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.
The third and final sequel to 1993’s Star Wars: X-Wing, Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance is an important piece of video-game history. Perhaps the most underrated entry in the fondly remembered series, it plays like a modern spaceflight simulator with a healthy dose of retro-3D charm. It features an original Legends-era story, with gorgeous action-heavy cutscenes, an authentic soundtrack cherry-picked from the best of John Williams’s classic scores, and top-notch voice-over performances. In terms of visual production values, the X-Wing series has never looked better.
If X-Wing and TIE Fighter let players see the galaxy from the viewpoint of the rebels and the Empire, then Alliance tells the story of everyone else — the civilians just trying to get by and, in some cases, those who thrive among the criminal underworld. But it also ties in directly with story elements established in both X-Wing and TIE Fighter, like the traitorous Admiral Zaarin and a number of warships first seen in those earlier installments.
Developed by Lawrence Holland’s Totally Games, X-Wing Alliance follows the story of the Azzameen family during the period between the Battle of Hoth and the destruction of the second Death Star. The Azzameens run a sizable shipping operation (Twin Suns Transport Services) using a pair of twin Corellian YT-model freighters, the Sabra and the Selu, which fans will recognize as more or less identical to the famed Millennium Falcon. Though Ace Azzameen’s family favors the Rebellion, the last thing they want is to get caught up in the Galactic Civil War. But sometimes, as heroes like Jyn Erso and the First Order defector Finn have discovered, war doesn’t give us a choice.
Eventually, players earn access to a number of familiar Alliance starfighters: X-wings, A-wings, Y-wings, B-wings, Z-95s. Despite the game’s age — Alliance was first released in 1999, when Star Wars: The Phantom Menace reignited interest in Star Wars gaming — its flight controls feel as intuitive and fluid as ever. With something like a standard PlayStation or Xbox controller, and little to no configuration, players can use a combination of gamepad buttons, analog thumbsticks, and simple keyboard commands (e.g., “Shift-D” initiates an automated docking sequence) to make their way across the galaxy. You’ll take on no end of TIE fighters, help steal the shuttle Tydirium, and play a key role in the victory at Endor.
In their original staff review, IGN critics praised X-Wing Alliance for its graphical fidelity, well-crafted narrative, and stellar sound design. PC Gamer UK called it “a superb, demanding reworking of the films and the original X-Wing.” Game Revolution said, “The Force is strong with this one.”
Looking back at it now, this game seems to be a definitive Star Wars entry within a somewhat niche genre (the space-combat sim). But the X-Wing series found an adoring audience, and is still regarded as one of the all-time greats. Alliance, in particular, is a vital and beautifully rendered example of where Star Wars games have been — one that just might become your next big favorite.
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.