Spotlight on mods
This article first appeared in PC Gamer Review issue 362 in October 2021, as part of our “Mod Spotlight” series. Every month we explore cool new mods that breathe new life – or just inject a little chaos – into our favorite games.
It can be hard to go back to play a game you loved years ago. Sometimes the nostalgia is strong enough to overlook things like aging graphics, tiny sound, and fewer features we’ve grown accustomed to with modern games. But sometimes, no matter how much you enjoyed a game in the past, it’s just too hard to go back to it after so many years, or even decades, have passed.
And it can be particularly difficult to convince other people to play a game from a few decades ago. I can tell people until I’m blue in the face that LucasArts’ TIE Fighter air combat simulator from 1994 is not only one of the best Star Wars games of all time, but it’s one of the best games of all time, period. It’s a real classic. Unfortunately, these days it also feels like a classic. It’s really, really old. I think if you weren’t playing it then, you’re unlikely to be playing it now.
So, in my opinion, TIE Fighter: Total Conversion is about as close to a perfect mod as it gets. Not only does it do a fantastic job of porting the original TIE Fighter into Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance, but it comes with updated visuals, sports a remastered soundtrack, and adds to the original campaign with more new missions. stretches.
It even supports VR, thanks to the X-Wing Alliance Upgrade Project, which is another heavy mod you’ll need to get this one working. All told, TIE Fighter: Total Conversion and X-Wing Alliance Upgrade Project are two of the most impressive and essential mods I’ve ever seen. They really dive into the past and pull TIE Fighter into the present, staying true to the original but updating it to be new and modern. It was a real joy to start the mod, get in my ship and fight the Rebel Alliance.
Ties that bind
When the original TIE Fighter came out, it was a pretty remarkable game because it let you play as the bad guys, the Empire, which wasn’t a perspective we had before or didn’t even know we wanted. And that prospect didn’t even make you feel like a bad guy, really. Through the lens of TIE: Fighter, the Empire was simply trying to maintain order in the galaxy, and the Rebellion was a bunch of chaotic, dirty space bandits causing trouble. Sometimes, if you want to embrace peace, you have to grab it in your black-gloved hands and crush it. The story of TIE Fighter, amazingly, made you feel like you were doing the right thing.
Not only was playing as the Empire quite unusual, but it put you on the ground floor. You weren’t an evil Jedi like Darth Vader or a combat veteran like Han Solo, you were just a rookie Imperial Starfleet pilot, cannon fodder, a basic recruit. And it’s been a lot of fun reliving it all in TIE Fighter: Total Conversion, starting with the early tutorial missions.
I still like the structure of the game. You start on an Imperial space station, then click through to open a door to the briefing room, where you’re dispassionately told what’s expected of you. This is not rebellion, where rousing speeches are delivered to inspire underdogs. You have a job to do and you will do it well because the Empire does not tolerate failure.
You start out in a fighter, without even using your engines, simply pivoting to shoot a few cargo containers while following the instructions given to you. After each mission there is a debrief before accepting your next task. Gradually you take on more complex missions and eventually start to see some real combat, which is all the more heartbreaking when you realize you’re essentially flying in the cheapest ship the Empire can produce. No shields, no hyperdrive, just a mass-produced tin can that can only take a tiny bit of damage before exploding. It’s what you ride until you can prove yourself worthy of something faster, tougher and with more power.
And you can forget about seeing an X-Wing in your line of sight for a while. You’d expect a TIE Fighter game to immediately throw you into a massive and thrilling battle with the Rebels, but first you’re up against a few Pirates, that nondescript faction that’s hated by both the Empire and the Alliance. rebel. Many missions hold surprises along the way, as a simple freighter scanning job uncovers contraband or a quick escort mission for an Imperial freighter becomes a pitched battle. Eventually you’ll see a ship you recognize on your screen, a real Rebel ship, like maybe Y-Wings and B-Wings, and finally you’ll really come face-to-face with a real X-Wing. Hey, maybe it’s Luke Skywalker himself!
Even in the mod, it’s easy to admire how cool the original flight sim was. Balancing your ship’s power between weapons and engine (and shields, on the rare occasion you have them) is always exciting and fun, and there’s never a session that goes by that I don’t silently thank developers for “match speed to target”. ‘ so I can easily get behind an enemy and bombard them with laser blasts while chasing them. You can also pilot a number of different Imperial ships, from TIE bombers to ultra-cool interceptors and even Imperial shuttles. And you’ll also recognize many ships out the window, from Corellian corvettes to Mon Calamari cruisers.
The pragmatism (some might call it ruthlessness) of the Empire is also quite apparent, as in some missions you are essentially thrown into battle like a handful of gravel, just one of the many, many expendable fighters that the Imperial Navy sends out to overwhelm their enemies with their numbers. And there’s a really great campaign and story to run through, growing from a lowly disposable pilot to someone who catches the eye of the upper echelons of the Empire. In later story missions, you will hunt down and even exterminate Imperial traitors, as well as various other space criminals. Again, it’s a great way to expand our view of the Empire and the Star Wars universe. In the movies, the Imperial pilots always go up against the Rebel heroes, but TIE Fighter fills in the blanks, showing just how much the Empire has to deal with when they’re not chasing the Millennium Falcon.
And between missions, you can relax in the crew quarters, where your personal room will slowly be filled with the medals and honors you’ve earned. You can check your flight stats and kill at a terminal, admire Imperial propaganda posters and ship models, gaze fondly at your astromech droid (which is probably way cooler than R2D2, so suck it up, Luke), and think about how you are helping the Empire take control of an unruly galaxy.
I played the mod with a keyboard and mouse, which isn’t exactly ideal but I don’t have a flight stick or even an Xbox controller yet. But TIE Fighter: Total Conversion supports a number of controllers, and the community has created additional controller profiles for others to use. And like I said, the mod is even playable in VR, pretty amazing for a game that was built over 20 years before VR became something we could get our hands on.
If you have never played the original Star Wars: TIE Fighter, you should give this mod a try. The game holds up beautifully and everything is perfectly captured in the mod, it just looks and sounds much better. I’m sure any Star Wars fan or flight sim enthusiast would have a blast. And if you played and loved TIE Fighter back then, the mod is the perfect way to revisit it again. It incorporates all of the original and expansion missions, as well as new and improved versions of a number of campaign missions. In total, there are almost 150 missions to play. All you need is a copy of Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance, which you can buy on Steam or GoG for around ten bucks. It’s a small price to relive this classic.