Wing Commander - In-Depth Amiga Review With Pics
1992 (Original DOS 1990)
No game ever touched me quite like Wing Commander. People often exaggerate how often they've played a game they love. A game they probably played around 30 times from start to finish can easily become a thousand. I'm sure I've played this game well over a hundred times. It's not your typical side scroller that can be over in an hour either. This was dubbed a space simulation. While I could never call this a realistic simulation of space; I am sure it inspired a few to become interested in space.
From the moment my father popped the Wing Commander disks into our Amiga and that introduction fanfare started... I was hooked. There were games that attempted to emulate a movie watching experience, some to great success. Cinamaware was a company famous on the Amiga platform for its games that made you feel like you were at the movies. If Cinamaware made you feel like you were at the movies, well Wing Commander made you feel like you were living the future. This game is an experience. Origin's slogo was, or would become, "We Create Worlds", and that they did. They created an entire universe around Wing Commander and the many games that followed.
The game would be better described as a space opera. There can be no space opera without appropriately scored music. Wing Commander's music shines, and specifically I believe this Amiga port shines above all others. I loved this game so much that I even sought out the quite expensive MT-32 sound module for DOS, which is the device the music was originally created on. It is a fabulous device, it has its positives over the Amiga, and I wouldn't fault anyone for their preference with that... But I still think the Amiga's music shines above all other versions. It's bold, in your face, dramatic, it is "operatic" in a sense. The music is there with you for every step you take in this game, and it becomes your perfect introduction. ^The on-board simulator and entering in our callsign
Upon starting a new game, you're told to "Get Ready" and then promptly die. Trolled. Well played, Origin. This is there way to get your name without breaking the 4th wall. You may enter your last name and give yourself a callsign. Throughout the entire game you will be referred to by these names. It's one of those things that is such a simple thought, really. You're playing the game, why not use your name to better connect you with your surroundings? These days it's a nearly impossible thing to accomplish with actors often involved in games, but I can't say it was ever a thing that too many games did when everything was just text. That saddens me to think about, as it could have been a shining example of what these older games have to offer us over newer ones. Not enough games did this very simple and effective thing; Wing Commander does, and it's one of those little touches that make this game shine. ^On board the Tiger's Claw, your carrier in space
Upon inputting your name you're given a view of your space carriers bar. You may go back into the simulator to practice your flying skills, you may talk to others in the bar, look at the killboard, and move on to the barracks You'll likely go from left to the right, and meet the all knowing bartender, Shotglass. He has already heard about us, and here he will welcome us aboard the Tiger's Claw, and tell us a little bit about himself.
The thing that transforms this game above so many others that might be similar, is the personality of those you meet. The game was influenced by, and accused of ripping off Star Wars. LucasArts would take the success of this game and rip it off themselves. The Star Wars games were often looked at as the better games in terms of the combat areas, the actual gameplay. But despite having an already established and well loved universe of characters, LucasArts, and most simulations in general, often utterly lacked any kind of personality. ^Meeting our crew-mates/wingmen, reading from the manual
You will come away from this game feeling connected with these characters. For me this was unlike any game prior or even since. In many ways the newer Wing Commander's would expend upon this, connect you even more to the characters... But there was always something special about this first game when it came to those personalities. Unlike other games you're not going to be presented with their life story. You're not going to get much insight into the things that haunt them. I'm sure the game is very limited in these personality areas based on it being the first of its kind, perhaps storage or system limitations, a focus on other areas of the game... You're still going to find yourself connected to these people in a way few other games could ever hope to achieve. ^The death of your comrades in arms
Every last one of those personalities can die. You might even feel like their death could have been prevented, that it was your fault. In a way it absolutely is your fault, because none of their deaths are scripted into the game. They can only die when their ship takes enough damage to explode. Your commander will look down as he explains we lost your wingman. A short but touching funeral scene will appear.
For the most part in this game your character is rather silent, just listening in on everybody. Suddenly you'll have something profound to say to your fellow pilots at their funerals. Shotglass or others may even chime in on how sad it is that someone died just a month before their retirement. From that point on you might notice an empty seat in the bar from time to time. That would have been the fallen pilot, had they not died. Now you'll miss out on anything they may have had to say. The later story driven games could only script the deaths, being focused on the story. But in a way we lost something with those newer games. It's amazing what this game can make you feel in its own limited way at times.
