There’s no shortage of ‘best Star Wars games’ features across this nerdly old internet of ours, but the majority focus on console games which don’t often stray from the action/shooting category. On PC, we’ve had so much more variety over the years: sometimes for better, sometimes for very much worse. With the warm reception to the The Force Awakens meaning we no longer need to hate ourselves for retaining an innocent love of Long Time Ago, let’s mix nostalgia and contemporary game design values into a big, colourful ball and determine which PC titles are the least unwise ways to indulge that love.
10. Star Wars Episode 1: Racer
Sadly forgotten, partly because unlike almost every Star Wars game it hasn’t had a digital re-release, and partly because popular opinion unfairly has it that Episode 1 is the very worst of the prequels. It’s mostly awful, yes, but the other two are only more highly-regarded because they go out of the way to include copious fan service alongside their insipid love story and weightlessly unreal CGI overload. The more restrained (Jar-Jar aside) Phantom Menace has far more physicality, and the two best scenes of the prequel series – the climactic Maul fight and the podracing scene. Racer is an entire game spun out of the later, set in a sort of alt-reality where Anakin told conniving old Qui-Gon to sling his hook and became a planet-hopping professional podracer instead.
Racer is a simple game, and far from any kind of simulation, but it nails the sense of speed and danger from that scene. Even looking as old as it does, it’s a thrill to boost through the canyons of Tatooine, on edge as engines catch fire or Sebulba rams into you, shocked at the abruptness of the explosion when you collide with the scenery. And, if you want, you can repeatedly slam little “Ani” Skywalker into a wall at several hundred miles an hour. The rickety, DIY look of the Podracers themselves is about as Star Warsy as the prequels ever got and hell, you get Jawas on mission selection screen. There isn’t much to it, but it’s fast, it’s careful and it’s exciting, and it still (I played it just today) makes me feel warmer towards The Phantom Menace than it deserves.
Notes: Doesn’t play at all nice with modern Windows or 64-bit systems, but I got it up and running reasonably well on Windows 10 with the help of this guide.
Where to buy it: Your attic, or eBay. Sadly no digital re-release yet: get on it please, GOG.
9. Star Wars Jedi Knight – Jedi Academy
A contentious inclusion, I know. Received somewhat suspiciously at the time because it all but abandoned the saga of Kyle Katarn (begun back in Dark Forces – see below) in favour of following an even blander but player-made rookie Jedi, and dropped the series FPS tradition in favour of third-person, primarily lightsaber-based combat. Thing is though, that lightsaber combat is arguably the best we’ve ever had it, particularly in multiplayer (and the many mods which have spun out of it). The saber is ever-present and joyously lethal, not something that’s teased out or underpowered, and in the right hands fearsome Jedi-fu is available.
As Being A Jedi action games go, this hits most nails square on the head despite a certain clunkiness of interface. In the cold light of 2015 it’s a more pleasant play than the traditionally more respected Jedi Knight II too, which despite having a stronger story suffers from some infuriating, pointlessly maze-like level design, as well as delayed gratification. Also, Kyle Katarn was wiped out as part of Disney’s scourging of the expanded universe, so you might as well play as a random newcomer who gets to choose their own lightsaber and power set.
Notes: Runs well enough on modern systems, though you’ll need to modify ini files for widescreen and HD resolutions. You should probably also check out the Movie Battles II mod, a conversion which recreates key original trilogy fights in multiplayer, with the option to play as a vast cast of beloved characters who don’t appear in the base game.
8. Star Wars: Empire At War
Making this list more because there isn’t any better Star Wars RTS than because it’s the Star Wars RTS we used to dream of. Force Commander was an over-ambitious headache and Galactic Battlegrounds was a rather dull Age of Empires reskin. Empire At War was a bread’n’butter 3D RTS which included all the right beats for large-scale, inter-galactic Rebel vs Empire tussles, even if it never quite soared.
It’s a better Star Wars game than it is an RTS, basically – I mean, you get to deploy AT-ATs. Can’t argue with that. Some nice ‘what if?’ scenarios like the one pictured above, too. A sandbox campaign mode, which saw an ongoing push’n’pull for control of planets, was more satisfying than a traditional singleplayer structure too. Fans loved it all the more because the Forces of Corruption expansion pack went pretty deep into the (now eradicated) expanded universe stuff. Someone even threatened to build a wax statue of me on my lawn then burn it down as vengeance for my being snooty about the EU in a review. Those were the days.
It still feels like there’s an open goal for a great, great Star Wars RTS, and though the genre’s out of fashion, perhaps it’s not entirely impossible now the original trilogy aesthetic is back.
7. Star Wars: Republic Commando
Realistically, Republic Commando is great in spite of being a Star Wars game rather than because of being one. Unless you’re fond of the Clone Wars, there aren’t anything like as many comforting touchstones to be had as in the other games here. It’s a solid, quietly inventive sci-fi first-person shooter which happens to have a few Yoda cameos and some Wookiees. The squad stuff is the highlight, working to manage (and take advantage of) three chums in addition to watching your own back and shooting whatever those not-Aliens-honest bug creatures from Episode II are called. This is a strategic shooter, not a mere blast ’em up, and better yet the game manages to build real camaraderie from a set of characters who, in all honesty, don’t ever reveal much about themselves. You’re a team. A gang. It works.
I will forever mourn that this didn’t get an Imperial Commando follow-up: playing as merciless group of Storm Troopers as they raze Mos Eisley and Hoth to the ground would have been glorious.
Notes: Lead programmer Brett Douville recently ran his own commentated Let’s Play of Republic Commando, which is about as deep a dive into the making of a game as you could hope for.
6. Star Wars: Battlefront II
This year’s Battlefront is infinitely prettier than the now-decade-old original versions of Battlefield-does-Star-Wars, but it’s rather a hollow experience, especially compared to the scale and seamlessness of this one. Where nu-Battlefront’s spaceships are all about picking up icons then magically/clinically transforming into a TIE Fighter, Battlefront II allows you to run to a docking bay, climb on board a TIE Fighter, steer it through an X-Wing-peppered starfield, land it inside a Mon Calamari cruiser, get out and start laying waste on foot. I.e. Battlefront got there a long, long time before Star Citizen did. It still looks surprisingly great if you pump up the resolution and anti-aliasing too.
There’s no shortage of giddy land-battles between Rebels and Imperials, with famous faces looking a mite less ridiculous than they do in the new game because it’s nothing like as photo-real, plus you get two different, fully-fledged singleplayer modes in addition to bot matches. The partial focus on prequel-era stuff undermines the party a little but hey, at least there’s no Lucas dialogue.
Notes: Sadly LucasArts turned off the Gamespy-powered multiplayer servers a while ago, so you can’t just hop into a match. However, the ever-dependable Gameranger has stepped into the breach, offering a robust online option via tricksy LAN emulation. Several hundred people still play on a daily basis, though expect them to be frighteningly skilled.
Next page: games 5-4.