There isn't a more iconic battle in all of Star Wars than the fight for the planet Hoth in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. You could try to argue for other battles throughout the film franchise — the attack on the first Death Star features the saga's most memorable space battle. The Battle of Geonosis features a whole lot of CGI cannon blasts. The Battle of Endor features... Ewoks.
Putting Hoth on a pedestal isn't perhaps all that significant, then, given the competition. But there's a reason Hoth is everybody's favorite battle: it's everything we love about Star Wars. In one segment, we see the struggle of the Rebel Alliance against the Empire play out in perfect form. The rebels are on the run, hiding on a hostile, remote world.
They don't dare face the full might of the Empire head-on, and when they have to, they use unconventional methods (like tow cables) to bring down the Empire's mightiest weapons. It's visually stunning, action-packed and it brings home everything Star Wars is about.
Numerous video games have tried to capture that same magic in interactive form over the years, with varying levels of success. Almost all put an emphasis on the Snowspeeder vs. AT-AT moments we see in the film — but a few add some interesting (and occasionally strange) twists to what has over time become a staple of Star Wars video games.
With the upcoming Star Wars Battlefront reboot coming from EA later this year (and with it, even more Hoth battles), we take a look at how the greatest battle in all of Star Wars has been reimagined time and time again for an arcade or game console near you.
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Platforms: Atari 2600, Intellivision
This game holds the distinction of being the first official licensed Star Wars video game — released two years after the film. Given the popularity of arcade games like Defender at the time, it's little surprise that the developers chose to recreate the Battle of Hoth in a similar fashion. Players pilot what could vaguely be described as a Snowspeeder, blasting away at AT-AT walkers, all the while attempting to dodge their attacks. That's about it. The AT-ATs take hit after hit, but eventually they go down, with enough blaster fire. The Snowspeeder's iconic tow cables are nowhere to be seen either. It was a bare-bones start for Hoth's first video game, but it was just the first of many.
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Arcade)
This arcade adaptation took the same basic premise of the 1983 Star Wars game (first-person view, multiple stages) and adapted it for Empire Strikes Back. From the cockpit of a Snowspeeder, players are tasked with destroying Imperial probe droids before graduating to battling AT-ATs. Unlike the previously released console adaptation, these AT-AT walkers functioned much closer to how they're seen in the movie. They are near impervious to blaster fire, except for a narrow slit in their heads, and these weak points can be shot to instantly destroy the vehicle. Players also have the option of using a limited number of tow cables. Firing the tow cables at the legs of an AT-AT will bring it down instantly — functioning more like missiles than as an improvised weapon. It might not have been movie-accurate, but it was a step in the right direction. The Battle of Hoth would never be the same in video games.
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Though released nearly a decade after the Atari 2600 Empire Strikes Back game, the Battle of Hoth level in this NES release played in an almost identical fashion — with a few improvements, of course. In-game visuals had come a long way since the Atari days, so Snowspeeders, AT-ATs and Hoth's snowy environment were all now readily identifiable. The game played much the same as the Atari version: dodge lasers, repeatedly shoot AT-ATs until they explode, proceed to the next one. The core difference was that players could now use their tow cables to bring the metal behemoths down. Even cooler was that if your Snowspeeder was shot down, the game actually continued on foot. Players would then gain the ability grapple up under the nearest AT-AT and destroy it, just like Luke does in the film.
Super Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back
Platforms: Super Nintendo
As difficult as it is ridiculous, Super Empire Strikes Back imagines what Hoth would look like if Luke and Han were in a constant state of war with literally everything. Hoth takes up almost a third of the game. Luke's investigation of an Imperial probe droid becomes a crusade against Hoth itself, as the game invents all manner of deadly creatures and death traps to throw against the player. The probe droid (which Han shoots twice to defeat in the movie) is an infuriating boss battle here — more than twice the size of Luke. Remember that part when Luke tosses a grenade into the underbelly of an AT-AT and destroys it? That's too easy for Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Instead, it has Luke actually going inside the hulking metal behemoth and laying waste to every poor servant of the Empire within.
Han must similarly fight an army on his way to the Millennium Falcon as he attempts to escape Echo Base. But don't worry, there are vehicle segments involving the Snowspeeder too. One has players controlling the vehicle in a quasi-3D environment, shooting down speeder bikes and probe droids; the other is a bullet hell shooter in which you use the Snowspeeder to blast jet-pack-wearing Stormtroopers. The 3D "Mode 7" vehicle segments are notable for being the first time players could actually circle around an AT-AT with the Snowspeeder's tow cable — giving it an important place of distinction on this list. Needless to say, Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back isn't the most faithful adaptation of the film's battle, but it is by far the most challenging.
