Day 203

Episode 6 starts out showing the Confed forces already in this system beating up some alien capships. It nice to know that we aren’t doing it all by ourselves.

It’s straight into action, as we are launched in Wasps to defend the station.

This isn’t the most difficult of missions but its not exactly the gentle warmup we’ve got in some of the other episodes, suggesting that this episode is going to be the most difficult yet.

Mission 2 is escorting the Cebereus to a new nav point.

This is no straight escort as we have to face capships along the way.  I’ll be seeing a lot of these in the next few missions.

For mission 3 we are de-turreting a capship.

Again this isn’t too difficult a mission. I always find that if I stay close enough to the capship, I’m usually pretty safe from enemy fighters.

It’s straight out again in bombers for Mission 4 to finish the job.

I’m in a Devastator for the first time in Secret Ops and its about time. There were some flying tips for these in the episodes fiction so I knew it was coming.

Taking out the carrier proves to be just a warmup for the main action at Nav 2.  This isn’t the easiest of missions with so many ships. The best tactic I find is to take out the transport ships first – this is silly but the fact is that my co-pilots can’t torpedoes the engines on these things because they always shoot down the torpedos. If I take them out myself then all their torpedoes count.

Mission 5 looks innocuous enough but proves to be the hardest mission of the game as I struggle to keep the Cerberus alive through 3 nav points. There are an insane number of enemy fighters on this mission and I run out of afterburners before the end. I must spend well over an hour before I complete this one mission.

After that, things get a lot easier again, first with another turret destroying mission.

Then as before its back out in the bomber.

Support arrived while we were swapping to bombers but these Devastators make light work of capships.

After we take them out we see yet more of them arriving in a mini cutscene.

Mission 8 has us escorting the Cerberus to the jump point. We know now that the aliens are using the stars in Proxima as a power source for a new gate to their system so we are going to head there and shut it down.

We have to get through all those capships first. I’m only in a fighter for this mission but I have a few torpedoes for all that. I just make sure to hold them back until the end so I don’t run out with a capship left alive.

That ends Episode 6. Aside from being the most difficult, this was the longest episode so far at 8 missions.

Episode 7 starts by showing the alien wormhole which looks more impressive than the WCP one.

As you would expect I’m starting out with a patrol.

I’m in a Devastator though which is unusual for a patrol mission. It’s just as well as its capships all the way in these later missions.

Mission 2 is another escort.

We get help from some Confed forces that are in system. After struggling through episode 6, I’m making light work of these final missions so far.

Mission 3 is a bit harder as we have to take out a lot of capships with limited torpedoes. Again the tricks here are taking out the transports turrets and also holding back my own torpedoes until the very end.

Someone must have spotted a plot hole with Dekker not getting ill on the alien ships which is filled in with a bit of dialog after the mission.

This is a short episode and mission 4 is the last. We don’t want to destroy the wormhole but to capture and study it.

I’m ordered to destroy the command ship. This is one of those dreadnoughts. It may be huge but this mission is easy. I head straight for the shield emitters and shoot them out. After this its a sitting duck – just a few shots to engine and bridge and its dead.

I don’t even have to mop up the fighters afterwards – the moment the command ship is down the mission is complete.

There is a very small cutscene at the end and thats it. I was expecting more of an ending and this is a bit of a letdown.

I’ve quite enjoyed Secret Ops despite the poor ending mainly due to the ludicrous scale of the battles. It has been repetitive at times but never boring. There has been a distinct lack of originality but even if this had been a £15 mission pack for WCP, I don’t think people would have complained. It didn’t really advance the story or tie up any loose ends from WCP, which is what I would have liked ,but I didn’t miss the FMV as much as I thought I would.

Next : Ultima 9 – Ascension

Day 202

The cutscene at the start of episode 5 shows a ship looking very much like the Vesuvius getting blown up by a large alien force.

Each of these episodes always seems to have a nice easy start with something of a warmup mission. This is no different as we head out in our Wasps to clear the immediate area. There is some chat about the aliens amassing their forces but then just sitting there and not attacking Sol.

Mission 2 is yet another patrol.

We are in Vampires for the first time in Secret Ops. If we had these all along why werent we using them? These appear to have their original weapons from WCP unlike every other ship I’ve flown in this game. We meet a few Barracudas in this mission but its nothing we can’t cope with.

Mission 3 looks a bit more interesting and has us flying out to defend the Luyten outpost from a capship.

