In the distant future, mankind is locked in a deadly war...
Wing Commander is a first-person space shooter which puts you inside the cockpit of a space fighter in a war against feline aliens. Introducing new gameplay mechanics when released in 1990, the game has now spawned a long-running series and a number of spin-offs. The primary mechanic is that wingmen accompany you in each mission and it all comes down to instructing them to act out your plan whilst leading them into battle yourself.
So Wing Commander forces you to think fast and shoot faster. The battles are not just about killing enemies however, but also about keeping your allies alive whilst advancing the war effort forward. You are one of the pilots serving aboard the Tiger’s Claw carrier, and the conflict is made believable by means of the game weaving a fine plot where characters have individual backgrounds, personalities, and motives to make it to the end of the war alive. By means of a branching storyline, the outcome of the war and the game’s ending depend on you keeping a cool head.
I have now played the original Wing Commander game from start to end multiple times since it was released. Recently I have reviewed the Amiga CD32 port which is the one I had played as a kid. This PC version is mostly the same game since both machines were competing head-to-head with equal hardware specs, with the CD32 version was an outstanding port for being so close to the original.
The difference in the 1990s was that with the CD32 you just switched on the game and started playing, whereas with the PC you had to fine-tune your computer startup file to get the game running properly. Different video and sound card formats also offered quite a challenge. Luckily today we can enjoy the game on newer machines through the likes of GOG and DosBox although I did hope that the great tunes would sound better nowadays.
To the PC’s advantage, it boasts additional CPU power. This makes the game run faster and dramatically changes the dogfighting experience. Whereas on the CD32 the game slows down when there is a lot going on, the PC version’s movement is lightning fast. This makes the game feel more arcadey, but it can also be a little bit harder.
In conclusion, Wing Commander is one of the best games to come out of the early 90s. A definite must-try experience for any retro-gamer. It’s not a long game, but it will prove challenging and the diversity of the dogfights will provide a unique experience every time you play.