It’s Flashback Friday and WCII is not only a longtime PC favorite of mine and it’s a celebration of a genre that got an extra boost – the space simulator. It was during this time I was inundated with adventure games that were dominated by companies like Sierra. This was during the days when Sierra was dominating the charts thanks to the timing of 256-color VGA graphic cards, monitors and the 286 PC. There were few space that debuted at that time but I can only recall playing games such as Stellar 7, Nova 9 (which were from Dynamic – a subsidiary of Sierra) and even the very first Mechwarrior but those were still on land. Then came the original Wing Commander.
The original Wing Commander was graphically impresive for its time. Replacing high-res bitmaps over polygons, the effect was different but you can make out what was going on. The original Wing Commander was a great game with the standard story of playing the hero pilot and saving the crew. So when the announcement came for Wing Commander II, my expectations hightened.
Before Heart of the Tiger took the series into FMV and full 3D, and long before Prophecy topped off the space combat franchise of franchises with a whisper against the likes of Descent Freespace and X-Wing, Vengeance of the Kilrathi opened the door to a little heard of genre and the masses ran in drooling. Wing Commander II was engaging, dynamic, and full of life. It was everything its predecessor was, only better and more impacting. With its multiple graphic upgrades in gameplay and cinematics, the title that was cool became the title that was awesome. For being so memorable, recognizable, enjoyable and polished , Wing Commander II easily earns its rank among classic games. WC2 still placed emphasis on presentation – the elements that surround the gameplay and imbue it with meaning.
WC2 continued with the style of hand drawn characters, its unnamed character and unique space fighters. This time they added the ability of speech (a rarity for games as a whole). It was during this time WC2 rewarded PC gamers who had the coveted Sound Blaster. WC’s tradition of elaborate launch sequences are still here and there is always the option of skipping them. The tradition of dynamic music makes its second installment and it is well conceived and composed. In this sequel, the intergalactic war between the Terran Confederation and the Kilrathi Empire continues but this time there are plot twists within the Confederation itself along with the introduction of stealth technology.
WC2 still has the neat missile tracking crosshairs since WC1 but one of nicest additions to WC2, which also happens to be the most enjoyable moments in the game, is the replay camera which can be played back as a whole single mission. In addition, angles of the replay camera can be used to replay the torpedo runs or even missile cams. Although the replay cannot be rewinded, it is a nice touch for a game that was done to exploit its cinematic tone.
Another feature I’ve always liked about WC2 is its ship designs and the ability to use turrets on specific fighters and bombers. Some bombers allow you to switch at different location of the ships to control defensive turrets (a la Millenium Falcon). The ship designs are original and purposeful and very Wing Commander.
Other features included seeing ship damage show up through the cinematics and see how the crew and the Captain react to the way you responded during the mission. If you splashed a ton of Kilrathi, the dialog would adjust accordingly. Additionally, you had control of your wingman to which you are assigned them based on the situation of the mission. Wingmen are easilyl controlled through a menu number system. You press a number by the wingman’s name to summon a wingman and then another number to command your wingman (i.e. Take out target, Form on my wing, etc.). After you complete the mission and you barely so much had a scratch on your fighter ship but did nothing to make the missions any easier for your wingman, they’ll tell you.
WC2’s only weak point is its sappy story. Some parts of the story was cliched drama and clumsy make-out scenes but at least the hand drawn characters help subside some of the cheesy parts of the story. Other than that, the story was enough to immerse the player. Despite some of the weakness in the story, WC2 was definitely a faithful follow up from Wing Commander.
Each and every Wing Commander game was at the forefront of technology and innovative gameplay when they were released. Games today still rarely exceed the polish and production values associated with installments in the series. This is why Wing Commander fans around the world share a special bond. WC2 exudes in a very well thought out single player experience that can’t be beat.