I have to take out a load of capship missiles to keep the base alive. These things move pretty quick and I miss them first time around. The alien ship jumps off before it can be destroyed.

Mission 4 has us attempting to track down an alien convoy and destroy it.

This is the most transports I’ve ever seen in one place. The transports in Secret Ops are really good at shooting down torpedos so I have to close to point blank range to take them out.

In mission 5 we are hunting for the alien cruiser that escaped before.

It isn’t where we expect it and is having another go at the station.

We head over to the station and I have to take out a load more capship missiles again in what is almost a replay of the earlier mission. This time we have bombers to destroy the cruiser though.

The final mission has us clearing out the last remaining aliens on our way out of system.

There is a load of chatter at the start of the mission about the alien technology all being infected with some sort of flesh eating organism.

The battles in Secret Ops just keep getting bigger and bigger. This final mission has a whole fleet of us going up against a load of capships and fighters in the single largest battles I’ve ever seen in a Wing Commander game.

We clear out all these ships and its next stop Krieger.

Day 201

Having said I was only going to play one of these episodes a night, I ended up doubling that yesterday. They are either getting easier or I’m getting better at flying them (probably the latter). I played through the second episode in little over half an hour without having to repeat a single mission.

Episode 3 starts with a some alien capships destroying one of ours.

We are straight into action protecting a ship called the Shy Meadows.

After we save their bacon they want us to escort them for a bit. There is a long negotiation – we need their supplies and they don’t want to give them to us but we talk them over (mainly by virtue of us having the guns).

We are escorting the Cerberus to Talos station in mission 2.

I fail it the first time. The key to all these missions seems to be to take out the biggest ships first. As long as I ignore the Morays and go for nothing but Manta’s then I seem to breeze through these missions.

I have my first look at the killboard since I started this game. This is looking absurdly one sided. It kind of ego inflating to be this much better than everyone else but ideally I’d prefer it if the AI was a bit better.

Mission 3 is a patrol with some Excaliburs.

My fellow pilots might not be keeping up with me in kills but there are plenty of them. The battles in this game just keep getting bigger and there are about 10 of us in this wing. A few Excaliburs don’t make it but the mission is routine otherwise.

Mission 4 is escorting the civilian craft to the Sol jump point.

The usual routine of taking out the bombers works here. This is definitely the trick of playing Secret Ops. Once you have this figured out you can just breeze through these missions.

We get to take out a capship in our final mission.

With this complete we jump out of the system and I get another password for Episode 4. There isn’t much pertinent information in the text for this next episode. Zero’s Dad supplies us with some of the details of the threat of contamination from these alien artifacts that are being looted. I learn that the Cygnus system is full of civvies and tourists and that we are here to try to split the attacking alien forces.

Episode 4 starts off with some sort of giant cruise ship being attacked by a destroyer.

Mission 1 is designated as a routine patrol.

We pick up a distress call from somewhere but don’t manage to locate it on our patrol.

Once we get back to the Cerberus, its straight back out again to try to find that distress signals source.

We find it this time but we are on the late side and the ship is a mess.

There are some life signs on the ship. Zero docks while I go off to carry on the patrol.

When I get back Zero has recovered two people but they are in bad shape. I escort them back to the Cerberus.

We are nearing the real bug infestation now in this system and this mission is our first attempt to make start wiping it out. In effect this is just another patrol.

I see my first Manta in Secret Ops in this mission. It’s strange that some of the ship types have been held back for so long – I’ve been fighting 95% Manta’s and Morays with just a few others thrown in every now and then.

We encounter another cruise ship on this mission and have to protect it from attack.

We succeed with this and escort it to the station from here.

This ship agrees to transport our 2 injured survivors from Mission 2.

For this next mission we go out looking for a capship to destroy.

We fly our route but there is no sign of any capships.

The final mission is to escort the Cerberus out of system as ever.

As a little added complication we run into the erroneous capship we didn’t find last time out. This is the best mission of the game so far as I get to see the two capships blasting each other, something that has been missing entirely from both Secret Ops and WCP. In fact, I’d say this episode was the best of the lot so far. I liked the big cruise ships and the way that the mission requirements kept changing each time, and we got a nice battle between the Cerberus and a Destroyer to finish up.

I get my password for the next mission and that concludes episode 4.

