I was going to play Longbow next but I’ve discovered that the version I bought is the limited edition. Usually this means extras – in this case it means that the game is limited and doesn’t have the campaign mode. I’ll get back to Longbow when I’ve bought myself a complete copy.
So instead its Wing Commander 4. After a long wait for WC3, this came out relatively quickly. It was the single most expensive game ever made at the time and by a long way. This is mostly due to the movie sections which abandoned bluescreen in favour of real sets.
The 256 colour VGA is now replaced by 16 bit colour making this one of the earliest games to use this and the video really does look hugely better. I was originally going to play the DVD version of this but I had a bit of trouble getting it to run without crashing every now and then so I’m going back to the original DOS version for the first time in years.
The DVD edition was never available for sale but was given away as a freebie with Creative’s DXR package (a DVD drive + MPEG decoder board) back in the very early days of DVD drives. It’s not like there was much choice back then but it was enough to make be chose the Creative above other options. The DVD edition had VOB files with 5.1 surround and full DVD quality movies. It’s really the only version to play but the CD version isn’t bad either and I get the benefits of Dosbox scaling in the flight sections.
The CD version comes on a whopping 6 CD’s and considering the amount of video its amazing it didn’t need more.
The introduction starts by showing a fleet of cloaked spaceships attacking a medical convoy. They use some sort of disc shaped weapon to explode the ship, before the leader pulls off some fancy move where he lets of a mine, afterburns it then uses the shockwave to speed away.
This fades away into the great fedaration assembly, which I guess is a galactic House of Commons. Paladin is now a Senator and introduces Tolwyn who is giving a report on a situation of escalating violence along the frontier in space. No one is quite sure who to blame these attacks on although there is strong suspicion that the border worlds are behind it.
Tolwyn is given 2 weeks to investigate what is going on and then report back to the house to decide on whether to declare war.
From here we back out into a bar on a remote planet and in walks Blair. Since WC3 he has become a farmer of all things although its not going all that well.
I meet a vet asking for money at the bar and get to make my first choice of the game. There is quite a bit of this sort of choice in WC4. It might seem inconsequential at the time but makes minor plot differences later in the game. I help him out.
The bartender is telling me how things aren’t the same since the war ended and there aren’t enough jobs to go around when I catch a familiar sight in the background.
Maniac is getting turned down by one of the locals. He’s stayed on with Confed while I’ve been off farming.
We are chatting when a fight breaks out in the background. I’ve got the choice of whether to wade in or not. He decides to back down for now after threatening me with a knife.
Manac finally tells me why hes here after hes gone. I’m being recalled to active military service. I can’t have much reason to stay here as I’m ready to just head straight off.
We fly off into space and the first mission starts. The improvement in the movie parts since WC3 really is huge. The script, acting, direction and music are all way ahead of where they were and the real sets make a huge difference. I’ve certainly seen worse movies and its at least up to the standards of a prime time tv show.
Thats no use if the game itself isn’t any good though. I was a bit let down by the gameplay in WC3 going back to it after all these years. It definitely needed some improvement for this game.
First impressions are good. The cockpit has gone and been replaced by a nice HUD instead. This removes a bit of the Wing Commander feel but it’s far better gameplay wise. The graphics are similar but a little smoother, more detailed and with the occasional bit of colour which we never saw in WC3.
In this first mission, Maniac has set it up so that we have non lethal lasers and can have a dogfight to finally see who is the best. It’s easy enough beating him if you line him up in your sights before accepting this. We are attacked straight afterwards and have to wait while the lasers reconfigure before we can attack back.
When we get to our stop at the local space station an unknown craft is in the process of blowing it up.
He claims to be from the border worlds then pulls off the stunt with a mine that was in the intro leaving us to have to fly to a new station.
We land at Bluepoint station then immediately take a shuttle back to Earth. We pass the Victory on the way – its a museum now orbitting Jupiter.
I meet up with Tolwyn on the Earth space station. Two huge carriers are being fitted out which Tolwyn is very proud of. He tells me that he is sending me to the frontier to be his eyes and ears and also putting me back in the cockpit.
My new carrier is captained by none other than Eisen himself. He tells me to have a look around as it will be a lot different from my last tour.
Another familiar face is in the lounge. Vagabond was also in the active reserves – he hadn’t planned on ever actually being recalled.
The briefing room is a bit more flash than the old one with a fancy new table.
My first mission is to escort a supply ship and then relieve a patrol at a comms station.
The escort part of the mission is routine enough and the sort of thing I’ve seen before in WC3.
