At the battle of Yavin
Rebel terrorists, aided by
spies and traitors within the
Empire, struck a cowardly
blow at the new symbol of
Imperial power… The Death Star!
Darth Vader brought swift justice
to the Rebels by destroying their
main base on Hoth. The pitiful
remnants of the Alliance have
now scattered to the Outer Rim.
In the days ahead, the Emperor
will call upon the Imperial Navy
to eradicate the last vestiges
of rebellion and restore law
and order to the galaxy!
Always wanted to be a part of the Star Wars universe and fight for the forces of law and order against the rebellion? In Lucasarts 1994 flight sim TIE Fighter, you will get your chance.
It would have been around ’94 or ’95 that I was introduced to TIE Fighter by a friend. In my post about my Top three movies I discussed my affinity for the Empire:
The Empire Strikes Back appeals to me in many respects because I always loved the ethos and aesthetic of the Galactic Empire. I always – and in no way secretly – cheer for the bad guy. This perhaps speaks volumes about my character!
Being able to jump into the seat of the iconic TIE Fighter and blast away at X-Wings, A-Wings and Y-Wings was a dream come true.
It’s important to note this is a simulator and not an arcade-action game. Using a joystick and the full keyboard there is a hugely steep learning curve when you first start playing TIE Fighter. Its not a game you can just pick up and play. There are training missions and tutorials to assist you in understanding the controls; they really should be mandatory. Without them you’ll have a tough time understanding what you need to do to use a TIE in anger against traitors and rebels. To give you some idea of the complexity, this is the keyboard reference card.
Point and shoot, it is not.
TIE Fighter runs alongside the events of Empire Strikes Back, starting in the aftermath of the Battle of Yavin (when the first Death Star was destroyed). You play as a new recruit, green and inexperienced TIE Fighter pilot and your first mission objective is fairly underwhelming; inspect freighters passing through the sector to check for rebels fleeing from Hoth. You soon learn that you’re a small part of a larger effort, a small cog in a giant imperial war machine. From small beginnings flying the basic TIE Fighter with laser cannons and nothing much between you and the void, you quickly advance onto more powerful ships with advanced technology such as shields and hyperdrives. In total there are seven different ships to fly from the Fighter, Interceptor and Bomber basic models to the TIE Advanced and super-sleek TIE Defender. Throw in Gunships and Missile Boats and you have a veritable arsenal to unleash against the enemies of the empire.
What I love most about TIE Fighter is the immersion into the Star Wars universe. I had never known anything like it before. Characters such as Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine from the movies crop up frequently; you can even fly a mission with the Dark Lord of the Sith. But the main OH MY GOD appearance was that of Vice Admiral Thrawn. Thrawn made his first appearance in the 1991 Timothy Zahn novel Heir to the Empire. He is a badass military genius who takes command of the Imperial Navy after the events of Return of the Jedi where he is Grand Admiral Thrawn. In TIE Fighter he the overall commander of the fleet you are a part of for most of the game. This inclusion of Expanded Universe characters shoved TIE Fighter into my consciousness. It felt like you were truly a part of the Imperial Navy. There was no sympathy for the rebels. In TIE Fighter, the heroic Rebel Alliance is the enemy.
TIE Fighter has so many features to explore you can spend hours and hours playing around on the concourse before finally starting your first mission.
Here there is a training simulator – the first step for a novice pilot, a combat trainer where you can take part in simulated (simulations inside simulations!) combat missions, a tech room where you can check out the technical specifications of both Imperial and enemy craft, and the film room where you can watch back recordings of previous engagements. So much to do before finally embarking on your first mission.
That first battle can be over incredibly quickly if you’re not careful. TIEs are fragile craft and it only takes a few stray laser shots before you’re either dead or floating in space. You have to choose your targets carefully and work as part of a team in order to bring down larger enemy ships. If you stick at it you’ll soon become a master pilot; the best the Imperial Navy has to offer, and late game the missions increase in complexity and difficulty. Engaging fast, manoeuvrable A-Wing fighters with a TIE Advanced is one of the best experiences in the game – a true dog fight. Taking down large capital ships with rockets and bombs dropped from an unshielded, slow and sluggish TIE Bomber, wonderfully exciting.
As you progress the game charts your progress. It is a statisticians dream. You will get stats on number of kills, shots on target, craft lost. You will be promoted all the way up to General and, if you can complete bonus and secret missions, be inducted into the Secret Order of the Empire. Completing a mission and missing an objective is excruciating. It’s so tempting to go back and play it again to hit all the objectives to advance outside of the battles.
TIE Fighter occupied me for months in the nineties and, in researching this post, I’ve ordered a new joystick to be able to play as the forces of the Empire once again…