Star Wars Trilogy Arcade
At the time of its release, Sega's Star Wars Trilogy Arcade was cutting-edge. Featuring impressive visuals far above anything currently available on consoles, it allowed gamers to play through all the major battles of the original trilogy, including Hoth. But while it certainly looked pretty, it was ultimately a fairly shallow experience. Players piloted an on-rails Snowspeeder, blasting AT-STs, probe droids and AT-STs to rack up a high score. Fun to be sure, but it wouldn't be until much later that the dream of digitally bringing the Battle of Hoth to life would be truly realized.
Star Wars: Rebel Assault
One of the most visually authentic Hoth scenes in gaming is also one of the most boring. Star Wars: Rebel Assault used full-motion video to bring Empire's major battle to life, and while it looked more realistic than ever before, the game's on-rails action left plenty to be desired. Not only was the gameplay boring, but it wasn't accurate to the film, either. AT-ATs can be destroyed in the game only by blasting their hulls repeatedly with blasters. Without the ability to use tow cables, Rebel Assault was a step backwards.
Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire
Platforms: Nintendo 64, PC
This third-person shooter features one of the more interesting takes on Empire's iconic battle. The game begins on Hoth at the same time as the movie as renegade expanded universe character Dash Rendar and his partner Leebo are delivering supplies to the rebel base shortly before it comes under attack. Once the Empire begins its assault, Dash asks Han Solo for permission to join Rogue Squadron, a permission that Han grants Dash despite Han actually having nothing to do with Rogue Squadron. But hey, LucasArts had to have some reason for Dash to participate in the iconic battle, and so players strap into a Snowspeeder and blast their way through waves of probe droids, AT-STs and eventually AT-ATs. It was the first time players could participate in the battle in a true 3D environment and would be the inspiration for Star Wars: Rogue Squadron a few years later.
It's when the rebels sound the retreat that Shadows of the Empire's Hoth level gets strange. Players make their way back through Echo Base, fighting past Snowtroopers in order to get to Dash's spaceship, the Outrider. Snowtroopers and Wampas, that is. Lots of Wampas. Yes, that Wampa — the large, abominable-snowman-type creature that almost makes a snack out of Luke toward the beginning of Empire Strikes Back. It's never really explained why Echo Base is filled with the creatures (why are some of them in cages?), but they sure do take a ton of blaster shots to kill. Needless to say, one renegade smuggler killing an army of Wampas isn't a part of the Hoth scenes in the movie —making this particular portion of the game's Hoth level one of the more "out there" interpretations of the saga's most iconic battle.
Star Wars Rogue Squadron
Platforms: Nintendo 64, PC
The first Rogue Squadron would in many ways set the standard for what a video game version of the Battle of Hoth could be. The funny part is that the game's Hoth level wasn't even a part of the main game. It was instead a bonus level that could be unlocked only after players achieved gold medals in each of the game's 16 levels... or with a cheat code. No matter how you unlocked the game's Hoth level, it was well worth it.
It was the most authentic recreation of the game's battle to date, going so far as to allow players to deploy their tow cables and trip the AT-ATs themselves by flying around the walker's legs. Players could then shoot the AT-ATs in their vulnerable neck area after they had crashed down to the ground in order to destroy the walkers for good — just like in the movie. The feeling of accomplishment after bringing one of the walkers down this way for the first time is still tough to beat, which is probably why nearly every Star Wars game featuring the battle of Hoth since has closely mirrored Rogue Squadron.
Star Wars Rogue Squadron II and III
Released: Rogue Squadron II released 2001, Rogue Squadron III in 2003
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron may have set the standard for Hoth battles, but Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader made it look and feel like players were living the movie. Great visuals (for the time), paired with stellar gameplay and respect for the source material resulted in one of the best Star Wars games ever made, and the Battle of Hoth served as the centerpiece.
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron III would adopt a similar style of gameplay for much of its campaign, but rather than rehash the same old Battle of Hoth once again, it allowed gamers to play the battle on foot as Luke. The results were less than great. Though players could grapple onto an AT-AT and toss a grenade inside just like Luke does in the film, the rest of the game's Hoth mission involved Luke sprinting around Hoth with a blaster, riding on the back of a Tauntaun and then manning a mounted machine gun to kill waves of enemies.
