Classic games are recognizable by both how much fun they are to play and how much they change the genre – or create their own. Wing Commander by Origin Systems is a game that fits this criteria for greatness.
Back in 1990, this game pushed the technology envelope. It needed a 80386 class machine to really run well, and a VGA card to get all the eye candy it had to offer. A good argument can be made that Wing Commander helped sell a lot of 386 computers to gamers who needed better hardware to get their sci-fi space combat fix!
The creator of Wing Commander, Chris Roberts, characterized his game as “World War II in space.” The player took the role of a fighter pilot for the Confederation, battling the war machine of the Kilrathi, a race of feline aliens. Attack runs and defensive missions were launched from a space-going aircraft carrier, the TCS Tiger Claw. If the player was successful in meeting mission objectives, the storyline continued with Confederation forces pushing back the Kilrathi armada. If the player failed their objectives, they could continue to the next mission, but too many failures resulted in the Confederation retreating and ceding the sector to the Kilrathi. This “campaign tree” game system was innovative and fresh in 1990, and a large part of the reason why Wing Commander is a classic.
Critics agreed: Wing Commander won the Origins Award for Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Game, as well as Computer Gaming World’s Overall Game of the Year award.
The game also spawned an entire series of sequels, add-on packs and stand-alone games: Wing Commander: The Secret Missions, Wing Commander: The Secret Missions 2 – Crusade, Wing Commander II: The Vengeance of the Kilrathi, Wing Commander II: Special Operations 1, Wing Commander II: Special Operations 2, Wing Commander II Speech Accessory Pack, Wing Commander: Privateer, Wing Commander: Academy, Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger, Wing Commander: Armada, Wing Commander Privateer: Righteous Fire, Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom, Wing Commander: Prophecy, Wing Commander: Prophecy – Secret Ops, and Wing Commander: Privateer 2 – The Darkening. Numerous “gold” editions for the games which combined the add-on packs with the original games or multi-game packs that featured one or more of Origin’s other titles were also published. Wing Commander was even ported to other game systems, including the Commodore Amiga system, the Sega CD system, and the Super Nintendo (SNES). The series even crossed over into Hollywood with a feature film release in 1999.
If you haven’t played the flagship of the Wing Commander universe, pick up a copy and imagine it’s 1990 all over again. Become a Confederation cadet and fight the Kilrathi menace – you’ll be glad you did.