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NEWS w/o ICONS

Wing Commander - December 2, 2002 by -^Cro§Bow^-
Game:Wing CommanderCompany:Origin
Type:ShooterPlayers:1

"Star-date 2654.122 - 15, April 2654

Only been about 3 months now that I have been stationed onboard the Tiger's Claw. Seems much longer than that. Yesterday was a good day for me. That is, I didn't bite it on the end of a Kitty dart. Man, the flight deck chief was sure pissed about those busted cannons on my Raptor. Perhaps he wouldn't have been nearly as upset if I hadn't managed to get both neutron guns destroyed. I guess those must cost the Terran Confederation a bundle a piece to produce. Well, after yesterdays nearly botched patrol run, I think the price of two neutron cannons makes up for the price of my life. After all, ships are replaceable, good pilots are not. Sometimes the upper echelon of ranks forgets that. Oh well, can't dwell on that now...I have to get my report from yesterdays patrol flight written up to justify my actions. Someday this whole war will be over and I can go home back to Proxima. Okay... so on my damage report I have one wasted acceleration absorber, one rather nicely well done electrical system. I can't forget those two lovely sparking metal hollow pylons that used to be my neutron cannons. And I think the left ion drive was leaking coolant. Oh! Can't forget the garbled flight recorder, which is the whole reason I am having to do this stupid report. And... Damn! The Klaxons are going off again. I better finish this up later and get to the briefing room. I hope Col. Halcyon has a milk run for me this time after the fireworks I went through yesterday..." - From the "Diary of 1st Lieutenant Todd Marshall "Maniac"
The above excerpt was inspired and created from none other than one of the greatest all time games ever made for the PC system. That game is none other than Wing Commander. In Wing Commander you take on the role of Christopher Blair the new young rookie aboard the Tiger's Claw. In truth the first and second games let you choose your own last name and call sign. In the later games, only your call sign can be changed. Wing Commander is a space/combat/opera tour de force that at the time the game was made, took graphics and sound to a place they hadn't been before in the IBM world. Wing Commander is all about the war against the cat like alien race known as the Kilrathi. The Kilrathi are a warrior race and seek only complete and total control of the known explored universe. Earth which lies in the Sol system is of course a tasty target for these ill-tempered kitties. Wing Command specifically starts the game off at a time when the war isn't going so swell for the humans. And that is what we try to change as our character in the game. To save Earth from the impending invasion of the Kilrathi. The plot for Wing Commander certainly isn't a new one. But the game did take this plot and expand and add to it in a way that no other game had before its' time.

Wing Commander plays primarily from a first person view from the cockpit of your fighter. However, the game includes other modes of camera views so that you can view the action and pilot from a third person behind the ship view. Also in the game the player has the ability to actually look left, right and behind from within the cockpit. This was really something, which added to the realism of the game. From the cockpit we play and fight and communicate to both our wingman and enemies. Yes, that is correct, Wing Commander marks as the first game I can think of to give the player the ability to taunt the enemy during combat and really ruffle the fur of a Kilrathi pilot during a dogfight. In Wing Commander we play out various missions, which are for the most part fairly linear in order. However, the success or failure of a mission determines the overall mission path the player will get and eventually lead to one of two possible endings in the end. If we aren't fighting it out with fur balls in the cockpits, then we are chatting and getting more plot story progression or helpful advice from our wingmen and peers. At the beginning of the game and after each mission, you start off in the pilot lounge. Here you can get the latest gossip from the barkeep or swap stories and advice from other pilots on board the Tiger's Claw. Many times what the elder pilots have to say can mean the difference between life and sucking vacuum in the game. Once done with the chatter you progress to the briefing room to actually get your next mission details and start the mission.

The graphics in Wing Commander may seem very simplistic and perhaps even ugly to the new player of today's 3D accelerated cards and fancy bump mapped textured polys. But rest assured that while Wing Commander may be almost twelve years old it still holds its own pretty well. For starters the game play in the cockpit is first person but flight and combat take place in a virtual 3D space environment. This means that enemies can be literally behind and slightly above you in the game...or that you can dive and come up and fire on the belly of the enemy ships. The amazing part of this is how well the 3D effect is actually accomplished! The geniuses behind Wing Commander, Origin, actually made small-scale models of all the ships in the game and then ray traced them graphically into the game. This means that the actual ships themselves are only 2D sprites on the screen, but the game will change their appearance during play to actually appear as if they are 3D. Which means you can see a ship from various angles simply by flying around it. This transition of graphics is super smooth and the images of the ships themselves will suddenly change from one view to another. But the effect still looks very convincing and the models themselves are still fairly highly detailed and realistic looking. Another excellent realistic point to the graphics in Wing Commander is that, throughout the game you will fly in a variety of different ships.

