A once lost love, reunited by GOG
Earlier last month, GOG.com released a game I wanted so badly, but honestly never expected to play again. The site’s focus on the old LucasArts Star Wars games gave me hope but only a little. The retailer delivered X-Wing and I smiled to myself, pleased but sure it was done. Next came Dark Forces, a classic to be certain but not at all indicative of the prize I truly wanted. I thought the show ended with X-Wing: Alliance but GOG.com came through and gave me what I never believed in my heart of hearts was even on its radar. It gave me Star Wars: Rebellion and for that, it has my gratitude.
In a previous post, I already explained why it’s a truly awful game. But here, with its nectar still fresh in my mouth, I want to take a moment to explain why I shall forever drink from this sweet rose. It may have wilted over time and its thorns still prick but the experience will always remain close to my heart.
First off, it is a space strategy game, the first I ever played. Sure, there were probably others out at the time but this was within my reach and, more importantly, it belongs to that nicotine of geeks the world over, the Star Wars franchise. While other games may have featured better controls, they didn’t allow the player to send Darth Vader to assassinate Lando Calrissian. Moreover, the game incorporated elements of the expanded universe (the game was produced before George Lucas threw all that out the window and the prequels still sounded like a good idea). While I may not have read all that many Star Wars books, I still squeed when I recruited Admiral Daala or built my first TIE Defender squadron. Star Wars has (had?) a lot of awesome lore going for it and Rebellion took advantage of all of it.
The next point is one rather more specific to me. I long for the days when games came with manuals, something to thumb through during loading screens or when on the toilet. As much as I like digital games (indeed digital anything), I do enjoy having pages to ear mark and flip through. Rebellion does more than make up for the flimsy pamphlets of today’s games with a gigantic tome featuring over a hundred pages of explanations. Admittedly, GOG does not provide this insect-smiting bible in paper format (though it does offer the digital version) but, if truth be told, I still have my copy even if I lack the original CD. Crack it open and it’s almost like playing the game itself: impossibly dense, crammed with seemingly unknowable stats, and likely to put the unwary user to sleep. It’s large because it’s necessary; the game lacks the hand-holding tutorials of today and throws the player into the deep end. Therefore, Rebellion does what very few games do either now or then: rewards research. Every time I had a problem or something seemingly inexplicable happened, I persevered, scanned the index, and figured out why my ships blew up for no reason. Thus, I invested myself in the experience and the payoff made me feel godlike.
To this day, I will claim that this game tackles one thing more realistically than any other game I have played: management. I don’t mean resource management, though there’s certainly that. I don’t mean tactical management, though there’s at least a little of that. No, I mean management the likes of which CEOs and company higher-ups experience on a daily basis. While there may be moments of crisis that require a clever mind and a clear vision to carry the team through, the player spends the vast majority of time dealing with all the nit-picky nuances of being at the top. Agents are sent out, reports received, production orders placed, agents debriefed with disappointing results, etc. On top of this, the game’s structure makes almost any decision or action take literal in-game months to complete. If you send a fleet from one side of the galaxy to the other, you had better hope you don’t need any of those ships in the next half a year. So while the game has very little excitement, it boasts a rarer quality: that of grinding out a very slow strategy. In effect, beating the game feels less like standing alone in the arena and more like completing a grand sculpture. Where most games are measured by the foes you have slain, victory in Rebellion requires that you build something grand.
So I was quite glad to hear of its release. I bought it immediately and, as soon as I got home from work, sat in front of the computer and installed the game. Its small size meant that I created my first game soon after: Rebel, Medium Map, Hard Difficulty. 3PO dithered at me for a moment before I muted him. The graphics, pixelated but not sprites, brought a smile to my face as did the soundtrack, carefully selected neutral segments from the movies. I cracked my knuckles, sent Han to the ass end of the Corellian system, and waited. Great things will come.