Standoff is a Wing Commander Prophecy mod that has been in progress for about as many years as it took Origin to release Ultima 9 with the final episode coming out a couple of months back. It’s done by the same team behind Unknown Enemy which I played a while back but from what I know is seen by the team themselves a much more polished product, having learned a lot from their first efforts. UE was good fun in its own right so that bodes very well for this sequel. I’m told that the game has been hugely enhanced with the final episode of this mod and been brought bang up to date despite still using the aging Prophecy engine.
I don’t know anything about the plot or gameplay which is just as I like it. With the lengthy development time, I’m expecting something pretty special. With EA holding the Wing Commander license this is probably the nearest I’ll ever come to a Wing Commander 6 but this is still an amateur fan mod so I probably shouldn’t get carried away.
I know that there are numerous branches for the plot in the game. I’m going to attempt to choose what seems like the right/winning path at all times and see how it works out rather than attempt to follow each of these. I may go back and replay the game later but I’d prefer to keep it simple while I’m blogging.
The game starts with an in-engine cutscene with a voice-over of my journal entry for the day. I’m serving on an about to be decommissioned ship called the Lionheart. We are in a truce with the Kilrathi and our ships are being decommissioned as they are no longer needed. One of our ships has just been raided by pirates and a load of Sabres stolen and a few hostages taken including an ex-girlfriend called Sparrow.
All this intro is done with voice acting which isn’t too bad for an amateur game although my character does come across as a bit whiny when he’s going on about Sparrow and doesn’t strike me as a battle hardened Wing Commander.
The graphics in this intro look awesome though, far better than I’d expected. That ship flying by the Standoff logo looks so good in a screenshot you would think it was pre-rendered. The engine has been modified to work in Widescreen with HDR effects and increased detail and you just wouldn’t think it was based on Prophecy.
After the main intro is over there is another scene of me (that’s me in the screenshot) chatting with my engineer about the upcoming missions where we will be going after the pirates to recover our ships and hostages. The detail on the faces in these is well done. There is more than a hint of Thunderbirds about the animation but again this stuff is way beyond what you would expect and just having it there at all is impressive.
From this screen I get to make all the usual choices you expect in a Wing Commander game and it works just like any other game in the series.
One slight change is that my communications are now inside the game whereas I had to use an external viewer in Unknown Enemy. I’ll also say that the writing quality is a big improvement on the previous game. The previous efforts were obviously fan fiction whereas the communications here are at least as good or better as you would expect in a commercial product.
The briefing screen is the same as ever and our first mission is a simple one – escort the Lionheart to the jump point to go after the pirates. Despite my state of the art PC this screen runs a little slowly but nothing too bad and the rest of the game is as smooth as you like.
I get in the cockpit for the first time flying a Stiletto. We have a whole new set of virtual cockpits and ships to fly in this game and the background music appears to be enhanced versions of the WC2 themes which is fine by me.
I’m struck again by just how good the graphics are. The starfield in the background is immensely detailed and the ship models have far more detail than anything I’ve seen before in a Wing Commander.
Predictably enough the mission gets sidelined as we receive a distress call and have to go and rescue a freighter. This gets me into my first combat of the game and its a bit different to anything in Prophecy. The ships all appear to be around WC2 technology and the behave in a similar manner, firing massive projectiles and the shields being paper thin but recharging quickly. It makes it difficult not to sustain a lot of damage in these fights but the mission is still easy enough.
There are new video landing sequences for landing, just like WC2. This is almost like playing an updated version of that game.
We didn’t make it to the jump point in that last mission so the goal in Mission 2 remains the same.
We have to defend the Lionheart from some of the stolen Sabres in this mission but again it’s not too tricky and unlike UE this game is giving me a gentle introduction.
After the battle is over, I’m sent to investigate a lone ship which turns out to be a Kilrathi. I’m not sure if this is potentially a branching plot point as I could shoot him down or not inspect his cargo as ordered if I felt like it. Since the truce is on, I carry out my inspection and leave him alone.
We still haven’t gone through the jump point but are about to do so. I have to secure the entry area then patrol some asteroid belts.
I get to fly against some Tarsus’s, which look suspiciously like the ship you start out in for Privateer. They are an easy target anyway. There is a bit of a Privateer feel about a lot of this game. The locations are taken from that game and a lot of the pirate sound effects have been ripped from there also.
While patrolling the asteroids, we find the pirate base. We are ordered to retreat for now which I do. I was hoping that the asteroid field might have born some resemblance to the WC2 ones but no such luck. We haven’t had decent asteroid fields since the move to 3D.
My ship got truly beat up on this mission and this is shown in the landing sequence. I do like little details like this, you can tell that the guys who did this game were huge Wing Commander fans.
The next mission is escorting the Lionheart to near the pirate base.
You just know there will be a surprise when a mission briefing is that straightforward and at the end I have to go investigate a signal in the asteroids.
In the asteroids I run into my ex co-pilot and assumed hostage Squealer who has infact defected to the pirates. He doesn’t want enforced retirement and tries to persuade me to go along with him. There isn’t really much incentive here for me to go with him, we could have done with a few missions where I got to know the guy if this was going to be a difficult decision. It’s an obvious plot branching point but I choose to stick with the side I’m on. I leave Squealer and claim not to have found anything when I get back.
I tell my engineer that my flight recorder shorted out and she seems to believe me. My wingman Spoons is less convinced though.
There is a bit of a cutscene again here where I pine about Sparrow some more and speculate about who may have gone over to the pirates.
I have to get on with flying though and the next mission is taking out the pirate base. Squealer is here and tries to talk us out of it but that isn’t going to happen. We clear out the fighters then go after the bases turrets.
The turrets deserve a mention as they are the best in any Wing Commander game by a mile. They are detailed and turn moderately slowly meaning that I can see where and when they are going to fire. They absolutely rip through my shields if I do get hit making destroying them quite a tactical affair and a lot less about luck and perseverance.
This mission takes me a few attempts. The winning strategy turns out to be an old favourite of staying near my capship at the start and using its turrets to help take out the fighter cover. After the mission one of the Sabres which is supposed to be returned to us flies off.
I have to go after it and get to choose my ship this time. I go for the Sabre since its clearly the best ship here.
The ship has been taken by Sparrow of all people and I now have to fight her.
The fight is very easy indeed and she ejects afterwards. I get to make more choices here. I could leave her, shoot her or beam her in. I choose to beam her in but then lie about her defection when I return saying that she was a hostage.
That ends this first chapter and the final cutscene shows me arguing with Spoons who had guessed that Sparrow defected and that I’m covering for her. He’s also not happy about me not telling him about Squealer.
The chapter 2 intro cutscene starts before I can stop it. It jumps forward in time a bit and we appear to be at war with the Kilrathi again and the Lionheart has been decommissioned. We are under-equipped and outnumbered. I’m on a Firekka for this ship which means more new graphics and possibly new ships but I don’t get that far for now.
Playing this has been a blast. The plot is genuinely interesting and the game is extremely polished for a fan mod, especially the missions themselves. I’m enjoying the retro feel combined with modern graphics. This plays like WC2 or WC1 and has far more in common with them than WC3 did. It appears as though every aspect of Prophecy has been modified with everything from the in flight commuications and videos, through the ship screens, ships, sound effects, music, etc being new to this game. It’s an amazing effort and I can see why it would take so long. I can only hope it will improve as the team builds upon its experience for each new chapter. If that does happen this could ultimately be a better game than Prophecy itself.