Star Wars: TIE Fighter (1998)

TIE Fighter is a natural sequel to the X-Wing series, allowing you to play the Empire’s side of the story. The game takes place between the second and third movies, and after X-Wing, so you won’t be playing through the same missions again. Interestingly, you don’t get the feeling that you’re playing for the “bad guys” – there are few, if any, really overtly dirty missions like you would think the Empire would be famous for.  The result is that you simply feel like you’re playing for the opposite side of the Star Wars conflict.

New danger indicators show when you're targeted. The red square means someone's firing lasers at us.
New danger indicators show when you’re targeted. The red square means someone’s firing lasers.

X-Wing fans will be quite familiar with the way TIE Fighter plays, but there are enough unique improvements to make it interesting to veterans and newcomers alike. First, an improved multifunction display and advanced targeting commands give you greater tactical control. Keys have been included for functions such as targeting incoming warheads, the attacker of your currently selected target, ships that have just entered the area, etc.

The new display provides you with a real-time 3-D image of your target, which allows you to know exactly which direction its guns are pointing, and assist in giving you a relative idea of where the ship is from your current position. Ship, shield, and system damage for your target are now shown in percentages, which are vastly more accurate than X-Wing’s “Hull Damage” indicator. All of these are welcome adjustments that help alleviate some of the frustration associated with the previous game.

Other improvements include the ability to actually target and damage individual components of a ship, allowing you to knock out an engine or a specific turret on a corvette to render them harmless (very nice!).  There are far more models now, so you will see actual bases and facilities, instead of endlessly-reused, “modified” freighters and cargo containers.  Briefings now give a specific list of objectives (both in game and out) so you can easily see when you’ve met the correct conditions, or failed a critical one and need to abort. The engine can also handle many more ships on the screen at once now, so dogfights can get pretty crowded and intense.

Another huge area of improvement is with your wingmen. While X-Wing frequently left you hanging with dick in wind, the entire Empire now has your back. Missions cast you in squads of up to eight other ships, and earlier missions, before you gain serious rank and start leading, have you under the command of wingleaders. These guys issue commands (fully voiced on the CD version), most scripted, some not, and help you feel like you’re part of an actual fighting force.

Story unfolds in mission, with full voices in the CD version.
Story unfolds in mission, with full voices in the CD version.

The AI seems slightly more adept at dogfighting now, and missions where groups are divided by tasks now go according to plan more often than they ever did in X-Wing. No longer will you be required to zap that Star Destroyer by your lonesome, instead, if you cover the bombing team well enough, they’ll do their job. Finally, should you ever run into serious trouble, most missions allow you to call in reinforcements. You’ll take a hit to your score, but have anywhere from two to six heavy gunships show up and start kicking ass.

It’s also ruthlessly accurate to the films – so those TIE Fighters don’t have shields.  The first block of content will have you relying on your (admittedly significant) speed advantage to fly circles around your foes.  A new series of danger indicators further let you know when you’re in someone’s crosshairs, and when it’s time to duck out of the way.  Later missions introduce some advanced TIE Fighters with shields, advanced torpedoes (which you can select before the mission), and a “beam” weapon which locks nimble foes in place and at the mercy of your weapons.  Naturally, the challenge scales accordingly to your advanced craft.

TIE Fighter proper makes up the first eight mission sets, and it’s pretty excellent all around.  You have all the engine advancements detailed above, plus the different strategy of fighting sans-shields, plus the fact that so few titles in LucasArts’ significant Star Wars arsenal let you play as the Imperials.  As said, you don’t quite get the experience of being deliciously evil, and attacks against Rebels or pirates are basic military ops against bases or capital ships (much like X-Wing).  I’m sure terrible things happen to those stowaway Rebels you capture, but you don’t do them – you’re just a soldier following orders.

TIE Fighter alone would probably pull a higher score than X-Wing for these facts, but this version includes two expansion packs that make up nearly half of its content.  These stray into territory that I wasn’t interested in, and offers challenges that felt at odds to what was great about TIE Fighter and X-Wing.

This goofy bastard is the TIE Defender. Looks like a bad kit bash.
This goofy bastard is the TIE Defender. Looks like a bad kit bash.

