Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
By which I specifically mean ‘have you played the first level of Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire?’ Though the bulk of this 1997 game was a humdrum shooter, the opening mission was a then-astounding recreation of the battle of Hoth, almost two decades before Battlefront was a pixel-shaded twinkle in anyone’s eye.
I played that first mission again and again, thrilled to manchild pieces to be amongst the AT-ATs, felling them with well-timed tow cables to a soundtrack of movie-familiar noises. What followed was forgettable, sometimes irritating third-person action starring a character based on 90s comics bad-boy excess – dated almost as soon as it was released. But man, that first level.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but this level – along with the contemporaneous Heir To The Empire novels – was stealthily transforming the gathering nostalgia of 70s and 80s kids into new commercial force, and indirectly led first to the special editions of the movies and then those woeful prequels. The impending Force Awakens has put popular culture into a similar mindset, a sect of people – now older – all praying that the gung-ho innocence of their youth can somehow be recaptured.
Shadows of the Empire, or at least its first level, was the first time that Star Wars nostalgia was blended with superior technology and repackaged for an audience convinced that George Lucas’ original myth-making was as good as popular culture was ever goign to get. All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again. And, like Battlefront after it, Shadows of the Empire is yet more proof that the AT-AT was a phenomenal piece of industrial sci-fi design.