O.K., we blew it. We forgot to publish Phil's review in the last issue! Sorry, Phil. As promised, here's the entire review of Tie Fighter.

TIE FIGHTER from LucasArts

Reviewed by Phil Sandler

          Computer       Graphics        Memory       Disk Space
Minimum   386DX-33       VGA/MCGA        +1MB EMS     15MB
Max/Rec.  486                            +2MB EMS

Control:  Joystick (recommended), Mouse
Sound:    Sound Blaster, Sound Blaster Pro, Sound Blaster 16, Awe32, 
          PAS, Roland MT 32 /LAPC-1

Reviewed version 1.0 on:   486SX-33, 4MB RAM, Sound Blaster 2.0 
Reviewer recommends:       486DX2 for maximum detail level, 2MB EMS, 
                           1MB disk cache, sound card, good joystick 

In Tie Fighter you play the role of a starfighter for the tyrannical Empire in a game based on the classic LucasFilms production _Star Wars_ (or, quite probably, _The Empire Strikes Back_). It is your duty to complete seven tours of duty (called Battles) so the Empire might better tighten its stranglehold on the galaxy. Tie Fighter boasts many small but significant improvements over its predecessor X-Wing, and resolves most of the complaints players had about the original game. While the game suffers from a weak ending, it is still a fantastic display of ingenious design and programming.


The documentation consists of three articles: the reference card, the Starfighter Pilot Manual and The Stele Chronicles. The Chronicles includes a nice story that leads into the plot of the game, specifications for ship types, and a walk-through of ship systems and displays. Since the combat chamber provides its own mini-tutorial and the plot of the game has little to do with the pilot's history, reading The Chronicles is hardly a necessity. It is a decent read, though, and is certainly informative. The Pilot Manual gives a detailed description of the basic interface, the cockpit, weapons, and on-board information systems. This works well as a reference for those who wish to learn by playing. The reference card is the most important piece of documentation. Every important in-flight command is included in the form of a simple list. It is this card that will probably be used most frequently by beginner and veteran players alike.


The first thing the player sees on start-up is the copy protection. Three symbols and a page number are given, to which the corresponding word must be found. The symbols are meaningless, so it is really just a matter of finding the correct page and typing in the word at the bottom. As documentation lookup goes, this is easily tolerable. Once the registration officer has been satisfied that the area is clear of space pirates, the registration desk becomes available.

Players who are familiar with X-Wing will feel right at home in Tie's front end. Getting around is a matter of pointing at the appropriate location and clicking with either the mouse or joystick button. After entering the pilot's name, the player may press to call up a menu that includes pilot records and medals, backup options, and difficulty settings. There are three levels of difficulty, which can be described as follows:

EASY- You are basically just another cog in the huge machine that is the Empire. Your wingmen and other allied flight groups will do most of the damage, while you perform the odd heroic act. This level is much too easy for any but the least experienced pilots.

MEDIUM- You are a pilot with potential. If you are skilled enough, you may win favor and promotion. This is the perfect level for those who felt that X-Wing was too difficult, but still desire a reasonable challenge.

HARD- You are the Scion of the Dark Side, the Darling of the Empire, the Rebel Exterminator! You will be expected to complete tasks that would make even a Jedi Master balk. You will surge up through the ranks and become a General, but more importantly you will advance quickly in the secret order of the Emperor. The force had BETTER be with you if you play at this level . . .

The exit in the registration room leads to the main concourse, from which the whole space station may be accessed. Doors lead to the film room, tech room, training simulator, combat chamber, battle selection/view cut-scene room, and battle hanger (briefing room). The film room allows the viewing of films saved from previous missions. Though the VCR options are identical to those in X-Wing, they are still quite impressive. Any object may be viewed from the vantage point of any other object, and a free floating camera can be positioned anywhere in the combat theater. The scope of this feature is incredible; it's much like watching a movie where YOU are the director, and YOU play the starring role. The film room is also an important place to study "what went wrong" on failed missions.

The tech room is a showcase of every ship in the game (barring only the "mystery ship"). All of the ships are shown in 3-D, and may be rotated to view from different angles. Some new ships include the escort shuttle and assault transport, which sport deadly rear turrets, the corellian transport (like Solo's Millennium Falcon), new mine and container types, and variations on capital ships. The additional ships add dimension to the game; different enemies require fresh strategies. The tech room itself has very little to do with gameplay, but it IS nicely done.

