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  • [typing] [saxophone jazz music]

  • Wing Commander.

  • Developed and published by Origin Systems in 1990 for MS-DOS PCs.

  • This is one of those legends of computer gaming that set the standard

  • for an entire subgenre, that being spaceship combat simulation.

  • Sure, there were plenty of space games and combat flight sims prior to this,

  • from Starflight's cosmic exploration and trading

  • to Microprose's real-world air combat excursions.

  • But it was Wing Commander and its particular blend of action-focused gameplay

  • and cinematic presentation that cemented

  • what this type of game would feel like for years to come.

  • This resulted in an array of sequels, spinoffs and competitors

  • that culminated in a market oversaturated with space combat games

  • that were arguably too complex for their own good,

  • with the genre reaching a plateau by the late '90s

  • and languishing until the 2010s.

  • In both cases, it was developer Chris Roberts

  • that tossed rocket fuel onto the space game flame

  • with him manning the helm on both Wing Commander

  • and its spiritual successor, Star Citizen.

  • Although, let's be fair,

  • he also directed the 1999 Wing Commander movie

  • with Freddie Prinze, Jr.

  • Hmm... On second thought, maybe THAT'S what killed space flight games back then.

  • Anyway, Wing Commander came in a pretty stellar package

  • with cover art precisely evoking the mood of the game.

  • Sci-fi stuff EXPLODING in front of YOU in a cockpit.

  • This is the so-called "Special Promotional Release" here.

  • Although the only thing "special" about it is...

  • that it was a secondary print run sold at stores like Costco.

  • There's also the blue box Deluxe Edition,

  • which is a compilation featuring both of the "Secret Missions" expansion packs.

  • In either case, though, you get a fantastic amount of old-school goodies inside,

  • starting with the game itself on either 5¼-inch or 3½-inch floppy disks.

  • And if you got the wrong kind, you could just send in this form to swap 'em out.

  • You also got a registration card,

  • an Origin product catalog with the expected crapload of Ultima games,

  • a couple reference sheets and manual addendums,

  • four generously sized spaceship blueprints that fold out into sweet freakin' posters,

  • and a 48-page instruction manual in the form of an in-universe Claw Marks magazine.

  • Even without the game, these things are worth the price of admission alone!

  • Ahh, how I miss the '90s.

  • At least in terms of all the cool crap you got with PC games and not like...

  • I dunno, bowl cuts.

  • There's also this amazing piece in my copy,

  • with revolver clip art and the DOS command for defragging the hard drive.

  • Or, my bad, "Def-Raging."

  • Yeah, someone was definitely raging when they printed this out,

  • if the gun is any indication.

  • Speaking of rage...

  • getting Wing Commander to run correctly can be a bit of an ordeal.

  • You'll need a moderately spec'd 386 with expanded memory

  • to access all the animations and get a decent frame rate,

  • but you can't go TOO fast or else the game just flips out.

  • I had to disable the cache on my 66 MHz 486 to get it running well.

  • And even on DOSBox it's still not perfect,

  • even when using finely tuned CPU cycles.

  • Although around three, three-and-a-half thousand seems to work pretty well.

  • But it's worth the hassle to get it sorted

  • because, man, Wing Commander really stands out among its peers from 1990,

  • starting with this intro.

  • [epic MIDI music and laser sounds]

  • Yeah, Wing Commander does not waste any time

  • letting you know it means business in the cinematic presentation department.

  • You begin by losing this arcade game/training sim

  • a clever way to have you input your player name and call sign.

  • You then find yourself aboard a Terran Confederation Strike Carrier,

  • known as the Tiger's Claw.

  • In a bit of point-and-click adventure-iness,

  • you're free to talk to the bartender and any patrons in the room

  • to make some introductions and catch up on space gossip.

  • Or ignore them and wander around the ship, admiring the scenery.

  • These 27th-century luxury accommodations also act as the main menu

  • where you'll check your stats, exit to DOS,

  • start a scenario, or save and load your game.

  • I especially love the save system where you click these bunks to place a sleeping

  • pilot

  • and then you wake them up to load a game.

  • It's the little things, you know?

  • But the big stuff is where the game really begins,

  • like these animated briefings before each mission.

