Part of the Star Wars expanded universe multimedia project of the same name (which also consisted of an original novel, comic books, a soundtrack, and toys), players control mercenary Dash Rendar as he participates in the Battle of Hoth (during the events of Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back), attempts to rescue the frozen Han Solo from Boba Fett, recovers secret Imperial plans for the second Death Star (with help from Luke Skywalker), and rescues Princess Leia from the game's antagonist (and head of the Black Sun crime syndicate) Prince Xizor.
The game is the first Star Wars game released for the Nintendo 64 (and was released shortly after the console's release). The PC version, released a year later, replaced the use of still images for cutscenes with rendered animated cutscenes (and voiceovers). The game features an orchestral soundtrack, using both John Williams's iconic themes from the original trilogy and themes from the officially licensed soundtrack (created by composer Joel McNeely).
Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire tackles many different forms of gameplay. These include third-person shooter/platforming levels, maintaining turrets on his ship (the Outrider) in an on-rails sequence, and total-control vehicle levels. Only the final level switches between different forms of gameplay mid-game.
In most levels, the player controls Dash Rendar himself, running around and gunning stormtroppers, droids, and other enemies. The player can choose between third-person and limited first-person views. Dash uses a variety of weapons (though primarily his Laser Blaster, which has infinite ammo), including seeker missiles, flamethrowers, pulse cannons, stunners, and disruptors. In later levels, Dash obtains a rechargable jetpack, which helps him fly over difficult platforming areas.
The Shooter/Platforming levels and the Swoop Bike level contain "challenge points" which are scattered throughout the level, seen in the form of a rotating chrome Rebel Alliance emblem. These are often put in hard-to-reach areas, encouraging the player to explore the vast levels. Collecting all of them in certain difficulty levels will allow certain codes and privileges to be triggered, including gaining all weapons and invincibility, changing to an X-Wing or TIE Fighter in the final level, and allowing wampas to fight on the player's side in the second level.
On-Rails Turret Levels
In some levels, the Outrider is piloted by Dash's robotic co-pilot, Leebo, as Dash maintains the ship's guns. Hazards, such as asteroids and enemy ships, must be blasted before they damage the ship.
There are three levels in which Dash maintains full control of a vehicle: the beginning of the game (where he pilots a Snowspeeder), the middle of the game (where he controls a Swoop Bike), and the end of the game (where he pilots the Outrider).
Part I - The Battle of Hoth
- Battle of Hoth - Dash arrives on Hoth with a shipment to the rebels, and Han Solo convinces him to join Rogue Squadron. Dash must control a Snowspeeder and take out probe droids and Imperial walkers.
- Escape From Echo Base - As the Imperial forces take over Echo Base, Dash must find his way to his ship, the Outrider, while facing stormtroopers, probe droids, wampas, and eventually an AT-ST walker.
- The Asteroid Field - Dash and his robotic copilot, Leebo, may have escaped Hoth, but they manage to fly towards a Star Destroyer in the middle of an asteroid field. Dash must control the Outrider's turrets while shooting down TIE Fighters, TIE Bombers, and asteroids.
Part II - In Search of Boba Fett
- Ord Mantell Junkyard - In order for Dash to find Boba Fett, who is keeping a frozen Han Solo, he must find one of Fett's rival bounty hunters (and rogue assassin droid) IG-88. Dash must ride hovertrains (and battle drones while jumping between trains) over to IG-88's location, and then battle him.
- Gall Spaceport - Dash finds out that Fett is hiding on an Imperial moon base. To avoid detection, he must hide the Outrider in a gorge and sneak in on foot to find him. Gall Spaceport is the longest stage in the game, taking over half an hour to complete.
Part III - Hunting the Assassins
- Mos Eisley and Beggar's Canyon - Jabba the Hutt, under orders from Prince Xizor, sends a group of swoop bikers to Obi-Wan Kenobi's old home, where Luke Skywalker is training. Dash must control a swoop bike and take out the bikers before they reach Luke.
- Imperial Freighter Suprosa - Luke informs Dash of an Imperial Freighter supposedly carrying secret Imperial construction plans. Dash must infiltrate it and recover the plans.
Part IV - Lair of the Dark Prince
- The Sewers of Imperial City - The Outrider and the Millenium Falcon have assembled in the sewers underneath the Imperial City, so they can rescue Princess Leia and blow up Prince Xizor's palace. Dash must navigate through the swears underneath the city, eventually battling a giant beast.
- Xizor's Palace - As Dash enters the palace, he must battle droids and guards so he can plant pulse bombs on a central structure. Before he escapes from the palace, Dash must face Xizor's Gladiator Droid.
- The Skyhook Battle - Xizor flees to his space station, Skyhook. Dash must fly there and destroy its reactor core, where an epic space battle ensues. The level has two parts: a gunner part (similar to The Asteroid Field) and a total flight control part (similar to Battle of Hoth).