The training simulator that was (in X-Wing) a string of platforms has been replaced with a long, twisting tube. The tube is filled with targets which the player can destroy for extra time, and obstacles that grow increasingly difficult as levels progress. The purpose of the simulator is to get a basic feel of how the different ships respond, and also to hone targeting skills. After completing a minimal amount of levels, the player is awarded a training patch. Most players should have no trouble navigating their way through enough levels to earn the patch.

The combat chamber serves as an opportunity for pilots to get the feel of what real combat is like in a risk-free environment. The missions provide an in-flight tutorial through messages from wingmen or the command center. All goals--primary, secondary, and bonus (more on these below)--can be discovered by pressing the "g" key while in the simulator. The combat chamber's missions are, for the most part, a nice prelude to the real thing. However, a few of the missions are more difficult than those in the battles themselves! Tie Interceptor Mission four is arguably the toughest mission in the game.

The battle selection room gives a short description of available battles and allows the viewing of end-battle cut-scenes for completed tours. The mid-battle cut-scenes, which often include dialogue between Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader, can not be accessed in this manner. The only time they may be seen is when they are "awarded" for completing the necessary mission. The player must achieve victories in seven battles to complete the game, four of which are available at the beginning. The battles themselves still follow a linear progression--that is, the second mission in a battle can not be flown without completing the first mission. There are still no winning and losing paths. This was a problem in X-wing, since it was possible to be hopelessly stuck on a difficult mission for long stretches of time. In Tie Fighter, however, the problem is resolved by allowing the player to change difficulty levels, use invulnerability (and still get credit for the mission), and/or opt not to finish secondary or bonus goals.

The briefing room consists of the mission map, a flight officer, and a dark, mysterious figure in the background (not present for every mission). Clicking on the map shows the combat theatre complete with all spacecraft known to be in the area, and provides primary mission objectives and instructions on how to complete them. The officer's questions add detail to the story, and put each mission in perspective in regard to the whole battle. The officer can also provide information on expected enemy opposition (not always accurate) and available reinforcements. I don't want to give too much away about the dark figure, but let me just say that his advice is the key to entrance into the Emperor's secret order. All in all, the briefing room provides valuable information, but only to a limited extent. REAL info on a mission can only be obtained by entering the mission proper.


All of the previous topics I've covered, the basic interface, the tech room, the film room, etc., are really just window dressing surrounding the real game. The "meat" of Tie Fighter exists inside the simulation itself. Once you drop into that cockpit, you are transported into the Star Wars Universe, an as yet unsurpassed medium of (though I hate to say it) virtual reality. Every ship has its own agenda, and will do whatever possible to complete its objectives. Enemies and friendlies alike react realistically to the player's actions; an attack on an unsuspecting flight group will undoubtedly result in a fast and vicious counter-attack. Likewise, firing missiles at a capital ship might cause it to release its own barrage of missiles. More on enemy artificial intelligence below.

The flight model is geared more towards entertainment than realism. Control is simple and intuitive: push the joystick forward or back to point the nose of the craft down or up, move the joystick to either side to turn. Pushing button two on the joystick allows the craft to roll without changing its orientation. Speed may be adjusted in a variety of ways involving keyboard commands. A decent joystick provides perfect control of ship movement.

At the highest detail level, the graphics are simply astonishing. New shading adds much depth to the original polygon-based engine. If you don't have a DX2 or Pentium, don't fret! The game still looks very nice with all detail turned off. The quality of animated sequences ranges from excellent to disappointing. In particular, close-ups of speaking characters tend to look rather blocky, while ships rocketing past the "camera" are breathtaking. The dialogue in these sequences leaves much to be desired, as well. Admiral Thrawn stating very simply "This Rebel stronghold has no hope of escape" did not ring true to me at all. The music is basically the same that played through X-Wing--no great improvement there, but this was really not an aspect of the game that needed improving. Some new digital effects have also been added. Racing too close to a tie fighter or raking an enemy with laser fire will produce effects that are straight out of the feature films. All in all, the "bells and whistles" fans will be quite pleased with the improvements made in this package.

The biggest and best improvements this game holds over X-Wing involve the in-flight information systems that are available to the player. The push of a button will call up the mission goals screen, a new and improved 3-D map, a log screen that records in-flight messages, or a threat display that gives information about targeted craft. The CMD display has also been altered to show the target's orientation--an extremely useful improvement. It would have been nice to have been able to jump straight from one screen to another (i.e. map to log screen), but this is a rare and unimportant oversight.

