, which would get fried and become useless if you took a hard hit (which was awesome, if also very annoying), the constant engine noise and radio chatter, and all the requisite Star Wars sound effects and music.
It also didn’t hurt that I didn’t have a lot of PC games growing up. My first PC was this gigantic IBM PC with Windows 95; I don’t recall the video specs but I remember it had 16MB of RAM, which I later upgraded to a beefy 32MB. I got XvT because a friend (my only one at the time, come to think of it) with a far superior PC had it. He was into Star Wars as much as I was, and he also pointed out we could play online.
Yep, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter was the very first game I played over the Internet. In 1997. We had to play over dial-up (kids, dial-up means over a phone line. “Phone line” means a physical wire through which phone calls used to be made—sometimes they still are! Crazy, right??) So, after inserting the XvT disc labeled “Single-Player” (because the discs were mislabled) and going through the arduous task of actually setting up a game over dial-up (I was 10, and not computer-savvy), there we were, playing online.
Playing a game online is something very much taken for granted today, but I was amazed at the time—and I’m still amazed today, when I sit and really think about it. I grew up with NES/SNES, etc.; multiplayer to me required two people in the same room. And now, here I was, playing this awesome starfighter game with my friend who lived 9 blocks away. And them I would find other people to play against, from even further away. Like, whole other states away. Jeesh. It was crazy to fathom at the time. Writing this, actually, I find myself wondering what became of the crew I played XvT with.
I mean, I eventually moved on from the game onto something else, as we all do with games. But revisiting this one made me feel like a kid again, and also an X-Wing pilot, if only for a little while. Playing a game online is amazing, when you really sit and think about it, but games in general are amazing as well. X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter is a forgotten game that didn’t really last too long in the early multiplayer scene; most people played Diablo or Starcraft online back then. But replaying just a couple of missions brought back a lot of memories for me. Like, genuine flashbacks. Video games can often do that.
And I think that’s incredible.
Thanks for reading my stuff! Yell at me on Twitter about why I’m wrong, and/or suggest other games I should cover! Hit the comments! And, I’ve got a new site coming soon, which may be just a basic blog for now, but stay tuned.
Next week, we check out another popular sci-fi series, though this one is a side-story set in an Xbox-exclusive universe.