In the distant future, mankind is locked in a deadly war...
Wing Commander is a shooting game which puts you inside the cockpit of a space fighter with a wingman in tow, ready to follow orders and assist you during your missions. There is a war between the human confederation and the cat-like humanoids known as the Kilrathi. You serve upon the Tiger’s Claw, which for me is just as iconic as the USS Enterprise. Each mission is typically take-off from the Claw, fly along some checkpoints and back whilst engaging any enemies en-route.
Whilst this may sound repetitive, the reality is far from it. There are various different tasks that you need to do on each mission. I recall that this was the first time that I played a game with an escort mission, where defending other crafts demanded a different strategy than just blasting aliens away. At the centre of Wing Commander is also the mission tree. Start your first mission, and from then on you move along this mission tree according to your successes. The final outcome of the war depends on your flying skills through the branching missions along the way. There is the possibility that you can finish the game, but the war will be lost anyway because you chose to bail out of a sticky situation a few missions back.
What makes Wing Commander different from other shooters, especially of its time, is the top-notch presentation. Music is excellent from start to finish and actually sounds better now than it did on my old speakers which I had connected to the CD32 all those years ago. The cherry on the cake, however, are the brief breaks between missions where you can chat up with the bartender or your fellow wingmen. They will give you combat tips as well as serving to move the story forward, although in this day and age they do sound a little racist sometimes.
Wing Commander also has some small issues, although they do not detract from the overall experience in a very big way. The main fighting screen is presented in pseudo 3D, which means that the game uses scaled sprites animated at different angles. The enemy ships may be moving in one direction at any point and just turn abruptly in another direction with no warning, causing you to lose track of their flight path for a while. The game also slows down when there is a lot of activity, but considering the hardware that it is running on Wing Commander is quite the technical achievement. Controls may look scary sometimes, asking you to push a combination of buttons, but actually they work out pretty well on the CD32 controller.
The missions are varied and replaying them always provides a different experience. I will never forget one mission when my guns and lasers were totally wiped out with two more enemies to fry. With the eject warning urging me to abort the mission, I managed to blast one of them with my last three missiles, and the other one with pure encouragement at my wingman to finish him off while I tried to act as bait. I have played Wing Commander end to end for a number of times, and it’s always a pleasure to play it again occasionally.