Its slow going but I’d say that these missions do appear to be getting better as the game goes on with a large improvement in the last episode. I hope this continues for the last 3 episodes as its looking promising that after a slow start Secret Ops might just build to a decent climax. I’ve read the text for Episode 5 already and it talks about the aliens having a blockade here and us punching through it – this sounds interesting and there is definitely a feeling that the game is gaining momemtum. There is also a reference to the WEC (from Crusader) from a guy who says we haven’t seen this sort of oppression since those days. I do like these links between games even when they are minor like this – Origin should have done more of it.

Aside from playing these 2 episodes, I had a quick look at Standoff last night after being pointed towards it by Natreg. It’s a mod for Secret Ops – I don’t know a lot about it and would prefer to keep it that way until I’ve played though it. I won’t start it properly until I’m done with the real Origin games so I only tried the first mission but I’m seriously impressed. Its set a bit earlier than WCP and it did have a retro feel with WC2 music and more primitive ships but far nicer graphics than WCP itself. It even felt like flying one of the ships in WC2. A combination of WC2 gameplay and better-than-WCP graphics sounds like a winning formula to me. I’m really looking forward to playing this mod now. How well the story stacks up I don’t know, but I’m sure there will be more to it than Secret Ops. My only quibble would be that I’m not sure about the voice acting for the main character yet – this is getting really picky with a fan made game though and its good enough that it will probably grow on me.

There are a stack of mods and Origin related games out there. Looking at something like this, I really like the idea of working my way through some of them after I finish U9. Right now on the list I’ve got Lazarus, the U6 Project (finished in April I gather?), Standoff & System Shock 2. There were a couple of recreations of Ultima 4 in the Neverwinter Nights engine which are worth a look and plenty of Wing Commander inspired games to try, such as Gemini Gold. There is also the Ultima parody that came out a few weeks back. Thats enough to keep me going but I’m sure there are more if I have a look around the web. If there is anything else anyone thinks I should try let me know and I’ll add it to the list. I’m prepared to try anything, although I can’t guarantee I’ll finish it.

Day 200

200 days of blogging Origin games! I’ve completed 60 games in the last 10 months so I’m averaging 5 days a game (including days off), which believe me is going for it. It feels like a long, long time back when I was starting Akalabeth and I am going to have a lot more spare time when I get this lot finished. Very nearly there now, I’ll definitely get them all done in under a year.

I’m going to be in Ella for this set of missions. I remember this system from WC4 where we had to pass through it to catch up with the Vesuvius. The Ella starbase is still there and looks to be under observation from aliens.

I don’t actually have to enter my code from the last mission. I just get sent straight out into Episode 2. I think the code could be used on the website as well and changed the emails you got.

We clear some aliens from around the Cerberus, then get proactive and go looking for more.

All the pilots have a bit of a chat about the looting that seems to be going on of alien artifacts. There was mention of this in the emails that went with this mission.

Its another patrol next.

We run into some Excalibur’s from Ella on this mission and get to fly with them for a while.

Next mission we get to go up against some capships for the first time.

I’m flying what seems to be a new type of bomber. I don’t recognise it anyway but I would guess it was used in some of the earlier WCP missions. Its hard to tell when all the weapons for all the ships have been changed. It’s quite a nice ship but less of an out and out bomber than the Devastator. There is no plasma gun so I have to use torpedoes on any capships.

After clearing a load of fighters from the first nav point, we get told to take out any bombers as a priority. There are 3 of them trying to escape at the next nav point. First time round, I let one get away and fail the mission.

I retry the mission and make sure to get the bombers this time. I’m then faced with a destroyer + 2 transports at Nav 3 but I’ve got stacks of torpedoes so they are no trouble.

I get back and we are off to the starbase next to resupply.

Next I have to escort some capships.

I have to clear out yet more bugs on the way in. The nav point where I’m to rendezvous with the capships is empty but they jump in after a few seconds and I have to defend the capships from bombers.

These capships are certainly a big target but we don’t run into any more trouble.

Next its another patrol as we start to head out of system.

Confed reinforcements for Ella are shown arriving after the mission.

Finally for this episode, we are going to try to make it out of system to Cygnus.

The mission is routine enough but the aliens block off the jump point and we have to jump to Talos instead.

That finishes the episode and gets me a new password.