^Not too many shiny medals at this point, our first briefing
The game does such a great job at making you feel like this is your job, in a good way. It becomes a well oiled machine. You talk to your fellow pilots, you take a snooze (save your game), have the commander give your mission briefing, fly your mission, and rinse and repeat. As a kid the mission briefings left such an impact on me that I would roll play with my friends and give them Wing Commander briefings. We had toy airplanes (similar to matchbox cars) and we'd put them on a bush, which would symbolize the Tiger's Claw. I'd give the mission briefings and we'd take off and fight some cats!
^Background on the war from the in-universe game manual
Cats. Ha. Your enemy in this game is the intelligent feline race called the Kilrathi. The game itself does not get too deep into your enemy. Even the very well done in-universe game manual fails to give you the "why?" in terms of motivation for these World War II type of circumstances. They are simply evil, all of them, and you don't need to know why. Some might call that poor writing... But in a way, I mean that's kind of the viewpoints people have about their enemies of war during the actual fighting. They're all evil, we're in the right, they want us wiped from existence. You would get more in-depth thoughts on the Kilrathi in the later games, but for now they are simply the devil. And that's really the perfect way in which to introduce us to them. We're not told too much about them, we just think they're bad. I'm sure many a fighter pilot in World War II was faced with similar circumstances at first.
^The only depiction of your enemy from the manual shows their "aces", fighting those aces
Personally I love the choice of this feline intelligence as our enemy in this game. It really gives it a kind of long running comic book series sort of feel. I mean, come on now... We've all seen the way cats look at us... Our very own cats... We know they're wondering and plotting about that perfect time to be rid of us. In a way it's funny, but it can also be scary. Surely the typical H.R. Giger depiction might have been more scary, but I'm sure that would have cut into the future games deeper looks into the enemy. It's the fact that it can be both scary and funny that open the future possibilities in terms of this series. ^Our first mission
Keeping with the space opera theme; upon dismissal of the mission briefing you'll run to your ship, get yourself strapped in, and launch out of the carrier! You'd do best to choose joystick controls for the actual maneuvering and shooting of your guns, but the keyboard is an integral part of this one. You'll need to know how to communicate, autopilot, change your nav points, perhaps even eject when in dire straights. For some odd reason the Amiga port does have a couple diffrences in those controls.
In terms of graphics the Amiga version does not quite reach the marks of the 256 color VGA original from DOS. Even in terms of the Amiga, the game only features 16 colors, from a machine capible of displaying many more. While in combat this might make sense in order to speed the game up on the older Amiga platform, I do wish the scenes on board the Tiger's Claw would have been given at least 32 Amiga colors.
^Landing caused me much issues as a kid, debriefing
Having said that; I really do enjoy the Amiga graphics to this game. The graphics are ditthered, which is not always the best of things... But is incredibly effective in some circumstances. I find the dithered graphics give Wing Commander the appearnce of a 25 year long war. Chances are the carrior is not going to be spit shined during war. There's going to be cracks in the wall, as it were. It might just be justification for loving this Amiga version, but I swear it really gives it a unique feel. Even fans of the DOS original should play the Amiga version. The game was released on the CD32 with the VGA originalys graphics intact, along with the Amiga's glorious music... But I'd still say you should play the OCS Amiga version with 16 colors, because it's different. Without a doubt in my mind; the Amiga version of Wing Commander is the best port of this game. ^Escorting mission, and damage to our ship
While the game itself is surely more arcade in its combat than simulation; there is absolutely no shortage of simulation like details. Systems on your ship can be damaged, repaired, destroyed. If your ion drives get hit, you might have issues reaching top speed. If your acceleration absorbers are damaged, it's going to take longer for the ship to lower its speed. Weapons can be destroyed, all of them, perhaps leaving you helpless. You have shields and armor. You have your wingmen, wing commander (end credits). Order them to break and attack, hold up, go home.
