Wing Commander Prophecy was the 5th in the main series and the first game to be made without Chris Roberts who had left Origin by this point to work on the Wing Commander movie. It was intended to be the start of a new trilogy but with UO sucking up all Origin’s resources after this year none of these ever happened. This is a game I’ve not played since within a year or so of it being released and its not one I remember too fondly for various reasons. The one that sticks in my mind is the cliffhanger ending which I’ll deal with when I get to it. It’s been a long time since I played this anyway so maybe I’ll like it more this time around.
For the first time in Origin’s history, this game uses 3D acceleration so at the very least it should look a lot better than previous games. I’m also using the DVD patch from wcnews.com which adds 3gb worth of DVD quality movies to replace the games original cutscenes – this is the first time I’ll have played the game with these and judging by WC4 it should really improve the game.
A minor word of warning before I start – with DVD quality video the images for this game are going to be pretty big and might take a little downloading. This whole site should come with a bandwidth warning anyway.
The intro looks really good with the DVD video – the patch is well worth the download. The start tells how the Kilrathi have some sort of prophecy of a time of darkness which will come after they have been defeated by one who has the heart of a Kilrathi but is not Kilrathi born.
At this point some sort of giant alien ship comes through a hole in space and blasts a few mining ships which are working in the ruins of Kilrah.
We then cut to some new pilots arriving at the Midway (Confed’s latest super carrier). I’m not playing Blair any more but am instead going to be playing a rookie pilot called Casey who is the son of Iceman from Wing Commander 1. I arrive with my buddy Maestro who has stolen some contraband brandy from the private reserve of a confed admiral. We meet our new acting squadron leader, Stiletto, who sends Maestro off to see the CAG about the incident with the admirals daughter while I get to look around the ship.
I get to log into the ships computer as part of the intro which sets up my callsign.
Its then off to the bar where Maniac is telling some of his over the top stories to everyone in there. Hawk is still around and doesn’t look too impressed. I try to introduce myself but don’t get a good reception as the table I choose is reserved for Black Widow squadron. After being something of a sidekick in WC4, Maniac is back to being a bastard in this game and is in the middle of having a go at me when he’s called off on the comm. I liked his character in WC4 and it was one of the things which made the game so entertaining but I guess he wouldn’t necessarily treat a rookie pilot as well as the likes of Blair so it’s not big a change.
Another pilot called Zero shows up and introduces himself before giving me the grand tour.
Walking round the ship is just as in previous games, it all feels familiar right from the start. There are fewer locations than WC3 though.
Zero shows me the briefing room next. The briefing tables have gone and been replaced by the ISIS system, with each pilot having their own screen. I get to meet another pilot Dallas who is purely here for the money it seems. He tells me how the Midway was a money saving option for Confed who have poured all their money into this one super ship. He says it was Commodore Blairs idea at which point I spout off about how I’m fed up of hearing about Blair and he walks right in behind me.
That concludes the intro videos so its time to do some flying. There is a simulator in the bar – I head there first and try a few missions out. There is a full spread of training missions on here.
I try the first one and it talks me through the very basics of flying. I’m not sure that the rock music in the background is very Wing Commander but its not a bad tutorial. The difference in the graphics is immediately noticeable.
The 3D acceleration certainly means that things are much smoother. The WC4 engine could never turn out this framerate no matter what your hardware. The cockpit is now in full 3D and swings around as I maneuver. There are some nice effects on missiles and explosions and the cap ships are way more detailed. The background of space is more colourful also. It does look good but I’m actually surprised at how the actual ships don’t really look much better than in WC4. With the 3D acceleration comes the sort of plastic look that all games had at this time as well.
I get to fly against a Kilrathi ship which provides a moving target for my training mission. There is a nice shockwave when it explodes. It doesn’t fade away like it should – I seem to recall that direct3d support wasn’t what it should have been in this game (it was early days for the technology) so I’d probably be better off with a glide wrapper. I might hunt one out but its not really a big deal.
At the end of the training mission, I get to dock with the Midway.
