Let’s Rank Star Wars Space Combat Games, From Worst To Best

Let’s Rank Star Wars Space Combat Games, From Worst To Best
Image: Lucasfilm / Disney / EA / Kotaku

Star Wars is a media franchise about people fighting in space, hence the name. So of course there are plenty of Star Wars games about flying starfighters in space, blowing up enemy ships, and saving the galaxy. Let’s rank them!

For a while, there really was a drought of Star Wars space combat games. But with the recent release of Star Wars: Squadrons the nightmare is over and we now have a new, modern take on the classic Star Wars space combat sim. And it’s pretty good! But what about all those Star Wars space games that came before? Well, lucky for you pilot, I landed my X-wing long enough to put together this list of (almost) every Star Wars space combat game, ranked worst to best.

To be clear, this isn’t a list ranking every Star Wars game. Instead, this is a list focused only on Star Wars games in which a large portion of the game is all about spaceships, Star Destroyers, dogfighting starships, and all that stuff.

With that out of the way let’s get to ranking some Star Wars games!

17. Star Wars: Rebel Assault (1993) | PC, Sega CD, 3DO, PS1

Screenshot: Lucasfilm / DisneyScreenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney

There are some really great games on this list and while I don’t hate Rebel Assault, when you compare it to most of the other games here, it falls short. It mixed live-action footage with digital worlds and ships, which at the time was visually impressive. However, it looks extremely rough today. Its gameplay is also entirely on rails, so it feels extremely dated and not much fun compared to the many bigger, more open games on this list.

16. Star Wars: Rebel Assault II (1995) | PC, PS1, Mac

Screenshot: Lucasfilm / DisneyScreenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney

Rebel Assault II: The Hidden Empire is very similar to the first game, as it mixes on-rails gameplay with live-action and CGI graphics to create something that, again, felt very cinematic back in the day, but now feels old and primitive. Hidden Empire is a bit better than the original game mainly because of its story, which is set after the events of A New Hope. But this game and the first Rebel Assault both suffer from some awful controls and clunky on-foot sections that keep them here at the bottom of our list.

15. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike (2003) | GameCube

Screenshot: Lucasfilm / DisneyScreenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney

The first two Rogue Squadron games are certified classics and appear later in this list. But the third game isn’t as well-received or fun to go back to, and you can blame that almost entirely on the on-foot and ground-vehicle sections. While the starfighter combat was as smooth and responsive as ever, these ground sections felt cumbersome and out of place. Rebel Strike’s co-op mode, which let folks play through Rogue Squadron II missions with a friend, was cool, but not cool enough to overcome those terrible ground levels.

14. Star Wars Starfighter (2001) | Xbox, PS2, PC

Screenshot: Lucasfilm / DisneyScreenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney

The biggest knock against Starfighter is that it’s set during the prequel era of Star Wars, which for many is a sin too big to ignore. Personally, as a fan of The Clone Wars show and other prequel-era stories, I don’t mind at all! My bigger issues are the lack of mission variety and a short campaign. But on the plus side, the space battles were set in big open areas and you got to fly an N-1 Starfighter, which is my second-favourite Star Wars ship behind the Snowspeeder. (Yeah, take that X-wing.)

13. Star Wars Episode I: Battle for Naboo (2000) | N64, PC

Screenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney / MobyGamesScreenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney / MobyGames

Two years after releasing the original Rogue Squadron, Factor 5’s Battle for Naboo delivered another tight, fun-to-play Star Wars game, and it looked better too. Like Starfighter, Battle for Naboo is set during the prequel era, which was criticised at the time but today doesn’t seem like a huge problem. And like Rogue Squadron III it includes some ground missions, but these didn’t suffer from that game’s cumbersome and clunky controls, making them somewhat boring — but not frustrating — additions to an otherwise solid starship game. And the opening of the game kills Jar-Jar Binks, which easily bumps it up a few slots on this list.

12. Star Wars Jedi Starfighter (2002) | PS2, Xbox

Screenshot: Lucasfilm / DisneyScreenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney

Jedi Starfighter is the sequel to Starfighter and includes some characters first featured in that game, a longer campaign, plus some cool bonus missions. It also plays very much like that first game, but the big twist is that you play some missions as Jedi Master Adi Gallia. Being a Jedi, she is able to use the force during combat. Also, as far as I can tell this is the only game in which you play as a Jedi but never use a lightsaber. Interesting? Only to weirdos like me!

11. Star Wars Battlefront II (2017) | PS4, Xbox One, PC

Screenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney / EAScreenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney / EA

Get your loot crate jokes out of your system first, I’ll wait. Sure, Battlefront II launched with some annoying loot boxes and a lack of content. But none of that ruined the game’s excellent space combat. Its dedicated online space combat mode was almost good enough to warrant picking up Battlefront II for itself, and until Squadrons, this was the best, most modern way to get in on some online Star Wars space combat.

10. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1985) | Arcade

Screenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney / MobyGamesScreenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney / MobyGames

This sequel to the original and beloved Star Wars arcade game never got as much attention as its predecessor. While both are great, this game tends to be ranked lower (including on this very list) mainly because it didn’t feel different enough from the original, and its setting wasn’t quite as iconic. It was still a blast to play and featured great vector graphics, like the first game. Speaking of that first game…

9. Star Wars (1983) | Arcade

Screenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney / MobyGamesScreenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney / MobyGames

The original Star Wars arcade game, developed by Atari, has been called one of the greatest games ever made. While I do think Star Wars is a great arcade game, I’m not as sold on it being quite that great. However, the vector graphics do still look sharp and instantly readable, which helps when going back to play it today. It also recreates arguably the most famous space combat sequence from the entire film saga: the Death Star battle and trench run. That alone helps elevate it above its sequel.

8. Star Wars: X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter (1997) | PC

Screenshot: Lucasfilm / DisneyScreenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney

The third entry in the critically acclaimed X-Wing series, Vs. was different. While the previous two games were single-player focused, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter was designed around multiplayer. After release, an expansion did add some single-player campaign missions, but they weren’t as good as what was on offer in the previous games. While the multiplayer was fine and could even be fun with some pals, it wasn’t what fans wanted after TIE Fighter and X-Wing, and the post-launch single-player missions weren’t enough for many.

7. Star Wars Battle Pod (2014) | Arcade

Screenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney / Bandai NamcoScreenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney / Bandai Namco

Battle Pod is a big, fancy arcade machine that started showing up in various locations around 2014. When I found one at a local Dave and Busters there was a line of people wanting to play. I understand why: It’s amazing. You enter and sit inside this big pod with a huge screen and suddenly you’re surrounded by Star Wars. There’s even a fan that blows on you when you swoop around, and loudspeakers that pummel you with all the iconic noises you’d expect. It’s somewhat simple to play, but it’s an amazing experience that any Star Wars fan should try at least once.

6. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron (1998) | N64, PC

Screenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney / MobyGamesScreenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney / MobyGames

Rogue Squadron was released back for the N64 in an era when most Star Wars space combat games were more like the X-wing franchise, very focused on simulating a spaceship. While that’s cool and all, Rogue Squadron went a different direction, focusing on fast-paced arcade action. The end result is one of the best N64 games ever made. Just pretend all that fog is some secret weapon deployed by the Empire and not a sign of the limited power of the N64 console.

5. Star Wars: Squadrons (2020) | PS4, Xbox One, PC

Screenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney / EAScreenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney / EA

The most recent game here, Squadrons was released in October 2020 and already, after only a week or so of playing it, I’m convinced it should rank pretty highly on this list. I know I’m putting this game above some all-time classics, but that’s for good reason: Squadrons is fantastic. In fact, in a few years, I could see Squadrons and any potential sequels moving up even higher. I wrote a whole review about why it’s so good, but the short version is that it is the most visually impressive Star Wars space combat game ever made, has a great campaign, strong writing, and a multiplayer mode, Fleets, that could end up being a classic people play for years. And you can play the whole thing in VR to finally live out your childhood dreams of actually sitting in an X-wing and flying around space.

4. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader (2001) | GameCube

Screenshot: Lucasfilm / DisneyScreenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney

Repetitive name aside, this is a huge improvement over the original Rogue Squadron. The first Factor 5 Star Wars game to make the jump to the GameCube, the more powerful hardware allowed for incredibly impressive visuals that still look good today. The game’s campaign spans all three original-trilogy films over 10 missions. It also includes some great unlockable content, like an old tech demo Factor 5 created in 2000 and a playable Buick, letting you save the galaxy while enjoying a smooth ride and leather seats. Hard to beat that.

3. Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance (1999) | PC

Screenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney / MobyGamesScreenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney / MobyGames

Technically, the fourth and final entry in the franchise, most fans consider this the proper third entry in the X-Wing series and the true sequel to TIE Fighter. With this being the last game in the franchise, and therefore the most recent, it makes sense that it looks much better and features improved controls and more complex missions. It also changed the in-game HUD and camera, making it less immersive than before. Still, it includes some nice cameos and references to the bigger Star Wars films if you pay close attention. (Or check out the game’s Wookieepedia entry.)

2. Star Wars: X-Wing (1993) | PC

Screenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney / MobyGamesScreenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney / MobyGames

This is the game that kicked off the entire X-Wing franchise and the first real attempt at a big space-combat Star Wars game. Developed by Lucasarts, it was created after Star Wars became hot again in the early ‘90s thanks to Expanded Universe novels like the Thrawn trilogy. To take advantage of this new interest, Lucasarts took the tech it developed for its popular WW2 aerial combat games and built a Star Wars game focused on simulating what it would actually feel like to fly and maintain an X-wing. It was a huge hit and would spawn a sequel…

1.Star Wars: TIE Fighter (1994) | PC

Screenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney / MobyGamesScreenshot: Lucasfilm / Disney / MobyGames

Just like how The Empire Strikes Back is better than A New Hope, TIE Fighter is better than the original X-Wing. It has higher production values, more missions, better 3D graphics, and offers players a new perspective, being the first game to star the Empire. While I still have my issues with playing as space fascists, I can’t argue with how good a job TIE Fighter does at creating an Empire that feels more fleshed out and powerful. It can be fun to be the bad guys from time to time. To this day, many consider TIE Fighter to be not just one of the best Star Wars games ever made, but one of the best PC games ever created.


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