Wing Commander II - Cola Powered Gamer reviews a brilliant sequel!

Following the success of Wing Commander, Origin System decided to create a sequel. Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi, or simply Wing Commander II is everything a good sequel should be. Released in 1991, about the year after the release of the first game, Wing Commander II had several improvements over its predecessor.

Development on the game began in late 1990, under the working title Wing Commander II: Cloak and Dagger. While the name of Chris Roberts is credited as the designer, in reality, the project was directed by Siobhan Beeman. At the time Chris Roberts was a Director of New Technologies and was heavily involved in another game “Strike Commander”. Beeman made a wise decision and gave up on creating a cutting edge game, and instead decided to improve upon the previous game.

The story picks up right after the end of the first Wing Commander: Secret Missions 2: Crusade. While on the campaign in the Engima Sector, near the Kilrathi sector HQ, TCS Tiger’s Claw is destroyed by new experimental Kilrathi stealth fighters. Since your flight data recorder is destroyed, your claims of Kilrathi stealth fighters are dismissed. To make matters worse, you are blamed for the destruction of the Tiger’s Claw, but due to insufficient evidence, you are demoted to captain. Your superior, Admiral Tolwyn wants you to resign, but when you refuse you are transferred to InSystem Security way behind enemy lines. While the Kilrathi emperor is pleased that the Tiger’s Claw is destroyed, the Kilrathi empire still has problems with the ongoing rebellion. Ten years pass, and surprisingly Admiral Tolwyn’s flagship TCS Concordia shows up under heavy fire. You and your wingman manage to save the ship, and you are soon reunited with your old friends and transferred to Concordia, but not everyone is happy to see you. During the course of the story, you must clear your name and stop the Kilrathi Empire.

The story was written by a freelancer Ellen Goun, after the writer of the first game, Jeff George went to work on other projects. Goun joined Origin during the development of Secret Missions 2, and the first pitch of the story was co-written with Beeman, around November 1990. The story is full of twist, betrayals, and romance. The story tone is different than the first game because Chris Roberts wanted a more serious and darker story.

The game plays similarly to the first game, but there are small changes to the gameplay. The AI is improved and will scale with your skill, to avoid the difficulty spikes that player previously complained about. There are new ships, to justify the 10-year gap in the story, and there are now heavy fighters and bombers. Due to “phase shielding”, you can no longer destroy capital ships with just your guns, and can only be destroyed with torpedoes. Torpedoes are only carried by heavy fighters and bombers, and all capital ships are now armed with dangerous flak cannons. There is also a new countermeasure: chaff pods. These will help you get rid of enemy missiles.

The mission branching is back, but in Wing Commander II it’s much more simplified. Due to players not playing the losing branch, Origin decided that it’s not worth it to design them. Instead, there is still technically the “losing branch”, but the losing missions are the same as the winning ones, only harder. Losing two missions in the row will result in an instant game over. Another intentional change was removing the promotion and medal system, and instead, you are promoted during the course of the campaign. This works well with game, as during the campaign you are trying to clear your name. Also, your wingman can no longer die, and will only die in scripted events.

Wing Commander also adds a nice gameplay feature: ITTS. The ITTS system is available in some ships, and it’s a small moving targeting reticle, that will help you with aiming to destroy the enemy faster.

Wing Commander II also brought more technical upgrades, as the game uses an upgraded OriginFX engine. The biggest improvement was the adding of digitized speech, and Wing Commander II was one of the first examples of voice acting in the gaming industry. The digitized voice was used in several cutscenes and in-game flight. At the time this was groundbreaking, but this created a small problem for Origin, due to the game already being quite large. Origin decided to release a separate Speech Accessory Pack, which was launched simultaneously with the base game. In later CD-ROM versions and releases, it came included with the base game, along with the two Special Operations mission packs. The voice acting is mostly decent, and it was done by Origin staff members. The whole thing worked well, and it gives the game a nice cinematic flavor to the game.

The game’s other significant improvements are its graphics. Wing Commander II now features more detailed portraits, CGI, and more story cutscenes. There is a lot more detail in both the ships and cockpits. These details are best seen in small cutscenes and brief ship “fly-by shots”. All of this was achieved due to Origin hiring talented 3D artists, some of whom worked on Autodesk 3D.

The game’s music and score are excellent, and while Origin’s composer George “The Fatman” Sanger returned to compose the main theme and other tracks, most of the music was done by Dana Glover. The game features several memorable tracks, most noticeably the “Prince Thrakhath’s theme”.

Wing Commander II, also had two expansion packs: Special Operations 1 & 2. The first Special Mission pack picks up immediately after the end of the main game and deals with a mutinous ConFed cruiser TCS Gettysburg. This gives the game a nice excuse to let you fight against ConFed fighters. The second Special Missions pack deals with the Society of Mandarins, a group of human traitors that support the Kilrathi empire. This mission pack features a new experimental fighter, your old pal Maniac, and pilots under his command. Both packs feature more digitized speech and more cutscenes.

The game was a huge success, both commercially and among the fans. Origin managed to create the game that the fans wanted, and made an almost perfect sequel. There were numerous features cut from the game like character customization, multiplayer and a level editor. The level editor will later be realized as Wing Commander Academy, a spin-off game that let you create your levels with Wing Commander II ships.

Unlike the first game which featured numerous ports, Wing Commander II was only ported to FM Towns. This port was done using a Deluxe edition and features both Special Operations packs and a speech pack. This port also uses Redbook audio tracks on CD, instead of General MIDI music on the PC.

A SNES port was announced in 1995 but was never released. This port of the game was finished, tested, reviewed by magazines and shipped to Japan, only to be suddenly canceled. A last-minute decision was made to cancel the game, because of the expectations of low returns on a SNES game at the end of the system’s life cycle.

Wing Commander II is an excellent sequel and is still able to provide an amazing gaming experience. The game was a receiver of numerous game rewards and was featured on several top video game lists. The game is available on GOG, and it works perfectly on modern systems. Give this one a try if you are looking for an excellent DOS space sim.

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