The late 1990s was an awesome time for Star Wars games, and one of my personal favorites to this day is Shadows of the Empire. At the time it was awesome looking, and while the game didn’t necessarily flesh out the story as well as the book, it was nonetheless a treat for a young Star Wars fan. If you’ve never played it, or perhaps haven’t played it in years, then allow us to celebrate it together — 2016 marks the game’s 20th anniversary! — before you go off and play it, now that it’s once again available on GOG.com.
Yes, ever since the Atari days Star Wars games had been trying to recreate the awesome battle on Hoth, but Shadows of the Empire was the first that did it in 3D, giving us a chance to wrap up the legs of a walker and take it down. The icy battlefield looks a little sparse by today’s standards, but at the time it felt so alive, with Rebel turrets pouring fire into approaching probe droids, AT-STs, and Imperial walkers. This was the first time outside of the X-Wing series of games that I felt like I was participating in an epic battle, and it still feels pretty great to fly with Rogue Squadron as you do your darndest to protect Echo Base.
2. Reliving Awesome Movie Moments
Playing as Shadows’ hero, Dash Rendar, you get a chance to visit a number of planets and locales. Throughout all of it, though, is a fun mix of new environments that feel like firsts for the Star Wars universe, as well as scenes that are meant to connect fans to the films. For instance, the included screenshot is part of the Hoth level, as Dash comes across the Millennium Falcon right as it escapes from Darth Vader and the stormtroopers in the hangar. This is a pretty major moment in the films, and it grounds the game in the universe and sells the idea that you’re living out a real side story, someone important to the plot of the films, even if he never got any screen time.
3. Great-Looking Cinematics
Look, in the late ’90s the cinematics in Shadows of the Empire were pretty phenomenal. Fully voiced and animated, they sell the story far better than simply reading a screen with some text setting up the plot (though Shadows totally has iconic Star Wars story crawls, too!). Even better, they give a voice to characters we’d only read about in the Shadows book, and help us learn how to properly pronounce the name of game/book villain, Prince Xizor.
4. Boba Fett and Slave I
Since Shadows of the Empire takes place between Episodes V and VI, it unsurprisingly spends a lot of time focusing on the hunt for the captured hero Han Solo. What this means for players is that you get to take on the most deadly bounty hunter ever: Boba Fett. You track Fett to a distant world and, after taking on a host of Imperial soldiers, battle it out smuggler versus bounty hunter. It’s still a pretty intense fight, particularly since taking down Fett is only the first part of the fight — after that you still have to shoot up his ship, Slave I.
5. Riding a Swoop
Like taking down an AT-AT, I think most Star Wars fans have longed for games that fulfill the fantasy of racing a speeder bike through the forests of Endor. While today I think a number of games fulfill that pretty well, Shadows of the Empire stands as an early leader in that. No, you don’t get to visit Endor, but on one level you race a bunch of swoop-bike gang members to Obi-Wan Kenobi’s old house on Tatooine. It’s a fast, intense level, and ramming other swoop riders into debris still gives a sense of satisfaction.
6. Starship Battles
Whether it’s taking Dash Rendar’s ship, the Outrider, into a deadly asteroid field and blasting away TIE fighters, or an epic ship-to-ship dogfight in the game’s final level, Shadows of the Empire mixes in ship combat alongside planet-centric story sections to create a great Star Wars experience. Like the battle on Hoth, the starship sections of the game create a sense of scale that few games did at the time Shadows was released.
What are your favorite moments from Shadows of the Empire? Perhaps the fight against IG-88? If there’s something we missed, I’d love to hear it. If you’ve never played it, or maybe just can’t remember because it’s been 20 years since its original release, then check it out and play it again GOG.com.
Anthony Gallegos is a freelance writer who loves Star Wars and video games. He’s written for publications like IGN, GameSpy, 1UP, EGM, and Games for Windows: The Official Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @chufmoney.