I start my tour of the ship by talking to Hobbes. He seems a bit reluctant to fly actually and is kind of shy for a 7 foot cat.
I pop in the lift and run into “Radio” Rollins. He is the ships communication officer and resident doom merchant. He advises me to check in with him for the straight dope around here.
Plenty of the coversations have choices I can make which I’m told affect ships morale. How much difference they really make to my wingmen I have no idea but its nice to have a bit of interactivity here. Its only ever a single choice of 2 options and it doesn’t have knock on effects to other cutscenes on the whole.
Next stop is the ships bar. Cobra is lounging at the bar and objects to Hobbes walking in and storms out.
That only leaves me and Vagabond. This guy always wants to cheat people out of their money at cards and has some sort of Shady past which Confed have wiped off his bio.
I head for the locker room. Cobra has vanished and I can only reminess about Angel with a holo-message she left me.
Next stop – the bridge. Maniac (played by the guy who was Biff in Back to the Future) is attempting to impress one of the women up here with tales of his escapades. His character in WC3 really has changed a lot from the last game and is now just the same as Biff. In fact Maniacs character changes in every Wing Commander game. He doesn’t get on well with Blair in WC3 and definitely resents his rank. He didn’t even bother to turn up for my welcome ceremony.
Last stop is the observation deck. Flint is waiting here but I don’t get time to introduce myself before I’m called to a briefing at the bridge.
Each mission has its own video telling me the objectives. This first mission is just a 3 nav point patrol.
I then get to brief the rest of the pilots and at the end can choose my wingman. For this first mission I only get Hobbes to choose from.
Back outside I meet chief tech Rachel Corealis played by porn star Ginger Lynn Allen. I remember seeing an interview with Mark Hammill where he was asked about this where he said something along the lines that she had a dodgy past but had manged to reform and carve out a respectable career. Of course she reverted back to doing porn again shortly afterwards so I guess it didn’t work out. Her character here speaks in nothing but innuendo so its probably not that far from her usual role. With lines like these, it was either back to porn films or hope that the carry on films started up again. Rachel advises me that for this first mission she has picked my weapon loadout but in the future I’ll be able to alter this and even choose my ship.
There is a cutscene showing me getting into my hellcat.
And then I’m off. This doesn’t half load a lot faster than it did in 1994 and I’m flying in seconds rather than minutes.
I can take off manually if I like or autopilot out of the hanger.
The 3D models are basic but really don’t look bad. 3D games in 1994 just didn’t run in SVGA – the likes of System Shock that I’ve just played didn’t have SVGA support until the CD version came out in 95 and even then no one had a PC that could actually run it.
I was still stuck with VGA on my 486. Because of the compromises that had to be made for SVGA performance this actually looks worse than Wing Commander Armada did which was a bit of a disappointment. The models are nice enough but there is a lack of colour presumably due to the 256 colour pallette.
My first encounter is with a couple of darkets. I order Hobbes to break and take on the other one. Its fairly tricky to get laser hits in WC3 – I tend to use missiles a lot more than in the previous games.
The trick is to use the afterburners a lot to get close up – you can then get a guaranteed kill or hit with the lasers every time.
This first mission is a piece of cake and I autopilot back to the victory and get clearance to land.
I get a sequence with me landing…
… and a brief word from Rachel depending on how I did.
Thats the formula for the game – not much will change from here on in although the missions will be getting a lot harder. Despite the SVGA gloss and all the FMV this is basically the exact same formula as all the previous Wing Commanders and Strike games. Its very much true to its roots which is fine by me. We still have the unnecessary taking off and landing scenes, I can still see my joystick waggling around in the cockpit, my instruments blow up if I take damage, I still get the same dying words from nearly every Kilrathi, etc..
I walk round the ship again to seek out any new cutscenes. I meet Vaquero in the bar. This guy is another pilot and also a guitar player (although he only knows 4 chords as far as I can tell). He dreams of finishing the war and opening up a cantina where people can come and play his 200 year old guitar.
Cobra is in the locker room sharpening her knife. She spends most of the game sharpening her knife as I recall. She is not happy that I’ve flown with Hobbes and refuses to fly with him. She really doesn’t like Kilrathi.
Mission 2 is another patrol, this time with the added possibility of running into a cap-ship.
I decide to change my default ship on this basis to a Thunderbolt which is a sort of fighter/bomber compromise and carries 1 torpedo.
