Privateer wasn’t the only game to try and stage a different take on the series. Wing Commander Armada was released in mid-1994, a few months before Wing Commander III’s debut, and it actually had multiplayer.
MP was a big request from fans back in the day for Wing Commander, especially when other sims offered it up as a limited option such as 1987’s flight-sim ubermensch, Falcon, which allowed head-to-head play over a modem. Even though it was only one-on-one, it was still cutting edge at the time.
Multiplayer wasn’t an unknown back then, though a big hindrance to its acceptability among the mainstream were the more technical hurdles to leap over in order to get it working…such as actually having a modem which could be about as expensive back then as a Nintendo 3DS was on launch. And this was before broadband became what it is today. Back then, it wasn’t unusual for services to charg by the hour not to mention the phone bill for those extra long sessions. That is if you could figure out how to get your PC to talk to someone else’s.
It’s probably why the game didn’t stand out for me and is probably regarded as the weakest link in the series by more than a few gamers. Taking off the Wing Commander fanboy glasses, I just didn’t see enough in the game to make it worth getting aside from its namesake. It wasn’t Privateer. It just seemed like a multiplayer add-on to the series as a whole and the ad didn’t do much to get me into it.
On researching the game, there wasn’t much of a story other than “beat the other side” leaving it without the dramatic cuts that accompanied the other games. This was all about blasting ships without any real context other than it is still during the war. A tactical element was introduced allowing would-be admirals to assign forces where they’re needed and then fly out to meet the enemy, but it didn’t seem to have any of the spirit that a dedicated strategy sim such as Command & Conquer did.
But the engine was brand new and gave players a rough preview of what to expect in Wing Commander III when it came out at the end of the year. Gone were the “3D but really 2D” ships now replaced with flying, textured polys gunning for you.
The game offered different modes of play: Campaign mode was there to go from mission to mission in traditional Wing Commander style to beat the computer. Battle mode was the head-to-head option for up to five players. Armada mode was where you played a pseudo-version of Admiral Tolwyn, sending ships, fortifying systems with an asset system, and basically trying to win the battle using your mind as well as your reflexes. At the same time, it’s hard not to think on seeing these features that Armada was more of a test package than a fully fledged game, a sort of grab bag of ideas that Origin wanted to test out including the engine that would be finalized in Wing Commander III.
The ad for the game sounds more exciting than the game itself from what I’ve read. Yet it also has hints of what isn’t in the game such as the kind of story driven experience that fans had come to expect from the series. The ad makes it seem that Armada is more of a panacea for those that can’t get enough of the series’ action. If that’s what you want, it’s there to scratch that itchy trigger finger. Unfortunately, it’s also something that we still see today with titles that focus so ardently on one aspect that they think gamers will go crazy over without regard for what the series really means to many fans.
There’s also another reason that talked me out of picking this up. A little something called TIE Fighter.