I decided to go for Wing Commander next for the sake of variety, although the change of game type was fairly short lived as I’ve finished it the same morning I started.
Just starting up the game is something special. It uses the Origin FX engine which debuted in this game for all the cutscenes. This was still being used in games years later and also in the Origin FX screensaver that would play all these sequences. Starting the game we get a shadowy orchestra and conductor which we zoom over, past earth and into a huge Origin FX logo with fireworks. Combined with a great MT-32 soundtrack you know this game will be a classic right from the start.
Their isn’t an introduction as such. Just a few spaceships shooting each other and then the logo zooms on. The storyline from the manual is basic stuff. We’ve been at war with the Kilrathi (a cat based species) for 25 year since they attacked us without provocation. You are a rookie pilot on the Tigers Claw who must do your bit toward the war.
Starting off the game you on on the arcade machine in the bar. The game immediately ends – this is just a way of getting your nickname without having to take you out of the game to do it. You can go back and play a real game as training if you want however.
This is the ships bar. The storyline of the game is pretty much entirely carried out from in here. You can talk to the bartender and both the pilots between each mission. You can pick up some hints and tips also.
You get a closeup whenever you talk to anyone. This is paladin who will be showing up in the next few games.
To save your game you pick a bunk and it pops a person in it representing your save game. Exiting to DOS can be done by stepping out of the airlock. The attention to detail here is again superb. The interface for the game never takes you out of the world.
Stepping through the exit takes you into the mission briefing room.
The requirements of each mission are spelled out by the commander.
The briefings may also jump between characters so you get a little interaction.
At some point in the briefing it will zoom into the map to show the route you have to fly.
When its over you get a nice animated sequence, with a crescendo of MT-32 music showing you running for your ship.
Your ship is prepared to launch. This animation changes with each of the 5 ship types in the game.
And finally there is an impressive launch out of the ships hanger. So far I’ve not even got to the main part of the game which is the flying but the music, animation and sheer effort that is shown in the storyline inbetween is unprecedented for a game of this era. Chris Roberts set out to create a movie – I don’t think Wing Commander 1 really achieved that as the locations for the plot were too limited but it was the nearest thing seen on a PC at the time.
All the items in space are represented by bitmaps – its a polygon free zone. Having played Space Rogue this decision made perfect sense at the time. Screenshots like the one above looked great on the box also. You are shown inside your cockpit. The hand on screen moves when you steer, things blow up when you get damaged and the like.
I soon run into my first wave of Kilrathi. They go down pretty easily. I was playing this series years ago and am something of a veteran so I don’t anticipate struggling with too many of the missions (at least until the expansion packs which got really hard).
Your routes quite often take you through asteroid belts. The asteroids really look quite good even now, spinning around. They are a bit irritating as they can sometimes come out of nowhere and kill you in one hit. Going reasonably slow this can usually be avoided.
When I run into the next group of fighters, one of the rams me and I’m dead. Maybe this isn’t going to be as easy as I thought. There is a great death sequence with my coffin being shot into space. I reload and try again.
No problems this time. I make it back to the Tigers Claw and get landing permission.
Just like taking off, there is an animated langing sequence.
I’m then debriefed on the mission. You get told how many kills you both got and what went right/wrong. Something you will notice is that your wingmen are not much use. I invariably get nearly all the kills.
The next mission is to protect a transport ship. The variety of missions in the game is pretty small really – that can be said to some extent for all space sims which is probably why the genre seems to have died out although I’m sure it will be back sooner or later.
This is the drayman I have to protect.
Once its at the jump point and I’ve destroyed all the Kilrathi swarming around it hyperspaces out of system.
I get back to base and get put in a new squadron with a better ship.
I also get a Bronze star medal.
The takeoff animation changes to show the scimitar.
On this mission I run into a mine field – these are like asteroids except you can get away with just afterburning through the lot of them.
I never get to fly with him but Maniac shows up in the bar. He’s also a rookie starting out at the same time as me. He will be back for most of the rest of the series.
I get my first mission to take out a cap ship. There isn’t much to this really. Just keep shooting until it dies. The cap ships don’t appear to have any particular weaponry except flak guns which deal some damage when you are within a certain radius. If you take their escort out first they are sitting ducks though. For some reason wingmen are much better are taking out capships than fighters and can get them in no time if I order them to attack while I distract the fighters.
Something that does come up every few missions is the idea of Kilrathi aces. There isn’t any particular bonus for taking them out but you will come up against a new one every few missions. They tend to be a bit harder to hit and can definitely take more damage.
We take out the ace as well as everyone else on the mission and I get a promotion + a new ship to fly.
Every 5 missions or so you get a cutscene showing how the war is going. These directly relate to whether you were successful in your missions or not.
The first of these shows a group of scientists halting a Kilrathi invasion.
I haven’t got too much to say about most of the remaining missions or the storyline really. The variety is limited and the missions are either fly round some nav points, destroy a cap ship or protect a ship. There is nothing else to it. The plot shows you gradually pushing the Kilrathi out of the system, but there isn’t much to it so I’ll just put the screenshot up here.
Another cutscene showing some marines blowing up a Kilrathi installation.
This mission above bears some mention as it is a little tricky to say the least. The Ralari has about 4 Jalthi fighters firing on it as soon as you come within range. You literaly have seconds to take a couple of them out or the Ralari gets blown up. I had to repeat this about 10 times before I finally beat the mission.
Eventually you go on the offensive and find the location of the Kilrathi head of operations in the system.
This is the star base you have to destroy to win the game. Its not really any tougher than any other cap ship. It does have a lot of defence though. I take the easy option and take it out first while avoiding the fighters then just afterburn out of there.
That brings up the end sequence, which is perhaps a little briefer than I would have liked but still looks pretty good.
I’m a bit shocked that I managed to finish the whole game in little more than a couple of hours – I have a lot of Wing Commanders to play though so perhaps its not a bad thing. I remember the expansion packs being truly difficult.
This game is still impressive years later, but the gameplay is quite shallow if I’m honest compared to something like X-Wing which had a real tactical edge to it. That wasn’t the aim of wing commander though and X-Wing didn’t come out until a few years later anyway. This game offers simple arcade action and does it with real flair. Its as playable as it ever was although the bitmap graphics are a bit strange when you are used to 3d.
With getting through the whole thing so fast I feel like this post is somewhat rushed and I’ve barely covered the game. I’ll be returning to it for Secret Ops 1 & 2 anyway so it might be for the best.
Next: Ultima 6