Space

Awesome Classics: Wing Commander (1990)

Posted by Matthew on January 23, 2013
Classics, Games, Reviews / 1 Comment

Wing Commander Title

I’m sitting in front of a blank screen. The computer is on, it just doesn’t display much beyond the letter C, a colon, and a blinking cursor. I type my way into a directory, load up a .exe file and wait while it performs memory checks before I get to fly off into space to shoot up the aggressors from the Empire of Kilrah.

It’s 1991, I’m 10, and I’m playing Wing Commander for what must be the one hundredth time. I don’t just mean I’ve loaded the game up that many times, I mean I’ve played through it that many times. Believe you me this is no easy feat; Wing Commander is not a short game.

It is a cool game though. Set in the 2650s Wing Commander puts you in the cockpit of a space fighter fighting an ongoing war between humanity and the Empire of Kilrah, a race of large bipedal cat people. You get to fly several different fighters over the course of the game, in several types of missions.

It plays out in full 3D space and was one of the first I remember doing so. Every fighter has it’s own cockpit details and strategies for flying combat. Each of the enemy ships (both fighters and capital classes) had their own distinct set of strengths and weaknesses as well. There’s no difficulty scale either so everyone who plays it gets as close to the same experience as can be given the fluid nature of the story (more on that in the moment). The graphics are sprites, not rasterized, however the game still looks amazing to my eye. The amount of detail they were able to cram in in an age where system resources were so limited is kind of amazing. The sound is all midi tracks, but they do sound great.

Wing Commander Rapier Cockpit

The cockpit (pictured above is the cockpit from the Rapier, the last fighter you fly in the game) is where the action happens. You go out on sorties to carry out various goals but you always get the chance to fight the fur balls. How well you fight them and accomplish mission goals dictates how the war goes in the system you are currently in and after a few missions your carrier, the Tiger’s Claw, jumps to the next system.

Here’s the brilliant bit though: if you win the current system you go one way, if you lose you go another. I have played this game dog knows how many times and I doubt I took the same route through the systems twice until I got really good at it (and even then not so much).

The game has two distinct endings (one where you win the war, one where you lose) and you can take any number of paths to get to either.

This is kind of awesome as it encourages you to accept your failures. Because you can fight your way back to the winning path at almost any point (or start to lose at almost any point) there’s no need to save your game and obsessively play each mission until you win it, just go with the flow and see how you do. You can almost count on not winning every system in fact, because there is one mission which is nearly impossible. I can only remember beating it once, but my ship was so beat up by the end that I couldn’t dock with the Tiger’s Claw, I had to eject and get picked up.

Even if you lose it’s nice to just enjoy the story; and there is a story. Between missions you go to the officers lounge and speak to two pilots sitting in the bar and the bartender. They give you some battle strategy, news on how the war is going, but all in pre scripted conversations between them and your character.

Unless of course they were killed in a previous mission. Now, other pilots don’t die unless they are on your wing, but the knowledge they have is sometimes incredibly useful. You get a new wingman in every system (and you’re usually reassigned to a new squadron/fighter) but if you’re out fragging hairballs and your wingman is killed you have to complete any remaining missions without them and you never get the benefit of their insight at the bar.

Wing Commander Medals

In addition to being transferred from squadron to squadron at the end of the mission set in each system, if you perform well enough you can also get promoted or awarded medals for valour.

The above screenshot was taken near the end of my most recent play through the game, major is the highest rank and I’ve been awarded multiple bronze, silver and gold stars.

I know there is a metric for how they are awarded but I don’t really care. They are kind of nice to receive, but they don’t affect the story. That screenshot could be in the last system to win the game or to lose. You can go the whole game without ever being promoted or awarded a medal and the story still plays out to the win or the loss.

There’s obviously a lot of nostalgia in this title for me, I’ve played it in some form since I was 10 years old. Don’t let my dad hear this, but 1990 was a long time ago and things have come a long way but I still fire up Wing Commander every now and again because I still love playing it. If that doesn’t mean it’s a great game I don’t know what does.

Wing Commander is still available, packaged with it’s 1992 sequel Wing Commander II: Wrath of the Kilrathi for Mac and Windows for about 6$ USD as of this writing so don’t take my word for it, fire it up and see for yourself what I’m talking about. You won’t regret it.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Genuinely Great Xbox Live Indie Game Alert: Grid Space Shooter

Posted by Simon on January 16, 2013
News / Comments Off on Genuinely Great Xbox Live Indie Game Alert: Grid Space Shooter

GSS

 

I’ve always been addicted to Geometry Wars in all its forms and hold up Retro Evolved 2 as my favourite twin-stick shooter. Bizarre Creations showed how to get the perfect mix, with tight controls, enemy variety and lip-bitingly tight spaces to squeeze your ship through. It’s fair to say that every GW clone that has been released since then has each fallen wide of the mark. Whether it was the pace of movement, the connection between finger, stick and ship or the design of the fighters, there’s never been a similarly-designed game that’s been able to replicate the raw thrill of Geometry Wars.

I was therefore ready to be disappointed with Grid Space Shooter. Xbox Live Indie Games have been a real mixed bag – with a few notable exceptions, it’s not been the hive of quality that was promised at the beginning. There have been a fair number of moves to cover GW’s bases, neon lines attempting to hide the lack of inspiration in design. My expectations were low.

What a beautiful surprise, then, to wade into Grid Space Shooter only to find it’s tight, frenetic and beautiful. After a gentle tutorial to cover the basics – ship choices, special weapons, controls – it’s into the first level of a series that quickly ups the ante. Enemy ship designs are distinct and varied, each having an unique look that quickly becomes synonymous with their movements and quirks. From tiny pulsing globes to giant motherships (and even something that looks like Ghostbusters’ Slimer with a shield and sword), it’s a real treat to see so many enemies on screen without performance taking any kind of hit. As the levels unfold, new weapons and power-ups appear (both for you and your enemies), until the screen is a bleeding tangle of lasers and danger.

The barrage of weapons is where Grid Space Shooter makes itself distinct from all the twin-stick shooters that have come before, even from Geometry Wars. It’s clear that bullet hell games such as Ikaruga have had an equal impact in design, as the higher levels need pixel-perfect manoeuvring skills to stay alive. It’s a testament to GSS that this never feels unfair or unresponsive, with control of your ship feeling incredibly tight yet free and glossy. Weapons come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, each with a tangible impact as they hit. My favourite is the Microwave gun. Oh yes.

Alongside the regular mode is an Arcade option that is purely about highscores on a table, perfect for a friendly rivalry. However, past the one-upmanship there’s even a two-player co-op option in the main game, screen split down the middle for maximum destruction. It’s all such an attractive package and, for just 80MSP, it’s an absolute steal.

Highly recommended, then. It doesn’t carry the immediacy of Geometry Wars’ shorter, more focused gameplay, but Grid Space Shooter brings to the table enough variety, style and prolonged excitement to actually threaten the template. Fire up the Xbox, treat yourself, and go find the Microwave gun.

 

webboxart   Grid Space Shooter, Xbox Live Indie Games, 80MSP –

http://marketplace.xbox.com/en-US/Product/Grid-Space-Shooter/66acd000-77fe-1000-9115-d80258550c8c?cid=RSS

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,