Greetings Backloggers! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Summer vacation has hit hard, and with it, backlog progress has largely ground to a halt. There is one game that I’ve finally finished, however, and that would be the late ’90s classic Star Wars: X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter – Balance of Power!
How do you follow up on a legend? TIE Fighter was an instant classic on release, a game that consistently shows up in top 100 games of all time lists to this day, more than twenty years after release. That’s a success story that’s difficult to top. But LucasArts and Totally Games thought they had an answer.
By the late ’90s, multiplayer was finally taking off at LAN parties, and across homes with early high speed lines. Led by classics like Doom and Descent, LucasArts thought they had the perfect recipe for success – multiplayer dogfights and cooperative missions! The follow-up to TIE Fighter wouldn’t have a campaign, or storyline anywhere close to the previous games. Instead it was focused around multiplayer battles, with a smattering of single player missions thrown in.
It was a controversial, at the time, decision. Gamers with the internet speeds to play online loved it, but everyone who had enjoyed the long, intense campaigns of X-Wing and TIE Fighter missed those story missions that gave you a part inside the timeline of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. Eventually LucasArts relented and released a true single-player expansion campaign called Balance of Power.
A stand-alone game unto itself, Balance of Power (BoP) provided a pair of fifteen mission campaigns: one for the Rebels and one for the Imperials. Both campaigns mirrored each other’s storyline, as each side focused on taking control of a mostly unaligned sector.
Due to its multiplayer roots, the single-player missions have some distinct differences from other games in the series. Depending on difficulty settings, players have multiple respawns to work with, and battles are always with a group of seven AI controlled wingmen. Another notable item is that players have the ability to select their own place within the eight-ship element. Don’t like dogfighting? Pick the heavy attack group. Hate torpedo runs? Go take an X-Wing assigned to Space Superiority. It is a far more flexible campaign than any other game in the series.
It’s also remarkably difficult. Make no mistake. Even with respawns and multiple semi-competent wingmen, these are some of the most difficult missions in of the X-Wing series. Enemies swarm you, you are almost always outgunned and outnumbered, and that’s not even getting to the first in-game appearance of a Super Star Destroyer.
Backlog Verdict: Despite the difficulty, this is absolutely worth playing for any fan of the X-Wing series. The GoG.com version plays a little better than the Steam version, but either is nicely accessible and patched for modern PCs. It is a poor choice of games to enter the series at (I’d recommend starting with X-Wing and working up from there) but since Disney doesn’t show any indication of signing a studio to create any new X-Wing style games, there’s no reason to skip over this in favor of going straight to X-Wing Alliance.
Previous Backlog Count: 1,199
Current Backlog Count: 1,212 – Well, that’s not gone in the proper direction, has it.
Next Time: Backlog Burndown comes back from Summer Break with Duke Nukem Forever.
Backlog Burndown is a semi-regular feature on Marooner’s Rock. Read previous columns in the archives, and suggest future games to play in the comments!