1. Star Wars: TIE Fighter
There are two key types of Star Wars games: those which seek to simply recreate parts of the movies, and those which seek to expand it. The former can become looping bombast (the key downer for the Battlefront games, and to some extent Dark Forces) while the latter can become so caught up in their own lore and characters that they lose some of their innate Star Warsiness (the KOTOR and Jedi Knight games are somewhat guilty of this).
TIE Fighter is the sweet spot. It takes a comparatively small but enormously recognisable aspect of Star Wars (sinister helmeted dudes flying plate-winged ships which sound like angry walruses), zooms right in on it then offers ideas on how it all really works without entirely going so far as to introduce a side-story to the movies starring characters who are mysteriously never mentioned in the saga proper. Yes, TIE Fighter comes up with the concept of super-TIE pilots that the Emperor and Vader have taken a special interest in, but this doesn’t negate your guy eventually becoming just one more casualty in the skies above Endor.
Perhaps more interestingly, TIE Fighter is the first major Star Wars title to try and show the other side of the coin. For decades it was evil emperor this, heroic rebellion that, then TIE Fighter is all ‘uh, the Empire are just trying to keep the galaxy safe but Mon Mothma’s terrorist cell keeps attacking people.’ That, coupled with its microscope focus on just one pilot, means TIE Fighter is also Imperial Career Simulator, showing more of how the Empire’s military works beyond the influence of Big Scary Space Magic Guy.
The actual flight simulation, the core of TIE Fighter, holds up OK. Good but not great; age definitely hurts it, and even aside from the relatively crude pseudo-3D graphics and fiddly controls, it never really manages that sense of roaring speed that we associate with TIE Fighter scenes in the movies. In some respects, that’s only appropriate of course – being in the Empire is about doing your job, not being a hotshot pilot. Hotshot pilots would get court-martialed or Force-choked.
I’m not 100% comfortable sticking this in the number one slot, but age problems aside it’s still the most thoughtful and ambitious exploration of what it’s like to be a part of the mainstream Star Wars universe, sensibly avoiding both myth and cyclic shooting in favour of doing the job, seeing how Vader works with/against his subordinates, and keeping the galaxy safe from rebel scum.
Notes: There are two different versions of TIE Fighter available (and now sold as a package in most places), the original 1995 edition and the better-looking, hardware-accelerated 1998 one (recreated in the X-Wing vs TIE Fighter engine). What the latter has in extra prettiness it loses in terms of responsive music, lacking the dynamic iMuse system of the original. It also has more compatibility problems – I had to install multiple fixes to get it working in Windows 10, whereas the 1995 version works right out of the (DOS)box. Additionally, be aware the Steam version of TIE Fighter lacks some of the collector’s edition missions available in the GOG one. If you want words on how TIE Fighter compares to its X-Wing cousin, here’s Rob Zacny’s retrospective of both.
Not a Star Wars fan but still long for a life among the stars? Continue your reading with our picks for the best space games on PC.