  • And while there's no voice acting in this version,

  • this intro sequence still absolutely psyches me up!

  • [intense MIDI music]

  • I'm READY to command some WINGS!

  • And what better way to do that...

  • than with the 1991 Thrustmaster Flight Control System,

  • which just feels right with a game like this.

  • With your stick firmly gripped,

  • you're given free reign with what to do next.

  • But there's a tutorial for the first mission

  • included in the box, if you need guidance.

  • The majority of the 40 missions begin with you and a wingman departing the Tiger's Claw,

  • and a set of navigation points to navigate to,

  • point by point.

  • You can either fly there manually or lock onto

  • them using the nav computer and use autopilot,

  • which acts a fast-travel mode and gives you this sweet 3D fly-by.

  • Well, as 3D as it can manage anyway,

  • since the whole game uses 2D imagery and scaling to simulate depth.

  • Before long, you'll run into some kind of resistance,

  • often things like asteroids, minefields or enemy ships.

  • The main enemy in the game are known as the Kilrathi,

  • a species of bipedal feline alien warriors

  • that could really use some catnip or something because they're pissed.

  • There are a variety of vessels you'll come up against,

  • each of which will often fight to the death,

  • regardless of their own equipment or size.

  • Sometimes it’s just you and your partner youll have to keep up with and provide

  • orders to, other times youll have weaponless transport vessels to defend. Either way man,

  • when it’s time to throw down, it gets intense; especially when you consider its contemporaries.

  • Just compare the experience to something like Lightspeed, which released the same year...

  • [understated Adlib sound effects]

  • And then comes Wing Commander, with its theatrical flair and grandiose George Sanger soundtrack

  • that sounds great on the Adlib and MT-32 alike!

  • [intense Adlib music and laser sounds!]

  • [triumphant music!]

  • Granted, these are two very different space games at their core, but the point I’m trying to make is that

  • Wing Commander was truly ahead of the curve overall.

  • Seeing as this predates the Star Wars X-Wing and Tie Fighter games by several years

  • I think it's safe to say that Wing Commander was a landmark in space combat.

  • It might be a bit primitive now with its weird scaling sprites

  • inelegantly rotating in your face,

  • but that doesn't stop the adrenaline rush from kicking in

  • when you've locked onto one of those hairballs and

  • fired a heat-seeking missile up their butt.

  • And it really doubles down on those moments

  • with a control scheme that's very playable

  • with a simple two-button joystick or mouse.

  • Most of the ship's controls are delegated to the keyboard, of course, but...

  • even those are pretty minimal compared to later space combat sims.

  • There aren't even any loadouts or upgrades or

  • anything like that to worry about

  • since the game takes care of that stuff for you

  • by providing different ships for different missions.

  • It's still effective in making you feel like an amazing space pilot,

  • but the actual combat and space flight stuff

  • is a bit rudimentary when it comes down to it.

  • In fact, it's the stuff in between the action

  • that keeps me engaged the most.

  • Once you've fulfilled your objectives and make it back to base,

  • you relay the outcome of your mission to your superior

  • and then are given a speech by them

  • about how you performed and what to do next.

  • Sometimes you'll be sent back to your quarters,

  • sometimes you'll be reassigned.

  • Other times you'll be given a promotion or a medal

  • in recognition of your performance.

  • There's even a set of events that unfold if you eject and lose your ship,

  • with the missions and storylines shifting its narrative

  • as the result of each of these actions.

  • In terms of helping you feel like you're actually making a mark on this universe,

  • Wing Commander does a lot for a game of this time.

  • It does its best to make sure it doesn't feel like a series

  • of loosely connected skirmishes,

  • but instead you're a guy rising through the ranks

  • while making a difference one way or another.

  • Characters are growing, conflicting and dying

  • and not following orders all along the way.

  • And combined with the ever-changing technology you're encountering,

  • it does a bang-up job of keeping the story moving forward.

  • And it's not always easy, either.

  • In the later missions, and especially the Secret Missions,

  • death is a pretty constant possibility.

  • For me, it tends to reach a point of frustration later on,

  • and I quickly tire of replaying the same mission over and over,

  • just to die at the same point 20 minutes in.

  • A lot of that is due to my own lack of time these days,

  • but when Wing Commander was a new and fresh experience