That old space sim from LucasArts, which is possibly one of the greatest games ever made. Why? Well, probably because the developers of X-Wing Alliance probably understood the PURPOSE of a computer game, which is supposed to entertain people and let people relax and have fun, not make them gawp at how pretty it looks while they play through a boring series of levels with a boring, overcomplicated storyline and boring gameplay. So, instead of spending 99.9% of their budget on graphics then ending up with £5 left for gameplay and story, they did nearly the exact opposite. Hence, the graphics suck a bit, but frankly, anyone who cares about the graphics has no soul, because this game has amazing gameplay, brilliant missions, and a storyline so good that it actually makes me CARE about what happens next and makes me care about the characters, even though you don’t physically see ANY of them, apart from Emkay and Aeron.
Also, the depth and the way it’s laid out makes me feel like a part of the story, and not just a dude controlling someone else in the game. And even if the below-par graphics DO bug you for some reason, there’s a massive mod available that upgrades most of the craft to look better, and there’s one that even adds new ships.
They got the gameplay WELL covered, it is unbelievably in-depth. It does require a lot of skill to be a good pilot, too. Probably the most common example is that you’ve got to actively manage where the power in your craft goes to, otherwise there are gonna be problems. By default, it’s balanced evenly between your lasers, shields and engines. But then when you shoot something, you’d want to sacrifice engine power to recharge your lasers. Similarly, if you’ve taken some heavy shield damage, and you want to quickly charge your shields whilst still being able to shoot things, you can max out your shield charge, but you’ll lose some speed. Other times, if you want to escape from something, you’d dump all the power to your engines, so you’ll go like lightning, but you’ll steadily lose shields and laser power. You can even transfer power from your shields to your lasers, or vice versa, so if you’re shooting at something and you quickly need more laser power, you can transfer it from your shields and keep going! And even though the gameplay and the controls are quite complex, the main aim of the game is pretty simple – shoot the crap out of everything bad before it shoots the crap out of you! And if you can’t take one of the missions… there’s a button that appears when you fail a mission, saying "skip this mission", which will make you forfeit any medals you get from the mission. If you don’t want to skip the mission, there are options in the main menu that allow you to turn on invincibility and unlimited ammo. Oh ya, those options just THERE, no unlocking or cheat codes required! If you do use them, though, you’ll take a massive hit to the score you earn at the end of the mission, so it’s harder to increase your rating, and you’ll earn no bonus score either, so you can’t be promoted. At least that’s what I THINK bonus score does. I know it gives you a special medal when you hit a certain milestone, and upgrades it when you hit higher milestones.
Then there’s the simulator… which is one of the coolest custom modes ever. You can choose how many teams there are, two, four or eight. You can have up to sixteen human players, and fill any empty slots (or Flight Groups, FG’s for short) with good AI of different difficulties that actually make a difference. Then for each of the bots you assign, you can select ANYTHING in the game for them to fly/use – starfighters, starships, stations, containers, freighters or transports, anything. Unfortunately, players get a smaller choice of craft, limited to starfighters and light transports, but that’s okay, since a normal player can’t really take control of all god-knows how many guns there are on a Star Destroyer and do a good job.
After that, you can assign one of two modes, either Melee or Combat Engagement. Melee is the "kill everything and kill it quick" mode – players have to score as many points as they can before time runs out, and the team with the highest score winz. Combat Engagement is the more complicated game mode, where each team has to complete a certain objective before the other teams complete their objective. Every team can be assigned a different objective. So, for example, there’s the game mode I made up – Destroy the Cargo! Team 1 have four FG’s, each with five waves, so basically, each player on Team 1 has five lives. Their aim is to "Destroy All Primary FG’s". You can choose which FG’s are "primary" in the lobby, so Team 2 have an FG of three cargo containers on their side, which are set to primary. So, when Team 1 blow up all Team 2’s cargo containers, they win. But on Team 2, they have a different objective, which is just "Destroy All FG’s". Basically, "kill everything". So if Team 2 destroy every player on Team 1 five times, they win. That’s not all, though… you can choose where the engagement will happen, either in deep space,
in an asteroid field, or in a mine field. You can choose an exact time
limit from 1 minute to 60 minutes, so you can have 5 minutes, 10 minutes… or even weird numbers like 34 minutes, if you really want.
You can choose how far you’ll start from the opposing teams, up to
10km. You can even choose whether starfighters will collide with each other or not! It’s so flexible! The only things you can’t do is choose exactly where objects will appear, or use your hyperdrive to warp to another area, but I’m pretty sure there’s a mod to create simulator missions like that somewhere! It amazes me, though… with the massive amount of game modes people can make in the Simulator, it’s a shock that no-one plays it online anymore!
Usually you’d use the MSN GameZone (or something like that) to find people playing the game, since the only connection methods in-game are Direct IP, LAN, Serial or Modem. But ever since the MSN GameZone took X-Wing Alliance off their games list (for no reason that I can think of), someone’s made a custom online lobby to replace it. I tried it out, but there was ONE other person in the server I connected to, and I don’t really like talking to a SINGLE random person that I found in a random lobby at a random address, so I disconnected. I tried the other X-Wing Alliance server in the list, and it just failed to connect. Shame, really, I never truly got to play it online with others. I played it with Ped ages ago, and it was awesome fun, but we couldn’t speak to each other properly in-game, because we didn’t have Skype back then. We couldn’t use a VoIP program anyway, because I only had dial-up. Hence, the games were a bit laggy for me, too. It was especially annoying when I set a mission up wrong, and I couldn’t talk to Ped to tell him how to quit. I couldn’t help thinking how much fun it would be with three or more players, though!
I’ve gotta play it online again at some point, I’ve missed it so much. I’m gonna poke Ped again to see if he’s interested. Any other people out there with X-Wing Alliance that miss playing online? I’m gonna try and round up a few people to play a game, because it’s ridiculous fun.
PS: If I’ve induced nostalgia and you have JUST tried to install X-Wing Alliance on a 64-bit system (and failed), don’t sweat it. The reason it’s failing is because the X-Wing Alliance installer is a 16-bit application, and Microsoft has removed all 16-bit support in their 64-bit operating systems. I’m not 100% sure WHY they thought that was a good idea, but there you go. Don’t worry, though, THERE IS HOPE! Someone’s made an application that gets around this by taking the files off your X-Wing Alliance CD and recompiling them into a more modern 32-bit installer. Here’s a link. Just hover over Software, then click Games, and it’s the 4th one down the list, unless you want the game in German, then it’s the 3rd one. You can thank me later. MASSIVE kudos to the guy who made that recompiler.
PPS: If the site I’ve just given you is down (like it was when I tried the link), or if you can’t be arsed to navigate a couple of pages through that site to get at the installer, don’t cry! The installer’s right here at my 4shared account. Also, there are instructions in the window when you run the program, I’d read them if I were you.