In Replaying the Classics, StarWars.com revisits Star Wars games of yesteryear, examining why we loved them then and why they stand the test of time.
In Star Wars Rebels, one of Grand Admiral Thrawn’s pet projects is the development and manufacture of specialized “TIE defenders” on the planet Lothal. What some fans may not know is that these starfighters, outfitted with hyperdrives and shielding tech, unlike most TIEs, first appeared in a computer game almost 25 years ago: 1994’s Star Wars: TIE Fighter.
A direct sequel to X-Wing — the first of several Star Wars titles developed by Marin County, California’s Totally Games — TIE Fighter isn’t an easy or simple game, by any means. Because it’s a spaceflight simulator, it does fall somewhere on the more hardcore end of the spectrum. This is definitely not Rogue Squadron. Often considered one of the greatest video games of all time, and certainly among the finest games to bear the Star Wars license, it’s one I wish I’d played years ago.
Having come out a year after The Last Command, the final book in Timothy Zahn’s Legends-era Thrawn trilogy, TIE Fighter’s story does an exceptional job of exploring the inner workings of the Empire during the classic Star Wars films. In the aftermath of the Battle of Hoth, you take on the role of a rank-and-file TIE pilot; much of the game follows the day-to-day, often mundane tasks of such a recruit.
While individual tasks may sound straightforward, TIE Fighter’s inherent complexity keeps you immersed and engaged. The game boasts an incredible breadth of detail, with a rich ballet of systems to manage constantly, making good use of the keyboard for players who want to get the full “space sim” experience. One of the most important things to keep in mind is the starfighter’s limited energy reserves, which can be diverted at will to reinforce certain areas of your shielding, add damage output to your weapons systems, or power up your ion engines for a boost of speed.
Every engagement has a strategic element to it; this isn’t just an arcade shooter set in outer space. You’ll want to lead targets naturalistically, anticipating enemy movements and even weapon behavior. And space feels vast and empty for great stretches at a time, making the game’s true setting not any specific Star Wars locale, but rather the cockpit of your trusty TIE fighter. Flying, above all else, feels smooth and intuitive, and it’s that first-person flight-sim foundation that holds the whole experience together.
As you progress through TIE Fighter’s story — rooting out rebel scum and quelling an internal plot to betray and overthrow the Emperor — you’ll unlock more and more of the Empire’s fantastic starfighters to fly into battle, from the TIE bomber to the experimental TIE/D defender.
Don’t wait for years to enlist in the Imperial Navy, like I did. Install this bona-fide classic and see if you’ve truly got what it takes to be the ace pilot the Empire needs in these dark times.
Alex Kane is a journalist based in west-central Illinois. He has written for Fangoria, Polygon, the website of Rolling Stone, Variety, and other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @alexjkane.