A couple of todays missions were a bit more interesting but for the most part it was very routine again. Secret Ops has been a lot more repetitive than WCP but I was expecting that from the start. I’ve been reading ahead for the next episode and there isn’t much of a clue of whats to come next. There is more talk about people looting alien remains, a memorial service for Blair and apparently our Captains old callsign was Clippy. The looting keeps being mentioned and looks to be significant but I don’t know how. As far as I can tell, we are purely in Talos as a roundabout route to Cygnus, having been cut off from the direct route, so I don’t expect to learn too much in the next episode either.

Day 199 – Wing Commander : Secret Ops

This game is a bit of an oddity in that it was released entirely for free over the internet. I was led to believe at the time by a games magazine that it was something of an apology to the fans for Prophecy but I’m sure that can’t be the case. It was released with one giant (at the time) first download, with some much smaller ones released each week to make up 7 episodes in all. You didn’t even need to own Prophecy to play this game. It was a uniquely generous gesture by EA and I have to wonder how it came about. The snag was that here in the UK at 3k a second and 2p a minute the download was hardly free. In fact that would put the whole games cost in phone bills up to about £15 if the download went perfectly.

This huge download stopped me playing the game until it was included on a magazine cover CD. I’m coming back to it now and I remember nothing about it. Literally nothing. This can’t be a good sign that its particularly memorable although I’ll find it hard to be overly critical about a game that was given away.

Being a free and downloadable game, the FMV has of course gone. It was replaced by emails, news reports and the like which could be read on the games website each week while you were downloading. I definitely didn’t read these the first time around so I’m hoping to get more out of the game this time. Having just gone through the prelude and chapter 1 text, its all written quite well. I could even argue that this is better than the FMV it replaces as there is more content here.

For all the text there isn’t that much story, however. In brief the Midway is having a celebration tour of Sol and other systems and in the meanwhile Casey, Zero, et al are being transferred to Confeds newest ship the Cerberus. This is some sort of strike cruiser which is smaller than the Midway but quicker and more deadly.

With no FMV, any cutscenes are going to be done using the game engine. This doesn’t give you many options in a space sim so I can expect loads of flybys. The original actors have been brought back to voice the characters which is highly surprising in a free game. The voice for Casey doesn’t sound right though so I guess he was too expensive.

The intro shows me, Zero, Maestro, etc.. on our way to the Cerberus while the victory celebrations go on for everyone else. The Cerberus isn’t the most impressive model – its definitely not up to the standards of the Midway or the alien capships so the games free roots are showing right from the start here.

There is no walking around the ship any more. There is just the one screen with everything on it.

I’m hoping for some more interesting missions in this game but I probably shouldn’t expect too much in a freebie. First up is a straight patrol.

There aren’t supposed to be aliens this near Earth but we run into them all the same.

The combat is much the same as ever. We have some new guns and missiles – nothing too exciting but they are different at least. The aliens also seem to have some new weapons but the same old ships. There is a new planet in the background also.

Next mission is an emergency scramble to protect the Cerberus. We are in all new Wasps for this. I already liked the old Wasps but these pack even more of a punch.

We have to escort the Cerberus to a jump point next.

There is a bit of chat about how the bugs got here in the first place. My money would be on a new gate but I’m only guessing.

We get the Cerberus to the jump point only to have another scramble mission. 2 scrambles in the first 4 missions is not a good sign of variety to come.

Once its safe, the Cerberus jumps out and that finishes the episode.

It’s been pretty quick playing through the episode. This gets me a code to enter for the next one which will carry over my performance for the winning/losing paths.

There wasn’t much sign of originality in these opening missions but I’m not so bored with WCP that I can’t enjoy them anyway. I still don’t remember anything about the game except two of the new pilot phrases (Zeros “Dead bug” and Spyders equivalent) are incredibly familiar and must end up being repeated ad-infinitum for them to stick in my mind like that.

Unoriginal or not, this does not play like a free game. The engine was still state of the art when this came out and it plays as well as WCP ever did. I’ve said it before but giving this away was unbelievably generous. It just seems completely out of character for a company like EA who would be more likely to change the character names, rebrand it Prophecy 1997 and charge you the full price.

This game makes more sense just playing one episode at a time and the repetitiveness isn’t an issue. I think this has been a problem in general with some of these games as I’ve rushed through them in a few nights. If I hadn’t done that I’d still be playing through them in 2 years time but having got this far I guess there is no rush any more. I’m going to attempt to play one episode a night from here on out, making sure to read the text that went with each one as I go.