I don’t play through all the training missions as I’m figuring that playing every single Wing Commander game to date should have served as decent training anyway. I try out flying a bomber in another mission and get to fly against a Corvette.
I head for my first briefing. The ships captain comes in and tells us that we are at full alert status. A Kilrathi fleet has been destroyed by something or someone and we are to go out and investigate it.
The mission briefings are very different in this game. The FMV has gone and been replaced by a realtime 3D wireframe equivalent. This is done really well and if anything is better than the briefings from the earlier games. In this first mission we are to fly out with Dekker and his marines to investigate the remains of the Kilrathi fleet.
We get a word from Blair before we leave and then I’m dealt the bombshell of being recommended to lead the wing by Stiletto due to my flight school record. This is just the usual thing of always having to play the Wing Commander which we’ve seen right since Wing Commander 1.
There is an entirely unnecessary ship loading sequence. It does look nice but there seems to be a lot of space on this ship.
We are then launched through a big tube, Battlestar Galactica style and spat out the side of the ship. I love this idea even if it was stolen from a 70’s TV show. We are just missing the stripy tube to complete it. The music for the missions is back to the orchestral stuff you would expect and its much more fitting for Wing Commander.
We fly out and have a look at the Kilrathi ship. There isn’t much here. Dekker lands at what is left and downloads the log. All the communications are shown in full FMV which we’ve been seeing since WC3. However, the quality of this here is superb – its in full colour and just as good as watching the DVD sections (albeit it in a tiny little window).
Things could never be too simple and a wing of unidentified ships appears. We take them all out pretty easily – this mission is not as tough as the training ones in the simulator.
Mission completed we arrive back at the Midway.
I arrive back at the Midway looking a little lost. Rachel is making a return in this game and she is less than friendly. When I land I get to check out my stats on the computer screen. This shows me percentage hits and the like + an overall score. I leave her trying to sort out a fire.
Dallas is not happy about us being shot at – this wasn’t part of his money making scheme.
Hawk comes over and joins us. He tells us that the cats on that ship were all dissected into cat chunks. They found a word scrawled on the wall in blood which means darkness or evil. They science team are apparently working on breaking the code on the log still so we don’t know much yet.
We are called out on a scramble so I have to dash back to my ship.
Maniac’s wing has run into trouble and we have to go and help. We run into more of the alien ships and this time they are communicating with us (although not in English). There are certainly plenty of them – we didn’t have combat on this scale in any previous Wing Commander. We send the communications back to the Midway for them to analyse.
After the mission, Maestro is trying some awful new drink in the bar. One of the science officers called Finlay is down here and we get introduced. It’s her team that are trying to figure out what we are up against.
I only got two missions in before I had to stop although I did mess around with training missions for a while. So far WCP is a lot better than I remembered it to be. The cutscenes are definitely not as good as those in WC4. Visually they look great but the script is really cliched and a bit childish. They are, however, way above what I was expecting and its only the comparison to WC4 thats bringing them down.
As for the combat itself, its quite a big change from earlier games with loads of relatively weak ships to fight in huge battles with a dozen fighters on each side. You could argue that this is nearer to the original WC1/WC2 games than WC3 or WC4. There is also much more chatter on the radio, which hasn’t been too repetitive so far and gives some atmosphere to the combat. I’m really quite impressed with WCP actually which has come as a pleasant surprise. The move to 3D acceleration perhaps hasn’t improved the graphics as much as I would have expected but its allowed for things like nice colour FMV in cockpit, way more action on screen at once + new types of missiles and its actually been used to spice up the gameplay a bit which is what new technology should always be used for.
So despite my initial misgivings, this has the potential to be a worthy sequel. The atmosphere doesn’t feel quite Wing Commander somehow but things do have to evolve if they aren’t going to become stale. It’s making me wonder what put me off the game in the first place. Surely there must have been more to it than not liking the cliffhanger ending but I’m not so sure now. WC4 really was a high point in PC gaming for me and maybe I just went into WCP expecting too much. I’m sure this was quite a short game so I should be finding out soon enough.