As you fly in each ship the cockpit will take on a new and drastically different appearance than the other ships. This gives each ship their own weakness and strengths in an area I hadn't ever seen demonstrated before in a game. That point is that several of the ships will offer much improved visibility from within the cockpit compared to the rest. Also the graphics for the left, right, and back views change as well. The only static graphic in the game is the pilot's seat. Truly, it was a stead above and beyond in computer game graphics in the early 90s. The graphics inside the Claw between missions where you hang out with the crew and talk are a bit less impressive. For instance there is a very cartoon like look to the people aboard the Tiger's Claw. Even during the mission briefing screens, the graphics look very much like Saturday morning. However, there are a few places in the game where actual motion capturing was done and makes the animation of the people or cut scenes in the game look very impressive. Take the scramble scene after each briefing as a prime example. Also the animation of the pilot as he puts on his helmet and cockpit canopy comes down just before you launch was simply jaw dropping at the time. Even today as I go back and fire up my rusty Pentium 200 legacy gaming machine, I find a very pleasing look to the graphics of Wing Commander. Rest assured they are impressive for a game of the early 90s era.

The difficulty of Wing Commander is really very balanced. The game starts off with a fairly laid back standard patrol run mission with just a few light Kilrathi fighers to take out. But as you progress in the game, the missions will become exceedingly difficult almost to the point of insanity! I can't tell you how many times I would put forth a colorful 4 letter expletive when my Drayman 'sport would get iced. Or how much abuse my mouse would get with my repeating banging on the desk fits when flak burst from that nasty Ralari that jumped in from nowhere would take me out. Yes, Wing Commander has its love and hate moments. But that is what I really love about this game. The missions themselves are really quite nice in that there are several varieties of missions you may get. The most basic and most common of mission types are the patrol runs. These have you flying out to several Nav points and cleaning up any bad kitties you find there. Or if you should find yourself finding something that is to large to handle...you afterburner you butt back to the Claw. Some of the most exciting missions are the strike missions where you and your wingman will join up with a destroyer or other wingmen and play seek and destroy with a Kilrathi cruiser. But then some of the most boring and difficult missions are the escort missions. Most of these entail flying to a rendezvous Nav point and waiting for some transport or helpless destroyer that is near death and escorting them out system to another jump point or back to the claw. They are boring in that you always know these missions will not be simple cakewalks. There will always be Kilrathi ships waiting in ambush somewhere along the way to take out the ships. And this is where they can become most difficult. As an already damaged destroyer or helpless transport needs only a few missiles or well placed gunshots to take it down, and that would mean failure of the mission. Not to mention that just flying to the various Nav points during your missions can are real exercises in flight skill as you may often fly through asteroid belts or even zones of space that are filled with Kilrathi mines. Still the missions are addicting and even the escort runs keep you coming back for more to do better when you fail them the first time.

The control in Wing Commander is actually very well done. The game makes use of several control schemes for playing the game. You will almost always need the keyboard to execute a few things such as your communications to your wingmen and also for changing views or weapons in game. In addition actual control of your ship can be done with the keyboard, mouse, or a good analog joystick. I actually played the game my first time through using mouse and keyboard combo. And while difficult to fly with a mouse at first...it soon becomes second nature and quite intuitive. It may seem difficult to use both keyboard and joystick or mouse at once, but rest assured the keys make sense and aren't difficult to find during combat. For instance to change guns you press "G". To select the next Nav point you press "N". To talk to wingmen or harass the kitties in space you press "C". Also the controls are very tight in that the ships respond instantly to commands and do not lag. Controlling with the keyboard is the least desirable method as the keyboard is a digital control device, which means little to no small adjustments while flying. The mouse is nice as it does act as an analog device so the faster you move the mouse in a direction the faster the craft will move in that same given direction. Also each ship you fly in Wing Commander will behave differently depending on the main role of the ship your fly such as the Hornet being a fast and agile close support and recon fighter. Or the big and burley Raptor, which boasts some great firepower and amour but lacks in speed and agility. All in the all the controls for Wing Commander really fit well with a simple to remember keyboard scheme that isn't overly complicated by using every key on the keyboard and by providing tight and responsive controls when flying your fighter in space.

