Wing Commander Prophecy: space combat gets back to its roots

Wing Commander: Prophecy
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It’s hard to believe that seven years have passed since Chris Roberts released his groundbreaking Wing Commander series. I still remember the first time I played this game, booting up my old 386 PC and staying up late just wanting to complete "just one more mission." It definitely was a turning point for PC gaming, and started the process for future Wing Commander games to improve on PC Technology.

Its sequel, Wing Commander 2: Vengeance of the Kilrahi involved communication speech and was responble for the Sound Blaster card being the standard for computer sound. Wing Commander 3 incorporated SVGA graphics and a superior FMV cast. It basically was the first true "interactive movie." Part 4, sometimes referred to as "Wing Commander 3 1/2" by critics, excelled in the movie concept, but left the game engine unchanged. It seemed that even the Wing Commander series, albeit the fact that WC4 was a superior game, was falling into the trend of "more movie, less game."

Wing Commander: Prophecy has been released. While not truly Wing Commander V, as this starts a whole new generation, it definitely follows the successful Wing Commander engine and goes back to the original format that made the first game a winner.

It seemed as if the bombing of Kilrah was just the start of an omen predicted by the Kilrathi god of war, Sivar. It stated that there will come a time when the Kilrathi race will crumble, and Kn’thrak, a time of great darkness, would consume all in existence. That time is now. However, Commodore Christopher "Maverick" Blair, known throughout his career as "Coward of K’tithrak Mang," "Heart of the Tiger," and "Hero of the Kilrathi War," is not flying anymore. He has given up his flight status and has been working on Confed Research and Development. His main achievement was the construction of the new Confederation megacarrier, the TCS Midway. With Blair out of the picture, a new hero emerges. Enter Second Lieutenant Lance Casey, a hotshot in his own right. Highest scorer at the Academy, he is also known for having the most demerits in history. Also, Casey is a man placed under a dark shadow. His father was Michael "Iceman" Casey, one of Blair’s wingmates aboard the Tiger’s Claw in WC1.

Since you are no longer playing as a seasoned veteran like Blair, selections of wingmen and ships are not available anymore. Somehow, this game feels like the whole Wing Commander series has just started over from part 1, and to an extent it has. We have a brand new pilot, and a new alien race that make the Kilrathi look like the centerfolds in Cat Fancy magazine.

And their ships are just as creepy; they all have this organic structure that appear to bleed as they are destroyed. Some ships expand and compress to change their velocity vectors, some open up to fire upon you, and some even split into smaller craft to swarm upon your presence. They look as if they came straight out of an episode of Babylon 5. Confed ships also have their own agility levels, so no two ships fly exactly alike. One might excel in yaw while another will excel in pitch. Capital ships are much bigger than ever before. At top speed with accelerators enabled, it takes over 30 seconds to fly past the Midway.

And yes, once again, the technical barriers have been pushed further than ever before. Prophecy incorporates a new 3D engine that provides screaming frame rates even on the simplest Pentium 166. However, with the addition of 3DFX support, expect some truly amazing effects. Space is now filled with colorful nebula, missiles leave vapor trails as they are launched, cockpit overlays are now transparent, and explosions are enhanced with violent shockwave effects that can both be seen and felt. Prophecy does a great job of filling the technology gap, providing gorgeous details for those with Pentium II processors and 3DFX cards, while providing a decent gameplay engine for those with simple Pentium systems.

Gameplay is definitely the best thing about this game. It has done something I was hoping a lot of game developers would do. It has gone back to its roots, providing the same satisfying experience that I had when I played the first Wing Commander. Who could forget when you destroyed your first capital ship, or how you felt when one of your wingmen died. One can experience it again.

There are no more multiple choice dialogues. How a mission is flown controls the storyline, which is how it was meant to be in the first place. Wing Commander Prophecy is a definite return to its glory days of yesteryear, and the start of a new generation of pilots. The first WC without Chris Roberts at the helm is a winner!

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