Star Wars Battlefront 1 and 2
Released: 2004, 2005
Platforms: Star Wars: Battlefront 1 released on Xbox, PlayStation 2, PC and MC. Star Wars: Battlefront 2 released on PlayStation 2, PC, Xbox and PlayStation Portable.
Players had lived through several incarnations of the battle of Hoth by this point, but they had yet to take part in the battle with (and against) other human beings. That's what the first two Star Wars Battlefront games brought to the table, which quickly made this one of the most popular Star Wars game series of all time. Until Star Wars Battlefront, players had always taken the Rebel's side in the film's pivotal battle, but Battlefront allowed players to don the robes of Imperial Snowtroopers and even pilot the dreaded AT-ATs themselves. It was a major turning point for the battle's virtual portrayal, and it always comes up in any conversation about Star Wars games.
Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy
Platforms: Xbox, GameCube, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, Xbox 360, PC
By 2006, gamers knew the battle of Hoth like the back of their hand. Fly the Snowspeeder. Deploy the tow cable. Fly in circles. Trip the AT-AT. Rinse and repeat. It had become an easy formula to follow. But gamers had yet to do it in LEGO form, which makes Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy stand out. Star Wars was one of the first franchises to get the LEGO video game treatment. That means a generous dose of humor was injected in the story of the original trilogy, with less focus on all the intergalactic bloodshed. This brick version of the battle of Hoth plays more like a puzzle game than an action-packed shooter. Players do control the Snowspeeder and blast enemies, but they must also use their tow cable to carefully navigate bombs to certain points in order to progress to the next area. Don't worry, though — you get to trip AT-ATs, too.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360, PC
What if Darth Vader had a secret (and absurdly powerful) secret apprentice? That is the basic premise of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. The game's DLC took that question a step further, asking: what if Darth Vader had a secret apprentice, who then became the Emperor's apprentice, who then showed up during the Battle of Hoth and fought Luke Skywalker? It sounds completely insane, and like the rest of The Force Unleashed, it totally is.
From the get-go, fans are treated to a familiar scene turned on its head, as a red lightsaber flies out from an AT-AT and cuts down a Snowspeeder in flight. From there, the player character – the Starkiller character from the core game, wearing a Vander-inspired outfit – strolls into Echo Base and begins laying waste to the rebels within. He also fights lots of Wampas. Yes, the Wampas make their grand return as Hoth's only other viable enemy outside of soldiers, running rampant in the caverns underneath the rebel base. Eventually, Starkiller defeats Luke in duel and manipulates him into joining the dark side in order to save Han, Leia and Chewie. As far as unique takes on the battle of Hoth, it doesn't get any crazier than this.
Star Wars Battle Pod
Release Date: 2014
Watching a gameplay video of Star Wars Battle Pod doesn't do it justice. The arcade-only game features a panoramic screen, a vibrating chair, 5.1 surround sound and cutting edge visuals. In other words: the Battle of Hoth has never looked better. Like Star Wars Arcade before it, gamers play from an on-rails first-person perspective through famous scenarios of the original trilogy. Battle Pod's Hoth level puts players in the cockpit of a Snowspeeder and tasks them with protecting the fleeing rebel transports from Imperial attack.
It's non-stop action as AT-ATs crash to the ground, TIE fighters zip into the crosshairs and rebel commanders shout into the players' ears. If there is one downside to Star Wars Battle Pod, it's that for all the outstanding presentation, the game depicts Snowspeeders battling it out with TIE Fighters, as well as firing missiles. That never happens in the film, so it's strange to see it here, in what is otherwise and incredibly impressive realization of Hoth.
EA's Star Wars Battlefront
Release Date: Nov. 17, 2015
Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC
Hoth's long video game history finally leads us here, to the Star Wars Battlefront reboot coming from the creators of the Battlefield series. From what we understand so far, there will be multiple Hoth maps in the game with supporting various game modes — including one called Walker Assault, in which players must destroy (or defend) the AT-STs that walk on rails through the map. Like the Battlefronts before it, players will be able to pilot the iconic Snowspeeder and AT-ST walkers, but this time, the game will allow for 42 online battles, as well as single-player vs. AI missions inspired by original trilogy battles.
While the verdict is still out on EA's Star Wars Battlefront, there's no denying that the game will be the most visually authentic recreation of the Battle of Hoth to date. When the game releases, players will relive the battle of Hoth countless times from each perspective. Star Wars Battlefront will be the culmination of more than two decades of imagining Star Wars' most famous battle in video game form — but rest assured, it will be far from the last.