When we get to the comms station, its under attack. After killing off a few of the attacking craft we are ordered to tail the retreating survivors at a distance so we can discover the location of their base.
I complete the mission and a rookie pilot called Catscratch is just checking in when I get back. He’s got some sort of hero worship thing going on with Blair.
Next mission is to go and destory the pirate base. I get a Longbow for this. The loadout is all done through the one HUD now, the same one I use for wingman selection or saving the game.
I concentrate on the frigate and take it out with torpedos at the first opportunity.
My mission still isn’t done. There is a transport under attack which Eisen sends me to look after.
It’s already dead when I arrive. Some sort of new weapon was used on it which super-ignited the artifical atmosphere blowing it up from the inside. That would be what I saw in the intro.
In the bar, Maniac and Vagabond are talking about this incident. Maniac blames the border worlds but it seems unlikely that they would have this technology.
We jump into a new system with the aim of rescuing a scientist who is being held prisoner. I have to carry out a recon mission flying to several jump points and using a new gun mounted camera system to take 10 pictures at each point.
The graphics for the ground mission are a monumental improvement from WC3. Everything is texture mapped and it really looks pretty good.
I can just park up after clearing out the opposition to take my 10 photos.
After the mission I go and see Eisen in his cabin. He is allegedly writing e-mails to his grandchildren when I walk in but he seems quite secretive about it.
Thanks to my recon from the last mission we know where to go to extract the scientist. I have to fly in with a transport of marines. This mission has a host of new things. First off I get a wingman on a ground mission which never happened in WC3. Next I’m transporting marines to do a job. Finally, the marine ship acually docks with the building landing on its roof and I have to hold off the opposition while its carrying out its mission.
This sort of mission just didn’t happen in WC3. I had the idea before playing this that the gameplay didn’t change much with WC4 but it’s improved a lot so far. I’ve had changing mission requirements and all sorts of little quirks to all the missions so far. Things like tailing the pirates back to their base or having to take photos at nav-points are not all that complex but it just makes it so much more interesting to play.
When I land a shuttle is coming in. A Captain Paulson lands with new orders but I don’t get to find out what they are about.
Tolwyn has sent me a message asking for my appraisal of the current situation. I don’t have much to tell him yet but do ask about Captain Paulsen.
In the bar, Vagabond is teaching Catscratch how to play cards, the hard way. Maniac has caught a glimpse of the bio-chemist we just rescued and thinks she was worth rescuing just for the way she looks.
In my next mission briefing, Eisen has been replaced by Paulsen. Paulsen doesn’t see that there is any need for me to know why.
The mission is to recapture a space station which has been taken over by the border worlds. This is similar to the last mission in that I have to guard the capture operation.
When I get back, Maniac is trying his luck with the bio-chemist with the usual result.
The news comes on and includes an interview with Tolwyn. Confed are now requiring all border worlds ships to fly escorted which isn’t going to ease any tensions.
I ask Eisen what his new orders are and he tells me that he is just awaiting transfer and thats all he knows but that we shouldn’t worry about it.
Some border worlds ships are breaking the new Confed interdiction and flying into Confed space. We are told to stop them by any means neccessary. We issue a final warning and they claim that we illegally seized one of their space labs and refuse to follow orders. I have to blow up one of their cap ships to get them to surrender.
Tolwyn has replied to my message. He says that Paulsen is little more than a professional beurocrat and that I shouldn’t concern myself with him.
I talk to Catscratch in the bar and he is not happy about the last mission we just flew. It turns out he is actually from the border worlds himself. I tell him I’ll try to get some info out of Eisen.
Eisen is getting ready to leave. I mention that some of the men aren’t happy and he points out that loyalty to Confed was a lot easier when we were fighting the Kilrathi.
I bump into Maniac near the flight deck. He is trying to talk to one of the new pilots who just ignores him. A order comes over the speaking for everyone without Level 5 security clearance to leave the flight deck. Maniac heads off for the bar – I decide I need to see whats going on and stick around.
Whilst hiding out of sight I see a new pilot called Seether arrive. This is the guy from the bar at the start of the game and he seems to know Paulson.
I head to the briefing room and find out that Eisen and Maniac have stolen a shuttle and fled the Lexington. Paulson tells me that Eisen has been leaking information to the border worlds and we have to stop him by any means.
We fly off and Vagabond tells me he is not going to fire on the Captain. I have a choice whether to join him.
I trust the Captain and join up as well. Catscratch just goes along with my decision whatever it is at this point. That still leaves one wingman who we all turn on.
We follow Eisen and meet up with a small carrier called the Intrepid and land just before it jumps out of the system.