Its more darkets – the extra firepower makes it a little easier to take them out.
The cap ship turns out to be a transport. I could easily take this down with lasers but I use my torpedo instead – it only takes a single hit.
Another mission completed I head for the bar. Rachel is looking at the specs for Confeds latest fighter, the Excalibur. She has heard a rumour that Confed will be testing this on the Victory.
Mission 3 is escorting a medical ship to a jump point.
I’m given an Arrow for this mission which is the smallest and fastest Confed fighter.
Despite being in the smallest ship we run into a Kilrathi Corvette. These are small but pack a bit of a punch having 5 laser turrets. You can actually shoot the turrets off though and leave it a sitting duck. This was never possible before a true 3D engine and adds a lot more interest to cap ship battles than in WC2.
I take a bit of damage taking out the corvette but we complete the mission and the transport jumps out.
I get to meet Flint again. She is a bit put out that I haven’t been choosing her as a wingman (not that I’ve had the option yet) so I’ll be choosing her next time.
The next mission is another escort mission but with a twist. The twist is a new Kilrathi weapon called a skipper which is a cloaked missile that skips in and out of cloak in order to maintain a lock.
My choice of pilots is almost complete now with the one glaring gap still to fill.
I head off with Flint – before we get to the missiles we have a few Kilrathi to deal with. They are Dralthi this time which are a bit larger and slower than darkets and possibly some of the weakest ships in the game because of it.
We deal with them and head for the next nav point. I ignore everything else in order to track down the skipper. I have to afterburn to it and shoot it down before it cloaks again.
Mission complete we jump to the Tomayo system which is allegedly Kilrathi free and we have the job of babysitting the new Excalibur while it goes through test flights.
The test pilot calls himself Flash and lives up to it in both flying style and attitude.
Maniac and Flint are not too impressed and want to know when he will start pulling his weight. I promise that one way or another we will find out what hes made of.
Captain Eisen isn’t too taken with Flash either. The conversation is cut off when the Kilrathi attack and we have to scramble all fighters.
There is a new takeoff scene especially for this sort of mission which is more or less the same as the old one except with some bits speeded up and more people running around.
While I’m taking off, one of our pilots who I haven’t met yet is killed.
We have to fight off several waves of Kilrathi including Paktahn bombers which have a nasty rear turret but are big and easy to hit.
We destroy them all and Radar tells me that Flash sat out the fight in the barracks.
I head straight up there and have a go at him. He’s less than apologetic saying “his talents won’t be wasted on our petty little skirmishes”
Back in the bar Rachel offers to get the Excalibur ready for the next mission behind Flash’s back. Sounds like a good idea to me….
The next mission is a particularly tough one as it turns out and the Excalibur will come in handy. The Kilrathi are attacking a planet and we have to attempt to break through their fighters and take out the troop transports approaching it.
True to her word, Rachel has the Excalibur ready to go.
This is a difficult mission even in the Excalibur. I get to face up against some Vaktoth heavy fighters which are the toughest fighters in the game. They have a rear turret like the Longbow but are quite fast and thin making them really hard to hit. The best tactic with these is to team up on one fighter with your wingman although this isn’t strictly neccessary in the Excalibur. The Excalibur not only tells me where to aim (as do all the fighters in WC3) but it even aims for me. All I have to do is time it so that I only fire when the enemy is either very near or moving in a straight line so I can guarantee a hit.
I’ve taken a few hits by the time we make it to the transports but they are sitting ducks.
Flash meets me on landing and is not happy about me risking Confeds state of the art machinery. He challenges me to a duel to prove who is the better pilot. I accept on condition that if I win he puts in for a transfer to combat pilot on the Victory.
Eisen lets me know I’m taking a big risk and advises I kick the little twerps ass.
This is easier said than done. Flash just afterburns constantly making him near enough impossible to hit. The easiest approach is to get right on his tail and just fire off missiles as quickly as possible. He can’t evade enough of them and its a guaranteed victory.
I win the fight and we have ourselves a new pilot. Maniac doesn’t look like he wanted me to win.
There is a brief cutscene going back to the Kilrathi on an improbably large capship. They are going to pull out of the system as it has no use to them any more but do not want to surrender it (they don’t even have a word for surrender in Kilrathi!). Instead they are going to render it useless to us as well which sounds ominous.