The mission goals screen very simply states whether a goal is complete, as yet incomplete, or an utter failure. Goals range from inspecting harmless containers to leading assaults on capital ships. Mission objectives are now broken down into three categories: primary, secondary and bonus goals. All primary goals must be achieved to complete the mission; if even one is failed, continuing is pointless. Secondary goals usually involve the dark, mysterious figure in the briefing room and the secret order of the Emperor. These goals MUST be completed in order to see the extra cut-scenes associated with the order. Bonus goals remain hidden until completed, and are mainly for extra points, stature, and bragging rights. Some of them are virtually impossible for all but the best of pilots.

The new map feature improves on the map in the original game in nearly every way. The map has been "fixed" so that a targeted craft will STAY targeted after returning to the cockpit. In X-Wing, the desired craft had to be re-selected after leaving the map, which was especially annoying when there were dozens of craft to cycle through in order to find the correct one. Also, because the map was only two-dimensional in X-Wing, it was hard to get an overall feel of where crafts were positioned in relation to one another. This is not the case in Tie Fighter. A tap of the spacebar will toggle 2D/3D mode, which provides a much better picture of the current situation. Additionally, the selected craft's heading is now represented by a line from the craft to its destination. If the craft is attacking, the line will be drawn to its target. With these improvements, the player can easily jump to the map screen, determine attack priorities, and act accordingly.

The artificial intelligence in Tie Fighter is slightly better than that in X-Wing. While a single starfighter still has no real chance against a human opponent, flight groups tend to lean more towards team tactics then they did in the original game. A targeted fighter may fly away in a straight line, offering up his tail pipe for an easy kill. However, the rest of the flight group may fall in line behind, ready to cut to pieces anyone who falls for "that old trick." The actual flight patterns of the better (i.e. Ace, Top Ace) pilots seem to have improved slightly as well. Instead of feinting one way and turning the other, the "new" pilots sometimes gyrate in crazy, unpredictable ways. This makes for a much tougher kill. Some fighters also seem intent on stalling instead of attacking, which may force the player to complete other objectives in less time. These new tactics work fairly well, and are a small step forward for the AI in this series.


There have been a lot of questions about specific features/improvements in Tie Fighter posted in the Usenet newsgroups. Here are some quick answers to some Frequently Asked Questions:

Is the game better than the demo?

Yes, it is much, much better. The Tie demo has much more in common with X-Wing than it does with Tie Fighter. None of the new features are showcased in the demo, which leads one to wonder why LucasArts even bothered releasing it.

Do I still have to drop to DOS to back up my pilot file?

No. Tie Fighter provides in-game pilot backup which, while not perfect, certainly gets the job done.

Is the game still linear? Are there winning and losing paths?

There are no winning and losing paths, but new features and optional goals help alleviate the problem of linearity.

Does the game include a mission builder?

No, but there have been rumors that the final mission disk will include this capability. We can only hope . . .

Does the game allow the player to give orders to other flight groups?

No. This is on my "wish list" for future mission disks as well.

Is there more "story" in Tie than there was in X-Wing?

Yes. The officer's questions and the dark figure add some nice background plot to the game. In-flight messages also often hold twists and surprises.

What's this about a new tractor beam weapon?

This weapon gets developed during the course of the game, but its usefulness is very limited (to say the least).

Does the whole "fight for the Empire" theme turn into a "defect and fight for the Rebellion" theme?

Nope. Through the whole game you fight for the Dark Side. Kudos to LucasArts for not giving us a "good guy" ending.

Why does the registration officer's voice sound so familiar?

This is unconfirmed, but I believe the voice belongs to Sam (Max? The dog) in LucasArts's graphic adventure SAM AND MAX HIT THE ROAD.


The only major problem I had with this game was the weak, anticlimactic ending. I was expecting something of the same magnitude as the incredible final mission trench run in X-Wing. I was sorely disappointed. The final three missions are among the easiest in the game, and the final cut-scene is decent, but hardly spectacular. The ending to Tie fighter is a MAJOR let down. We can only hope that the mission disks hold more in the way of final battles.


Tie Fighter is a game of many small improvements over its predecessor. Although the basic look and feel of the game is the same, additional elements provide a much more dynamic atmosphere once inside the simulation. The graphics, sound, and story line have also been improved. Since I considered X-Wing a nearly perfect game, and Tie Fighter addresses most of the complaints people had with X-Wing, I can only give this game my very highest recommendation, in spite of its sub-par ending.

This review is Copyright (C) 1994 by Phil Sandler for Game Bytes Magazine. All rights reserved.