Star Wars has always had major ties to the video game industry, with series creator George Lucas founding his very own video game development house in 1982, the aptly-named Lucasarts. Although Lucasarts proper is all but gone now that Disney and Electronic Arts are handling development duties for the franchise, Star Wars is one of the few licensed properties to actually have consistently good video games adaptations. Of course, any franchise that can count 80+ games to its credit over a 33 year span is bound to have its share of duds, but there are just as many great Star Wars games as there are bad, so narrowing down the best of the best is no easy feat. While every Star Wars fan is bound to have their own personal favorites, it’s hard to overlook the impact and quality of the following 10 titles, which are easily some of the best Star Wars games ever made and are must-plays for fans of the series. With the imminent release of Star Wars Battlefront this month, now is as good a time as any to highlight some of the best Star Wars games ever made (who knows; maybe it will even earn a spot on this list eventually).
10. Shadows of the Empire (1996)
Like pretty much any third-person shooter from the mid-90s, Shadows of the Empire hasn’t exactly aged well and those that seek it out today will likely be unconvinced by its status as one of the greatest Star Wars games. For its time however, Shadows of the Empire was something of a revelation and was a huge early success for the Nintendo 64. In particular, the game’s first level was a stunner, as it represented the most authentic game recreation of the famous Battle of Hoth sequence from The Empire Strikes Back up until that point. Flying a snowspeeder and attaching tow cables to an AT-AT may be old hat these days, but in 1996, it was nerd nirvana. Admittedly, the rest of the game, which featured non-canonical Han Solo-wannabe Dash Rendar running through scenarios and locations from the films, failed to impress on the same level. Still, Shadows is an important part of Star Wars video game history and because of that, it just squeaks into the top 10.
9. Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy (2006)
It seems ridiculous that a Lego title could be considered one of the better Star Wars games, but anyone who played Traveller’s Tales’ lovingly-made Lego Star Wars II knows that it’s the real deal. While the developer tackled the prequel trilogy first with Lego Star Wars in 2005, their follow-up was significantly better in every respect, focusing on the original trilogy (you know, the real Star Wars movies) and introducing new vehicle-based levels. Lego Star Wars II predates the era when TT Games started adding voice work to the Lego titles, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the cutscenes are a joy to watch, primarily because so much is conveyed through the physicality of the Legoized versions of the franchise’s characters.
Sure, the game has all the familiar shortcomings that have plagued the Lego series for years, such as oversimplified gameplay and occasionally frustrating level design, but how many other games let you play as almost every Star Wars character? There’s just a simple joy seeing the likes of Han Solo and Boba Fett team up together that only the Lego games can provide.
8. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (2008)
The previous console generation was relatively light on standout Star Wars games, but one bright spot was Star Wars; The Force Unleashed, a third-person action title featuring a whole new character in Starkiller, Darth Vader’s secret apprentice. The Force Unleashed is basically Star Wars wish fulfillment, as it not only tells an interesting story set between the events of Star Wars Episodes IV and V (that is disappointingly no longer considered canon), but also gives you a lightsaber and destructive Force powers and lets you to go to town. The Force Unleashed‘s enormous success ironically led to the series’ downfall, as a sequel was rushed to retail two years later and was such a disappointment commercially, but especially critically, that it put an end to the franchise much too quickly. On the bright side, at least the first game can easily make the claim of being the best Star Wars game of its generation and remains worth playing today.
7. Episode I Racer (1999)
One of the few good things to come out of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was the podracing scene and go figure, that fictional high speed sport became the basis for arguably the greatest Star Wars racing game ever made. Released on multiple platforms in 1999, Episode I Racer translated the speed and frenetic action of the film scenes into an interactive medium surprisingly well, while also expanding upon the sport’s fiction with a number of different tracks and racers to choose from. The actual gameplay was akin to other high speed, futuristic racers of the time such as Wipeout and F-Zero, which was definitely to Episode I Racer’s favor. The game remains a competent and enjoyable racer to this day and considering it’s unlikely that we’ll see another Star Wars-branded racing title anytime soon, you could do a lot worse if you’re looking for driving action in a galaxy far, far away (the less said about Super Bombad Racing, the better).
6. Republic Commando (2005)
Squad shooters were all the rage back in the mid-2000s, with titles such as Rainbow Six 3 and Full Spectrum Warrior being enormously popular among more cerebral shooter fans. Given the Star Wars brand’s propensity for attaching itself to almost every video game genre, it’s hardly surprising that Lucasarts wanted to get in on this trend, which they did with 2005’s Republic Commando. A first-person shooter featuring an elite group of Clone Troopers known as Delta Squad, Republic Commando benefited from high production values and a novel use of the Star Wars brand, as it adopted many elements from other games in the genre while providing its own Star Wars spin. The game looked and played great and was only really held back by a too-short campaign and sub-par multiplayer experience. Republic Commando is one of the Star Wars franchise’s most overlooked titles but also one of its strongest, making it all the more disappointing that we will likely never see a sequel.