There are all kinds of missions in which to play. There is your standard patrol; Go to several nav points, take a look, report back. There's escorting; Taking a beautiful lady ship from one area to another, and covering her. There are the strike missions; Going somewhere to blow crap up. There are a few others as well. The Kilrathi have several ships to send against you, with various advantages and disadvantages. They also have several capital ships to challenge you with. You might find yourself in a mine field, or the ever dangerous asteroid field. ^Gossip and advise
As you play and succeed you may find yourself promoted in rank, or given the reigns of a better fighter craft. Your first start off in the Hornet; a fast and maneuverable ship which lacks in offensive fire power. It has only two laser guns, two dumb fire missile, and one heat sinker. Do well and you'll find yourself in the Scimitar, with two mass driver cannons and many missiles. Later on you'll step into the Raptor heavy fighter, my favorite ship in the game, and finally the Rapier... Which is touted as the best but I never felt it quite lived up to that title. ^The Scimitar, Raptor, Rapier, and the oh so nice blue prints that come with the game
When you finish a series of missions you'll then go to a new system in space. Shotglass will give you the background story on the system, your wingmen might chime in, and the Colonel will give you the details. For what amounts to pretty much the same types of missions presented in slightly different ways, it's really all about these little details that help make the game enjoyable. ^Information from Shotglass, some funny gossip
Perhaps the most famous tidbit of information about this game is that it features a branching storyline. Wing Commander tends to get a lot of well deserved credit with that. In fact this first game is so well known for that; that the rest of the series often falsely gets credited for the same thing. This is the only Wing Commander game to feature a truly branching storyline. Although it may not be quite what you're thinking; and there may be good reasons as to why it was not in the other Wing Commander games, and nor was it really in any other games period. ^Going down some of the "bad" missions
The great thing about the branching is that on your first several playthroughs it will offer you something that very few games can give. When I played this game as a kid I often was forced to go down the losing end of the campaign. Those missions themselves are overall much harder than the winning path of missions, so getting stuck down the losing end means it's going to be even harder to drag yourself up from that. But the fact that you CAN drag yourself up from that is mind blowing. I can't tell you how often I've played a game with missions and was screaming at the computer because there simply was no way to lose! ^We're losing the war, and it hurts your soul
I've so often wished more games would give you the opportunity to lose a mission. It's so less frustrating to be able to lose, than to keep repeating and losing the same mission until you've mastered it. In terms of gameplay, there's nothing more freeing than this branching style. But Wing Commander is by no means perfect when it comes to the branching. You will still largely be playing the same types of missions regardless of which path you're on. Go on a couple patrols, escort a ship, and then strike a ship on the good missions or defend a ship on the bad missions. When you get back to the Tiger's Claw, the dialogue will largely remain the same, with occasional comments about how the war is going being the primary dialogue change. ^Some good and bad cut scenes
So while you will be playing more challangeing missions, other than a few exceptions you will largely be playing the same scenarious with your same wingmen, and even the same Kilrathi aces, regartdless of if you're on the winning or losing path. Another flaw in the branching is that there is not only the winning and losing paths, but a path in the middle. This middle path actually does feature unique missions with two wingmen that you can't get on the winning or losing paths.
^The mission tree and winning a mission that was designed to fail
Due to the shape of the mission tree, you might find yourself missing out on quite a few missions. If you lose all the missions, you're never going to see that middle path. Likewise, winning all of the missions will have you missing out on those middle missions. It's a strange kind of feeling as a gamer, when you're actually punished for being good. I suppose you can look at skipping missions and winning the game faster as a good thing... But when you enjoy the game I tend to want to experience as much of it as possible. Upon becoming good at the game you will probably notice that there are two missions in particular which are designed for you to fail. Thankfully as a gamer, they are indeed "possible" to finish, and winning those missions will mean you're a true master of this game. But I failed them for the longest time, and I later read how they were indeed designed for failure. When you fail these missions you're then kicked down into the middle path, which will greatly enhance your game experience. I tried so hard for so long to win those missions, and when I finally did I was quite disappointed that I just ended up being skipped ahead.
^Ejecting, because I'm too damn good to lose
Now that I'm so good at the game I find myself intentionally losing these key missions or just ejecting to skip them. I've gotten so good at the game at this point that even when the odds are stacked against me, I'm still able to win. That's also where the branching missions fail in terms of longevity. The first many times you play the game it's going to be great seeing the big and small differences these missions will offer you.