The Intrepid is in bad shape and took a lot of hits before we got there. We meet up with two veteran pilots Panther and Hawk who are trying to sort out the mess.
I have a brief chat with Eisen. He tells me that he was no spy but has been examining Confed data to try to find out what was happening. He claims that the trouble with the border worlds is being provoked by forces within Confed and the data he is carrying could prevent a full blown war. He still hasn’t figured it all out yet though.
Before I get to look around the ship we have an emergency scramble and have to take out the ships we were flying with not too long ago.
After I land, I meet the ships chief tech – another veteran called Pliers.
Sosa is the ships communications officer. She is working on some of Eisens encrypted data but is stuck using paper due to the state of the ship.
The bridge was destroyed in the attack. All the bridge crew and anyone in the berths were killed in the attack – 2/3 of the crew including its Captain.
With no Captain, Hawk and Panther are arguing about what the strategy should be. I manage to persuade them to accept Eisen as Captain.
The new briefing room isn’t as swish as the Lexingtons but at least Eisen is back in control now.
Its back to Nebula flying for the next mission while we attempt to retreat from the Lexington.
I’m now stuck flying border worlds ships. They aren’t actually all that bad. This banshee only has lasers but they fire very quickly and never seem to run out of power.
The nebula mission just changes the colour palette as in WC3 – the radar range is reduced slightly also but it makes no real difference to gameplay. We have to take on Excaliburs in this mission but the Banshee holds up well.
Missiles play a far bigger role in this game than in WC3. They appear to do a lot more damage and also to hit more frequently. A single missile hit can take out a lot of enemies which adds an extra strategic layer to the gameplay, in knowing when to use your limited supply. In WC3 a missile tended not to do enough damage to be that much use.
Pliers has just got done stripping our Confed ships for spare parts when I get back. I’ll trust that he’s done the right thing here as I probably prefer the border worlds ships so far anyway.
Our new accomodation isn’t looking too good. With the berths destroyed the bunks are all set up in the storage room.
We have found a backdoor jump point to escape the system but the Lexington is trying to get there first and block it off. I’m left with no option other than to destroy the Lexington. The avenger is a great ship for this job mainly because it has all of its 4 torpedos on separate points. There is an option to link all my missiles and fire them together so I can fire all 4 simultaneously. This is enough to take out the Lexington with ease and we just have to mop up any remaining fighters to complete the mission.
Seether and Paulson escape the Lexington in a shuttle and Seether makes sure Paulson doesn’t make any more such mistakes as letting me and Eisen live.
Sosa has been getting somewhere with Eisens data and discovered that there is a blank spot of 18 hours. Eisen decides we are going to intercept a communications relay to attempt to recover this missing data.
Before we can start the mission, we get a distress call from a border worlds fleet which has run afoul of the Confed edict so we have to fly out to help them.
There are a host of capship missiles fired at the border world ships in this mission. I’m kept busy taking these out as a single hit would destroy the transports.
I have a bit of a look around Pliers stuff after the mission and discover this MIP (Manned Insertion Pod). It’s a manned missile which can be used to deliver a marine into a structure when there isn’t room for a shuttle.
He even has a cloaking device hes been working on but he only has the one + he’s not sure how long it will last. I ask him to get it ready anyway.
There is a big crowd in the lounge area and Maniac actually beats Vagabond at cards.
After the distraction, its back to trying to get the comm. data. We are going to use the MIPS to send Sosa + Vagabond into the base. We are expecting some marines to arrive but can’t wait that long. I need to somehow take out the stations radar relay before it can send a warning – the cloak should be useful here.
That finished up CD2 and was where I stopped for now. When I went back and played WC3, it definitely didn’t live up to my memory of it. WC4 is a far better game than I remembered. The movie sections are really superb – its easily up to the standards of any TV series you could care to name. It is so much better than the Wing Commander movie it makes you wonder what went wrong.
I knew the movie sections were good but I hadn’t expected the gameplay to improve by this much. Every mission has been noticeably different, the graphics and engine have improved, the new digital music is superb and the whole thing just comes together to create one of the most immersive games I’ve ever played. If I had the time, I could play through the whole thing in one sitting.
The reviews of the game weren’t exactly glowing, if I remember right, although I’m sure that sales weren’t too bad. It got the usual abuse for being an interactive movie and the gameplay was criticised but in my opinion the gameplay and movies meld together very well and the whole package just comes together to tell the story. I suppose if you have too short an attention span to watch a couple of minutes of video without shooting something its a problem but personally I’d love to have seen more games take this sort of approach.