A new hope. After two boring-but-fine Star Wars: Battlefront games, we're now on the verge of EA's third swing of the lightsaber with the release of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. There are reasons to think it might be more interesting than early trailers suggested, after writers such as our own Matt came back from a recent preview event with his pockets filled with (qualified) comparisons to Sekiro.
What are the chances that it will live up to the very best Star Wars games to grace the PC, however? Here are our picks for the company Fallen Order should aspire to keep.
Words by Alec Meer and Graham Smith.
Best Star Wars games
To look over the history of Star Wars games on PC is to look over the history of the PC itself, with multiple genre-defining games to choose from. We've had to be ruthless in order to whittle this list down to 10. If your favourite game Star Wars game is absent from the list, hop to the comments not to yell at us, but to force-persuade your fellow readers into joining your side. You won't convince us, though - Jedi mind tricks don't work on whatever kind of swamp trader we are.
10. Star Wars Episode 1: Racer
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 latter, 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 makes me feel warmer towards The Phantom Menace than it deserves.
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' first-person shooter 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 2019 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 expanded universe 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.
6. Star Wars: Battlefront II
EA's modern Battlefronts are infinitely prettier than the 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: LucasArts turned off the Gamespy-powered multiplayer servers a while ago, but multiplayer was restored in 2017 viva GOG Galaxy with working crossplay with Steam copies of the game. At the time of writing, there are 260 people playing it on Steam.
Onwards to the best Star Wars games, numbers 5-2.
5. Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic II: The Sith Lords
I come and go on which of the two KOTORs I should most recommend. The first is so much more stable and complete, but the second's the more interesting and complex tale. So, having put KOTOR 1 in the general best games based on movies feature, this time around I'm going for Obsidian's more compellingly written and characterised sequel to Bioware's original.
While it is in many respects very similar to its predecessor, that's not such a problem if you didn't play KOTOR the first (although you'll lose the excitement of appearances from that game's cast). Perhaps more importantly, it works hard to make its characters more nuanced than KOTOR's good/bad/comedy cast, with even its major villain being, if not fully sympathetic, then at least possessing far more shades of grey than the Sith norm.
As far as singleplayer Star Wars RPGs go, this is still the highlight, though you'll need to manually fix it up if you want to have a decent time with it.
Notes: KOTOR II was in a very ropey state for quite some time, including not officially playing terribly nice with modern PCs and monitors, but in 2015 the Steam version received a shock patch which improved things significantly. You may need to do a bit of addiontal work though - we ran a guide here. If this isn't your first time around the KOTOR block, you should probably give the Restored Content Mod a try too, which inserts cut, unfinished aspects of the game. That stuff isn't as slick as can be, but it does shine a little more light on what KOTOR II was trying to do.
4. Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance
It's not the best in the Star Wars space sim series, but it's the first fully-3D one and as such it's the one which is holding up best, mostly thanks to the hard work of modders. Crucially, it's also got an ongoing multiplayer community, which is where to go if the new Battlefront games' lightweight spaceship elements leave you unsatisfied. It even supports modern flight sticks.
X-Wing Alliance might not have the narrative punch and playfulness of TIE Fighter, and admittedly there's only so much even the mods can achieve in terms of sparkliness, but as a solid, even fairly detailed Star Wars space combat game, this is absolutely as good as it gets. It's a travesty that the series stopped here: one of the most tragic casualties of the prequel/Clone Wars era.
Notes: There are quite a few mods kicking around, but the one you most want is the XWAU Craft Pack, which re-textures all the ships to look a whole lot better. However, there's a ton of other trickery involved in getting the thing running right - fortunately for you, I wrote a guide to all that a little while back.
3. Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga
At a time when all things Star Wars seemed deeply, perhaps inescapably, bound into the characters and aesthetics of the prequels, an unabashed celebration of the charm and silliness of the original movies was just what we needed. Lego Star Wars also blazed a trail, its developers since able to create endless Lego+pop culture fusions without any significant failures. It was in finding a way to boil the saga down to pure character, a perfect halfway house between affection and mockery, that Lego Star Wars most succeeded though.
It's a pure, unashamed celebration, free from any idea that it had to embrace either lore or darkness, and packing more charisma into one scene than Episodes I-III managed across their entire duration. It even folded in the toy collection/destruction aspect of Star Wars obsession which so many of us had back in the 80s.
Notes: Only now available as part of a package including the prequel adaptations, but even those are far more glorious than the source material possibly deserves. Also, play it in two-player, shared-screen mode, ideally with a young family member, for maximum entertainment.
Buy it: Steam
2. Star Wars: Dark Forces
71 Megabytes. And so, so much more satisfying than Battlefront's 27 Gigabytes. Incredible, really. I had an almost overwhelming urge to put this at number one - although, in all honesty, this is more of an 'all of these are good' piece rather than an actual hierarchy - but I went back and played quite a bit of it first. While the pew-pew'n'explore shooting, the Death Star decor, and the enemy animations are SO GOOD, and somehow so much more Star Warsy than any of the 3D things here despite the blurry 2D sprites and reedy MIDI soundtrack, the level design is ageing uncomfortably
In its defence, it came from an era when cavernous, repeating mazes and keycards were, thanks to Doom, what was expected, but, after the shooty-bliss of the initial Stormtrooper-slaughtering pass around a level, anyone who isn't intimately familiar with the game will be wandering around in confused circles trying to work out which identical door they haven't been through yet, which takes a terrible toll on the pace. What Star Warsiness the delightful blasters and the industrial design has in spades is lost by the fact it can't retain the forward momentum that characterises the original films. Wide open spaces are infinitely preferable to latter-day shooters' linear corridors on paper, but in practice require something more than broken spirals of illogical walls and steps to nowhere. Nostalgia makes many of us olden game-gonks forgiving of this stuff, but this is a feature about the best Star Wars games for everyone. Difficult.
Even so, Dark Forces lands the most effective nostalgia-punches of anything here, both in terms of FPS history and just how on-the-nose its recreation of blasting Stormtroopers in Imperial bases is. It's even more of a big, warm hug from the past than The Force Awakens is, and in short bursts its action is as good as Star Wars evocation gets. Just avert your eyes when laughably none-more-90s protagonist Kyle Katarn appears in cutscenes.
Notes: The DOSBox-powered Steam and GOG versions are OK, but you really should give it a spin in the DarkXL fan mod/engine, which makes it both look significantly prettier and tightens the controls for the modern era. If you're using it with the Steam version, you'll need to copy the files out to a directory without any spaces in the name - e.g. C:\dark - otherwise Dark Forces will crash on launch.
The best Star Wars game awaits on the next page.
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.