Wing Commander - An incredible space sim gets a BIG Cola Powered Gamer review

When talking about space sims, sooner or later someone will mention Wing Commander. Developed by Origin Systems, Wing Commander can be considered one of the best and influential space sim ever created.

Wing Commander had a different take on the then established space sim formula, bringing the game and space combat to the levels of Hollywood blockbusters. The game is set in 2654 and follows the Terran Confederation and the ongoing war against a predatory feline race called the Kilrathi (they were inspired by Kzinti of Larry Niven’s “Know Space” series). In Chris Roberts words the game is inspired by WW2, especially the Pacific War. When you start a game you have just finished a training sim session, and you must enter your name and callsign. The player character has no name, but internally in Origin, he was nicknamed “BlueHair”, because his hair although black, had highlights of blue (due to a limited color palette), which was what probably the reason they named him Blair in the later games.

The campaign in Wing Commander has two paths a “winning” and a “losing” path. Winning or losing in too many mission and you will get a different cut scene during the game and of course a different ending, but the game will offer several chances to get on the “winning” path. You start out in a relatively week ship, piloting simple patrol and escort mission, but you will eventually progress to a higher rank and a better, more powerful ships. What’s amazing about the game is that every ship feels unique and has different weapons and loadouts.

You can see the difference in ships, some are faster, some have more armor and shields, while others will have more missiles and torpedoes. The way Wing Commander is made, you cannot destroy capital ships (like freighters, corvettes, carriers, etc.) with just your lasers, instead, you must lower their shield with your lasers, and then use your missiles and torpedoes to destroy them, which kinda adds to the believability. If you’re out of missiles you cannot destroy the ship and may have to rely on your wingman to destroy it.

One of the game-changing aspects of the game is your wingman. As the game title suggests you are a Wing Commander, and thus the game gives you one wingman based on your current point in the story. You have the option to give orders to your wingman, such as follow, attack my target, return to base, etc. Each of the wingmen is a unique pilot with their own fly style and personality, and you can learn more about them, between missions. Every wingman also has a voice, although they only have several sentences, like “Copy” or “Roger”, this is a huge thing especially for the game that came out in 1990.

During the course of the campaign, you will also face different and stranger enemies. Each of the Kilrathi ships is unique and can be easily identified by its shape. You will also encounter several “bosses”, the more experienced Kilrathi pilots and they will use their own tactics when fighting. You can hear about them in the game and read more about them in the manual. The mission starts with a briefing, where you will be presented with objectives and your wingman, and after a small mission, the game will start. The first thing you will notice is a very detailed cockpit. The game has auto-pilot, which will fast travel your nav point, but the universe is not randomly generated, instead, the game generates the entire area you see on your nav computer. You can travel to the nav point manually, even without the use of auto-pilot.

Everything can be activated using hotkeys (they are found in the manual), and you have your display, which can show you the status of your ship, loadout, allow you to talk to your wingman, almost anything you can think of including ejecting. Wing Commander also allows ejection, which in turn means an automatic mission over, but the game will not end, and you will be presented with the next mission. Also if you take too much damage, you will see the damage in your cockpit, like destroyed displays and you can lose your engines and weapons. This will prompt the eject button to flash, but you still have the option of continuing, giving to me at least a feeling of accomplishment when you finish a mission with a heavily damaged ship.

The first time you eject you will be awarded a medal a “Golden Sun”, and you will be advised not to eject unless you are in a life and death situation. Yeah, Wing Commander gives you medals, a sort of achievement, this will be awarded as you progress the game and successfully finish missions. For instance, if you manage to complete a really difficult mission, you will be awarded a medal, but most of them have a predefined place in the campaign when they are awarded. Also, winning or losing certain missions will affect the war, and you will be presented with appropriate cut scenes, which are nicely drawn and animated, giving you a sense that your actions matter.

The game also received two expansion packs, Secret Missions 1 & 2. The first one focuses on the new Kilrathi secret weapon called the “Gravity weapon”, while the second one focuses on the bird-like Firekkans, a native life form to the Firekka System and their negotiations to join the Terran Confederation.

The game featured copy protection, like many games in this period, and the game will ask you a specific question, whose answer can be found in the blueprints, which were shipped with the game. The manual for the game was great, one of the best Origin created, and it filled you in on the backstory, character backgrounds, and even ships specifications. The manual was presented in the form of an onboard magazine called “TCS Tiger Claws”. It also had several nods, one to Jane’s Information Group a publication that published the specification of various ships, tanks, aircraft and such. Also, contributors are several members of Origin Systems, credited as captains, majors, and colonels.

Wing Commander uses a hybrid 3D system, that took place in 3D but used bitmaps drawn from different angles for sprites. This was unique at the time, and the result was a 3D system that was fast without the speed penalty of rendering polygons in real time because bitmap scaling and rotation was used instead. A similar technique was used in Wolfenstein 3D and DOOM, although several years later. Wing Commander also had several versions, the first one being for MS-DOS, while the others were for Amiga, FM Towns, SNES, 3DO and Macintosh and Windows 95. There was also a Super Wing Commander developed for the 3DO and Macintosh released in 1994 for the 3DO, and 1995 for Macintosh. This version was completely redesigned, with ships and characters looking completely different, and all dialogue was heard through digitized0 speech. Super Wing Commander also featured Secret Missions 1, but Secret Missions 2 was replaced with its own campaign and adds new rumors and plot points and it creates a nice lead-in to Wing Commander II.

Wing Commander was a first game created by Chris Roberts with some help of his brother Erin and was produced by Warren Spector. The game was a success, creating 11 games in total, counting the spin-offs, a live action movie (directed by Chris Roberts), several tie-in novels, and even an animated TV series. Wing Commander is a timeless classic, easily played on a modern system (a GOG has a very nice version, which is bundled with the second game), and can be played with a joystick, although some tinkering is required. Give this game a try if you want a nice classic space sim experience and want to see how the franchise started.

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