LGR – Wing Commander – DOS PC Game Review

LGR – Wing Commander – DOS PC Game Review


[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
you’ll have to keep up with and provide orders to, other times you’ll 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 that kind of difficulty wall
might have been more forgivable. It was certainly forgivable
enough for Wing Commander to receive a number of ports
and updates over the years, on systems like the Commodore Amiga, Super Nintendo and Sega CD. Then there was Super Wing Commander, a 1994 remake that featured a
substantial audio-visual update of the game for the 3DO and Macintosh systems. Pretty awesome stuff in a way, but I dunno. It’s still kinda weird to me that they
completely changed the characteristics of so many of the ships and characters. Still, Wing Commander in all its various forms is something that’s a lot of fun
to go back to from time to time and cherish its high points and its quirks
alike. It may not be the most advanced
combat space thing of its kind, but it’s a trendsetter that remains
rather timeless, in my opinion. It’s also currently sold digitally
on services like GOG and Origin. So if shooting evil space cats
with lasers sounds like a good time, then why not grab your stick… and dive into Wing Commander
and have some fun! [jazzy MIDI music] And if you enjoyed this
episode of LGR, then awesome! Perhaps you’d like to see some of these others. There’s new videos every Monday and Friday, and if you would like to see them early, you could support the show on Patreon. And as per usual, thank you
very much for watching LGR.

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