Everybody has a game that embodies the moment they fell in love with gaming. Final Fantasy VII, Doom, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time are all big name games that get the nod in this respect. But, for me, none of these games can hold a candle to Wing Commander.
Wing Commander was the moment where I knew what I wanted from games. It’s a story of war, camaraderie and intrigue tied together with some fast-paced space combat against one of the most interesting enemies in gaming history – the Kilrathi - a feline humanoid race that combines all of the savagery of the Klingons with the guile and subterfuge of the the Romulans.
It also managed to come along at a time just after I’d watched Top Gun and become entirely obsessed with the mystique of the ace fighter pilot. Sadly cursed with glasses that rival the bottom of beer bottles, Wing Commander was my one chance to experience the thrill of taking down enemies in flight and I grabbed it with both hands.
It was a joy to explore. The magic of Wing Commander was the way it told the game’s story. It pretty groundbreaking now that I look back on it. The battlegroup focused around the carrier the TCS Tiger’s Claw jumped around the Vega sector of the galaxy engaging the Kilrathi where they were at their most dangerous. Success or defeat in your missions in each system determines where you go from there. Win and you pushed the Kilrathi back, eventually to the point where their base in the sector is exposed and you can go in for the kill. Lose and the Kilrathi force you to fight an increasingly tough rearguard action.
Both paths resulted in different endings and the amazing thing was that you could turn things around with a string of victories. There was a third ending though. Die in action and your crewmates will hold a funeral for you before shooting your body off into space. It made for a more poignant end to the game from the good old game over screen that was the norm.
That wasn’t where the poignant parts of the game stopped though. In between missions you could hang out in the Tiger’s Claw’s bar, drinking and chatting with your fellow pilots, trying to beat the high score on the training simulator and checking where you ranked on the pilot leaderboard. And there was something about the way that the game did this. The characters were all cheesy racial stereotypes – the old Scotsman who called everyone laddie, the beautiful but aloof French captain and the brash young Australian ace – but they were all charming with it. I felt a camaraderie with them and I felt their loss if they died in combat, and they could die if you didn’t cover them.
I gave hours of my life to this Wing Commander and its four sequels. Its cheesy-yet-absorbing storyline won me over and kept me involved and helped shaped my love of gaming as it is today. The only thing missing from it was a kick-ass metal soundtrack. It did have this awesome launch sequence though.