There’s not a whole lot that I have to say about this one. It came out April 29, 1997, and like Wing Commander: Armada, was the series’ first experiment with multiplayer. It was also the third game in the series though it didn’t have a story of its own as X-Wing or TIE Fighter did which killed much of the appeal for me. Unlike Armada, I did pick this one up and was quickly disappointed by what I got.
The big selling point was its multiplayer option. Four players could duke it out from inside one of the many Rebel and Imperial fighters available, or if you were on a LAN, eight would-be aces could mix it up. Duels in A-Wings versus TIE Interceptors could finally be realized. Also keep in mind that the “four player” limit was probably everyone on a modem. I didn’t even bother since I wanted to explore the single-player hoping that there would even be something more than a glorified practice gallery, but there wasn’t aside from the sharp AI.
On the technical side of things, the engine had been vastly improved since TIE Fighter with even better effects, shading, and textures on most everything. It still wasn’t quite as gritty in the details as Wing Commander IV or even III, but it had its own style that made it stand out as part of Star Wars. It didn’t have to necessarily look like every ship had pulled themselves through the sand on Tatooine.
It’s bizarre why Totally Games, the developers behind both X-Wing and TIE Fighter, opted to do a multiplayer-only title in a series that had more than proven its ability to create strong campaign material backed by creative missions. As if to address the mistake, an expansion pack called Balance of Power came out shortly afterwards which included a dual storyline with missions for both the Rebels and Empire.
Not only that, but it also boasted eight-way co-op. One of the biggest selling points was the climax of the Rebel mission involving the destruction of a Super Star Destroyer, arguably the largest starship in the Star Wars classical universe next to the Death Star. The last mission required you to cover a Corellian cruiser as it made a suicide run into the bridge of the ship allowing you and your squadron to finally take it down.
The story was…alright…though it lacked the cool nuances that TIE Fighter had built up in its presentation and depth. The story with Balance of Power felt like it was just tacked on in comparison, but at the time, it was better than nothing.
Why they would think that a multiplayer-only game would be a hit among its fanbase by ignoring the strengths that made the series great in the first place is one of the great unanswered questions of gaming. The only other game that managed to be reasonably successful in that regard was id’s Quake III two years later where it’s true strength lay in a maturing multiplayer lobby system making it easier than ever to get your frags in for the weekend. Or in between classes.
A string of pretty pictures shows off the graphical touch ups that Totally Games delivered with this newest iteration while text boasts all of the neat-o improvements to the gameplay. And despite what it says, there’s no single player campaign. At least nothing on the scale that its predecessors boasted about until Balance of Power arrived to try and salvage the situation for fans irked over buying what amounted to a tech demo.
It’s also strange why the game came out as weak as it did in the same year that another space combat sim had decided to arrive in due course as the last grand hurrah for the series. The game I’m talking about, of course, was Wing Commander Prophecy.