5. X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter (1997)
Next to its iconic lightsaber duels, the most fondly remembered aspect of Star Wars has to be its epic starship dogfights between Rebel X-Wings and Imperial TIE Fighters. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before a game solely focused on that dynamic was released, which is where X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter comes in. Released in 1997 exclusively for Windows PCs, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter was an incredibly ambitious game in retrospect, as it was a multiplayer-only game in an era when online gaming was still in its infancy and very few homes even had 56k modems, let alone broadband. Despite these questionable design decisions, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter found its calling with LAN enthusiasts, who discovered an incredibly addictive and visually impressive competitive game that let them live out their Star Wars piloting fantasies. Of all the games on this list, this is arguably the one that is most crying out for a sequel, as pretty much any player who experienced the original in its heyday would fervently attest.
4. Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader
While X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter is technically the most realistic Star Wars dogfighting experience, the Rogue Squadron series still delivers the best pound-for-pound recreation of the films’ spaceship combat sequences. In particular, Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, an early title for the Nintendo Gamecube, is the best realization of this, delivering arcade style controls and an overall visual spectacle that was unparalleled at the time (at least when it came to Star Wars games). The first mission alone is worth the price of admisison, as it put players into the jumpsuit of none other than Luke Skywalker and tasked them with recreating the iconic Death Star run. Everything here was a stunner, from developer Factor 5’s proprietary game engine (which still looks impressive to this day), the John Williams music, right down to the simplified but still incredibly rewarding gameplay mechanics. If you can track down a copy of Rogue Squadron II, pick it up immediately. You will not regret it.
3. Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II (1997)
Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II is arguably the greatest Star Wars game of the 90s. A sequel to the first Jedi Knight, Dark Forces II picks up the story of series protagonist (and all around badass) Kyle Katarn as he searches for a Dark Jedi who murdered his father. The game is notable for allowing players to use guns and lightsabers, as well as featuring a compelling storyline that gave players the choice between Light and Dark Side powers, which led to different endings years before Bioware made waves with their morality system in Knights of the Old Republic. Dark Forces II also has the distinction of being a game whose merits went far beyond simply using its license effectively, as many contemporary reviews put it in the same league as id Software’s Doom. While the Jedi Knight series would go on to have other games with better graphics and mechanics, particularly the Jedi Outcast titles, Dark Forces II is still widely regarded as the pinnacle of the series and one of the most important Star Wars games ever made.
2. Knights of the Old Republic (2003)
Star Wars: The Knights of the Old Republic not only has one of the greatest Star Wars stories ever written, video game or otherwise, but one of the best stories in all of video games. Even to this day, more than a decade after its release, Bioware’s RPG is still regarded highly as a must-play in the RPG genre. Released for the original Xbox and PC in 2003, KOTOR is set approximately 4,000 years before the events of the Star Wars films and focuses on a major conflict between the Republic and Sith, who have an entire army at their disposal at this point.
Players create a nameless character who is free to join the Light Side or Dark Side, and the outcomes of their actions have a major impact on how the game’s story plays out, all leading up to one of the best plot twists in any video game. The combat system has admittedly not aged very well (and truth be told, it wasn’t all that great to begin with) but it’s worth enduring because every other element of the game is highly engrossing. While Bioware tried to recapture the magic of the first game with the MMO The Old Republic a few years ago, the title was a mild disappointment and many fans would rather just see them release a proper new Knights of the Old Republic.
1. Star Wars Battlefront (2004)
Everyone has their favorite Star Wars game and a case could be made for any of the top 5 on this list being #1. However, for this writer personally, the original Star Wars Battlefront is still king. Sure, it’s lacking KOTOR‘s engaging story or the finely-tuned ship controls of Rogue Squadron, but the original Star Wars Battlefront earns the distinction of being the best overall Star Wars game because it delivered the feeling of actually being in the Star Wars movies better than any other title.
A first/third-person shooter focused on online multiplayer, Battlefront was developed by the now defunct Pandemic Studios, who basically took the design of EA’s Battlefield series and gave it a Star Wars coat of paint. Instead of familiar characters like Luke Skywalker or Han Solo, players were thrust into the combat boots of regular foot soldiers in either the Rebel, Imperial, Clone, or Droid armies, which sounds like a drag until you actually start partaking in the chaos of Star Wars‘ most iconic battles from ground level. The sequel was arguably better in many ways, adding playable heroes and space combat, but it doesn’t quite match the more refined simplicity of the original. We would have loved to put the new Star Wars Battlefront in the top spot, but sadly, it leaves a lot to be desired (our review can be read here) and doesn’t surpass the original.