^ American magazine Amiga World duel review of Wing Commander and Epic
Upon mastering the game you'll be faced with the realization that the "40 heart pounding missions that started it all" are really just 25 or less if you're good. If you want to experience the losing missions again you'll have to intentionally let yourself fail in order to play them. I believe the official reason that the branching was discontinued was that Origin found players just kept reloading their games rather than accept defeat... That was never me, although I will say I was often FORCED to reload the game, given that it's much easier to die than it is to fail. ^Death is much easier to achieve than success or failure, and a quite sad end
I tend to think dying was the more likely cause for people having to reload a game until they won. In a way you actually have to try to fail. Even when you're not good enough to win the mission, you're still going to be faced with a situation where you have a whole bunch of enemies around you. So you'll have to run away from them. If you're already hurting from a patrol, you'll have to think to change nav points and just go home, rather than be faced with your immanent death at the next nav. The only exception is when you're escorting or defending a ship. But upon a ship blowing up, are you going to think enough to head straight back home, or will you still go on despite the ship you're supposed to defend already being gone? You can always just eject and take the easy way out, but otherwise it's not exactly easy to naturally fail a mission in this game. I think the most thought provoking and emotional ending to the game is when your carrier gets destroyed, but the Tiger's Claw can take quite a pounding! Again, I really had to let it get destroyed. I do believe when these issues are considered, that we do have a clear reason why this type of branching style never really caught on. It takes a lot of time to develop those missions, in the end they're still pretty much the same, and most people are never going to be able to see all of them. Incredible that this game exists with this style, and I love it for that! But I'm also glad the style changed. ^The bad "good" ending
For the most part I love to just play through those winning missions, perhaps failing those select two on purpose in order to go down a bit of that middle path. In the end the winning path is the most fun, it's the happy ending. There are several cut scenes in the game which offer glimpses of the wars success or failure. Since the game does not give us too much in terms of the Kilrathi, you'll get your glimpses here. They are also a welcome change of pace from the rest of the gameplay. ^System information, another cut scene, nearing the good end
We'll learn that the Kilrathi base of operations in the sector are at a space station in the Venice system. Upon locating it, it's decided it would be best to send in a couple of fighters, rather than a whole fleet. Ha! Like so many games, it is us against the world. We're the hero, without us mankind is doomed. Just what the nerd wants in his video games! The only thing this game is missing is getting the girl, but that will come in the next one. ^The final mission, kicking some butt
In the last mission you'll be told to just skip past your enemies in order to go straight for the space station. While this is a perfectly reasonable, logical, and easier approach; The only way to get the best medal in the game is to ignore those suggestions and kill them all! The final medal celebrations make it all worth while, the last cut scene is amazing, and you're left with fireworks. Every bit of this game is fun, endearing, adventurous, and challenging. It leaves you wanting to dive straight into the next game. The next game is not actually Wing Commander II, it is Secret Missions 1. While listed in the games main menu, sadly the Secret Missions were never ported to the Amiga. Perhaps one day a nice retro coder might make that possible, it has been suggested it's possible to do. ^Getting the medal of valor, watching some fireworks
Until that day this is the only Wing Commander game to grace the wonderful Amiga platform. I have to say I utterly fell in love with this game on the Amiga. When my dad was not playing it I would stare at the box and ask him to. The manual became quite beat up because I read it so often. Originally I had to have my mom read about how to land because I couldn't quite figure it out. I just kept crashing into the Tiger's Claw and dying. There are so many wonderful memories associated with this game. I was lucky enough to have an NES and Sega Genesis, as well as the Amiga. While I adore many of those console games for many reasons, I knew back then that computers really gave you something that a console never could. They would release Wing Commander on both the SNES and Sega CD; neither compare to this version right here. It is amazing, it's absolutely worth playing. It can be a tad bit on the slow side on an Amiga 500, but I loved it back then all the same, and I did this very review on my 500. In NTSC mode it is certainly playable, and it also shows up in its correct 4:3 aspect ratio in NTSC mode.
More so than in any other of my reviews, I feel I had so much to write about, and so much to talk about that you're really only getting half of the story in this written review. I hope people will check out my video review which will get into many more areas. I touch upon the fascinating story of Nick Pelling; who was the sole coder for this Amiga port, and dive into many more memories along the way. Wing Commander is one the best games of all time, everyone owes it to themselves to strap into the cockpit and attempt to let this one engross their souls. It most certainly did that to mine. ^"Little Daddy" the callsign my dad gave me back in the day, with his badly beat up manual
My video review for Wing Commander on the Amiga
My video review for Wing Commander IV
My written review for Wing Commander IV
My video review for Wing Commander Secret Missions 1.5
Complete listing of all my videos and written articles