Story-wise, the expansions (Defender of the Empire and a new one exclusive to the Collector’s edition) build upon the treachery introduced in the original campaigns.  Admiral Zaarin is out to overthrow the Emperor, and he’s out stealing the best technology the Empire has to offer to do it.  This culminated in flying an intentionally-overpowered prototype (the TIE Defender) in the last two missions of the original TIE Fighter.  It also meant that Totally Games had painted themselves into a corner for the expansions.  They weren’t willing to give out the best ship and then take it away again.

So, Defender of the Empire has you flying the TIE Defender for its entire run, while the technology scales up accordingly to keep offering a challenge to this monster starfighter.  Regular TIE Fighters now appear with missiles and shields (and good luck dogfighting those nimble little fucks).  Zaarin has stolen Defenders of his own, so you’ll be dogfighting them.  Mag Pulse and Capture Torpedoes start to show up, which either drain all your cannon power in one hit, or knock out your engines temporarily.  And in the missions where one cap torpedo hits you, you can expect others to follow suit while you’re down.  They do no damage, but it becomes a long time before you’re able to play the game again.

This did absolutely nothing for me, and fighting splinter factions of the Empire wasn’t what I signed on for.  I wanted to decimate Rebels.  I didn’t want to spend time trying to dog down increasingly ludicrous advanced TIE prototypes (whose shields recharge fast if you’re not constantly shooting them, by the way).  It sucked all the fun out of the game both in story and plot, and started treading into Extended Universe stuff (the novels and such), which also don’t interest me.  I’ll stick to the movies, thanks.  But if this is, in fact, something that excites you, you’ll get plenty of challenge and story from the expansions.

It's not all TIEs - the assault gunboat gives you the shields and missiles to tangle with tougher foes.
It’s not all TIEs – the assault gunboat gives you the shields and missiles to tangle with tougher foes.

New for TIE Fighter are extra objectives in each and every mission.  You’re able to ask questions during your briefing, to get clarification and clues to these bonus objectives, as well as get secondary orders from a robed representative of the Emperor’s Secret Order.  All of these result in points and medals, which are displayed clearly here (instead of the cryptic ranking in X-Wing).  You also rank up through a completely separate line in the Secret Order by completing their objectives, so medal hunters will be in hog heaven.  And if this sounds like too much for you, only the primary objectives are required, and a new difficulty system (with easy, medium, and hard settings), plus cheats that don’t impede your progress, means you should be able to see all the content regardless of skill, and leave the point hunting to the fanatical.

Sounds are great as you might expect, using the films’ libraries to great effect. Characters are voiced competently, you get spoken briefings from your commander, in-mission reports from your wingmen, and gruff orders from the shadowy servant of the Emperor. Controls are sharp, truly using every key on the keyboard this time, and features remappable joystick buttons. The stick handles responsively no matter what device you’re using, and like X-Wing, a joystick is required for the Windows version.

TIE Fighter’s a great game, and a great companion piece to X-Wing. Playing for the Empire is just as interesting and different as you would expect. Its engine contains considerable improvements over the original, and its targeting options and optional bonus objectives make it feel much more modern than X-Wing’s comparatively straightforward presentation.  The two expansion missions make up a significant amount of content for the Collector’s release, which is great if you enjoy them, and a waste of money/time if you don’t.  Fighting rogue Imperial ships is certainly a different challenge, but maybe a little *too* different from the core of what makes this series interesting.

NOTE: This is the stand-alone jewel case release of the updated version originally created for the X-Wing Collector Series. Released in 1998, the executable is called TIE Fighter 95. The original DOS version also has its own Collector’s CD-ROM – gameplay will be the same, but will not feature the new graphics updates. Make sure you know which one you’re buying.


The Good

Excellent sequel to X-Wing, retaining the fun and challenge of the original, with a new storyline, and entirely new viewpoint. Perfect engine/gameplay enhancements.  Difficulty levels are appreciated, and bonus objectives are a lot of fun.

The Bad

New ship designs are rather silly. Expansions keep the challenge artificially high by throwing experimental super-ships after you for the entire second half of the game.  You’ll fight Rebels far less than you might expect (maybe fighting rogue Imperial factions and pirates keeps you from seeming “too evil”)


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