Back on the Victory, Flash is quite apologetic and wants to prove himself to me now in combat if I’ll let him fly on my wing.
In the barracks Cobra is still sharpening that knife and is concerned about the Kilrathi using bio-weapons.
Flint is still staring at the stars. She lets me know this is her home system and I get a little back story about how her father was a pilot and taught her and her brother how to fly here. Her brother dies in the war. She puts in a request to fly these missions as she doesn’t want to be left on the sideline.
I put her on my wing again. The first mision is to take out more Kilrathi capships including some in an asteroid field.
In all the previous Wing Commanders an asteroid field was a truly dangerous place to be. This is not the case in WC3 and you would barely know when you are in one. There is no way that you could render enough asteroids in true 3D to recreate the old fields. Its a bit of a shame actually as it might have been fun – it may have been impossible to fly either though.
I fly against some of the cloaking fighters. These are incredibly weak and only need a couple of hits to destroy but they do tend to attack in swarms and if you are in a slow ship can be cloaked by the time you have turned to face them.
We have to take out a destroyer. These things are just bristling with turrets.
By the time I get there Flint has done most of the work. The trick to killing these is to make sure to concentrate all fire in one area of the ship. I seem to remember its possible to part just off the back of it in a blind spot also but its a risky tactic.
To complete the mission there is a wing of darkets led by an ace called Fireclaw. He’s as fond of afterburners as Flash was but the darkets can’t take many hits and between me and Flint he isn’t any real trouble.
In the bar Vagabond gives me more rumours about the Kilrathi using bio-weapons and refers to a system where it has already happened and the whole place is now in quarantine.
Hobbes doesn’t understand the Kilrathi leaving the system either and says that Kilrathi are at their most dangerous when they are unpredictable.
All this is sounding ominous and its no surprise when the next briefing I’m informed that the Kilrathi are pulling out of the system and launching bio weapons at the planet. I can’t let a single one of these missiles slip through or we will be condemning thousands of civilians to a slow death.
This mission is similar to the skipping missile one except I have to take out numerous warheads this time + the missiles don’t cloak. I ignore the fighters and just concentrate on the missiles. Maniac manages to kill off most of the fighters and between us we take out the destroyer which launched the missiles in the first place.
That seemed like a very brief mission and sure enough when I get back to the victory I’m told that Flint has gone renegade and asked if I want to fetch her back. It seems I was right not to trust her after all.
I agree and head out to find her. The game loads a new mission at this point which is a bit clunky but no big deal. I still have any damage I sustained but my guns and power systems have reset. When I autopilot to Flints location she is in the thick of it with a half dozen fighters + a cruiser in the area.
She manages to take out the cruiser on her own and I just concentrate on fighters.
Flint is flying a Longbow bomber for this mission which I’m looking forward to trying out myself when I get the chance. We don’t run into any more opposition. I’m sure I’ve flown this mission in the past and had to kill off a couple of capships before finding Flint but I’m not sorry that it was a bit easier this time around.
I land and Flint thanks me for the rescue and then waits for me to ground her. I decide to let her off as we need pilots + it has to be good for morale.
We leave the system and head for Blackmane. That marks the end of CD1 so I’ll call it a night at that and have a go at CD2 tommorow.
I’m enjoying my return to Wing Commander. The gameplay isn’t tactical or sophisticated but its always fun and challenging enough to keep me going. The movie sections stand the test of time extremely well. There is a strange bit at the end of all of them where the film keeps going and nothing is really happening, like they forgot to cut. Its nothing major but I’m left sitting there waiting for something to happen. Maybe it would be worse still if the cutscene ended abruptly the moment people were done speaking.
The combat sections are a bit more basic than the movie parts if I’m honest but they are more varied than I remembered. No two missions have been the same yet which is always a problem in this sort of game. Its every bit a worthy successor to WC2 and its really surprising just how faithful it is to the earlier games. Near enough every element of WC2 is reproduced here along with enough new stuff to keep it fresh.
The difficulty level is a little higher than I thought although I think I’ve only had to replay 2 missions once tonight so I’m not exactly struggling. The numbers of enemies in some of these missions was surprisingly high and I didn’t remember facing cruisers and destroyers so early in the game. It doesn’t appear to be leaving itself anywhere to go with new enemies later in the game so I’ll see if it can keep up the variety tommorow night when I tackle CD#2.