Boom! Bizzt! Crackle! Pop! No, these are not the sounds coming from my bowl of Rice Krispys. It is the sound my cockpit controls are making since I have lost most of the instruments! For anybody with an old school original SoundBlaster, Adlib, or the ultimate, the MT-32/LAPC-1 audio cards, Origin did an absolutely fantastic job with the sound and music in Wing Commander. You know the first time you start this game it will be different since the first thing on the screen is a picture of Earth with the silhouette of an orchestra in the foreground. A conductor stands proudly and taps on his stand. Then the Origin fanfare music bursts to life and the orchestra fades away to a flying Origin logo that ends with a display of fireworks! No I am not making this up, this is how the game actually begins. This intro for just the Origin logo alone tells you that you are about to witness something new. Then the sound of laser blaster fire can be heard along with the sound of metal being hit and then finally a Boom! As an enemy Kilrathi Drathi (Pancake ship) is turned into a collection of debris on screen. Followed by the flying in of the Wing Commander logo and then the music. Ahh...the music! Yes Wing Commander still stands today as my favorite main title song of any game I have every played. The master himself known as George Sanger A.K.A. the Fatman composed the music. George is also responsible for the soundtrack of another great game I will someday review known as Loom. The music in Wing Commander is not only orchestral it is something I simply can't describe. The music will change in the course of your mission as events unfold. The music can often tell you when you have lost a wing mate or when the mission has just turned very sour. Or the brass section fanfare as you take out that last enemy ship and bring a mission to a successful close. There is even music in the bar as you talk with your ship mates and the scramble music still haunts me in my sleep from time to time. The music used in the final cinematic and awards ceremonies still sends a chill down my spine! And I don't mean an annoying chill. It is unlike the music most of today's games have today. It simply has to be heard to be believed. The music is not the only wonderful sound to come from this game. The sound effects themselves are worthy of many awards and accolades. There is a different sound for each gun type. Explosions will sound bigger and bolder when capital ships are taken out. Even the sound of my armor being stripped away from enemy gunfire lets me know that my last moments won't be dull on my ears. The sound is so complete in this game in fact, that on the save game screen (An awesome touch if I say so myself) there is the annoying sound of a drip into a bucket of water from an overhead leaky cooling line or water pipe. There isn't any speech in the game as that would come later in Wing Commander II. But the sounds that are present sound very professional and well done. The only sound in this game that is weak when compared to the rest is the sound of the missile launches themselves. It almost sounds as if someone from Origin just puckered their lips and they blew air out from their mouths. But I quickly overlook this when that satisfying Boom! Erupts the ship in front of me and turns it and the pilot into kitty bits.

So there you have it. Wing Commander... I really can't say enough about this game but I do have to draw this review to a close. So I have saved some of the best aspects of this game for last. This game has a huge replay factor in it. While the missions won't change unless you do worse or better than you did when playing it before, Origin added lots of other touches to keep you coming back. For starters there is the multiple mission path that the game has. Basically if you fail most of the missions in a given sector, then the game will progress towards the bad ending path of the game. However, you can amend this with doing well on most of the missions in the next sector which takes you back towards the path of the good ending. Figuring out which are the best paths to take for the most number of missions is a real challenge. It is possible to average about 20-24 missions for a complete game. The real aces can finish this game in a short 18 missions. Also the in game cut scenes every so often will change depending on your performance throughout the game. Perhaps the biggest replay factor for me in the game is the fact that while the missions are handed out in a very linear way, how you actually fly the missions is not. For instance, the game usually will put the easier foes to encounter towards the beginning of the mission and save the real fur flying fests for the later Nav points or while heading back to the Tiger's Claw. Knowing this, you can semi cheat by going to the last Nav points first and take out the bigger opposition waiting there while you still have the most missiles and armor left on your ship. This is especially handy during escort missions. I found that most of the time, the ship your escorting would fly the Nav points in order regardless of whether you do. This is handy as it allows you to fly ahead to the later Nav points again, taking out the ambush and ambushing the ambushers. This is just one of many little tricks I have found while playing through this game and finding as many ways as possible to complete the mission objectives. Also the game rewards you for good piloting through award ceremonies and the kill board. After each mission good or bad your commanding officer Col. Halcyon will tell you the highlights or bad points of your mission just flown. On certain key critical missions, outstanding performance can lead to a pretty nifty awards ceremony where the Colonel will personally pin your bronze star or Terran Medal of Honor for your bravery and excellence. There is no two-player mode in Wing Commander but I think this is because Wing Commander is supposed to be more of a space opera than anything and so it is a story told through your eyes and actions. The kill board is your bragging award for how many kitties you have spaced in the game. So there you are. Great graphics, great control options, great sound and a damn blast to play make Wing Commander one of my favorite games ever to grace the PC scene. Finding this game today to play will be quite tricky as Wing Commander has a fanbase all of its own. You can probably pick the game up for a decent price on Ebay. But be advised that even if you do find a copy of the game, you will need an old computer to play it that you can turn the speed down on. Wing Commander was designed during the height of the 286 and lower 386 era. That said, anything faster than a 486 SX33 is really too fast to make this game playable. There is software available to slow down the CPU processes for today's higher end PCs. But I also know a trick where if you can turn off the cache and especially the level 2 cache in your system. It will creep the math to a halt and allow Wing Commander to be playable without the use of the slow down programs. At least on my P200, turning off the L2 cache takes it to a 286-30mhz speed demon. Also note that most copies of Wing Commander sold in the 5 1/4 inch disk high-density disk drive as well as a full 640k of memory and loves about 2 megs of expanded memory if you have it. Be careful to leave plenty of room on the hard drive as this beast of a game does way in at some 12 or so megabytes once installed. If you're lucky and should happen to find a copy of Wing Commander: The Kilrathi Saga, then you should immediately put it in the post office and sent it to me! Sierously, Wing Commander is one heck of a game and if you haven't ever played the series, you should find a way to play the first one. Wing Commander is the one game that I know finally made my Amiga loving friends finally break down and admit that PC gaming was not only catching up to the Amiga but had finally surpassed it.

Graphics
10
10
Sound
Play Control
8
8
Challenge
Replay Value
9
10
Performance

© 2002 EmuViews