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Patrick Hope: Waiting in the shadows

With "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" coming out this week, it only seems fair to write about a Star Wars game. And there are a whole lot of them of varying degrees of quality from all the way back in the Nintendo Entertainment System days until th...

Patrick Hope
Patrick Hope

With “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” coming out this week, it only seems fair to write about a Star Wars game. And there are a whole lot of them of varying degrees of quality from all the way back in the Nintendo Entertainment System days until the present.
However, for a long time, the games only dealt with adaptations of the movies. And really, those more or less topped out with the “Super Star Wars” games. By the time the 3-D era of gaming started, there were going to be questions of whether the growing Expanded Universe was going to be added into the “Star Wars” video-game world.
And so, in 1996, Lucasarts launched a whole multimedia campaign around a shiny new “Star Wars” property. That property, “Shadows of the Empire,” was set between “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” and included a comic, a novel and a Nintendo 64 game. For a whole generation, “Shadows of the Empire” was one of their first and defining “Star Wars” games.
“Shadows of the Empire” covers a lot of genres, including kind of clunky racing, pretty bland shooting, and some “Star Fox”-like flying stages, including one of the original video game versions of the now customary Battle of Hoth. But primarily, it’s a 3-D action-adventure game.
Our hero, Dash Rendar, plows through ships, spaceports and the sewers of Coruscant, occasionally running into some of the big guns of the “Star Wars” universe, including Boba Fett and Luke Skywalker, as well as a host of original characters, like Prince Xizor, the head of the Black Sun criminal organization that appears in “Shadows of the Empire” and really no other works.
So gameplay-wise, “Shadows of the Empire” is really a mixed bag. One of the big problems is that it tries to cover so many genres that it doesn’t do any of them really well. The shooting stages are solid, but uninspired. The Imperial Sewers is up there as one of the worst sewer levels that you can imagine, featuring being able to drown, having to use a jetpack for various sections, as well as everyone’s favorite-having to track down keys to open sewer grates.
It’s a game that, in 2015, really shows its age. Even the stages that were celebrated at the time, like the Battle of Hoth, have been eclipsed pretty clearly by subsequent renditions. But hey, you can still beat an AT-AT just by shooting it a lot.
I’m not going to pretend that “Shadows of the Empire” is some brilliant video game, because it’s not. It’s a perfectly fine game that happens to have a certain amount of historical significance and nostalgia attached to it. Having recently played it, there are still bright spots, but it was a lot more fun back in 1996 or 1997 when it was the cutting edge of “Star Wars” games. It’s hard to recommend such a game now, but there you go.
If you’ve never played it before, you’re probably not going to like it too much.
Hope is a local attorney and video game enthusiast. If you’re wondering, the bad sewer level has a bad boss at the end in the form of a giant dianoga.

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