A no-nonsense space combat simulation for those in need of a challenge.
In 1990, a company named Origin released a groundbreaking game called Wing Commander. Space combat had been done before, of course, but Origin’s approach to the subject matter was fresh. While the avionics and mission structures in Wing Commander might seem simple today, at the time they helped the game feel more like a flight simulator than an action game. That same innovative thinking fueled Particle Systems’ Independence War, a game which pushes the envelope and underlines yet again what space combat is all about. In a sea of arcade alien shooters it’s a breath of fresh air, if in a retro sort of way. With its emphasis on the simulation aspect of space combat, I-War manages to successfully expand upon most of the elements that made the original Wing Commander fun.
The player takes command of a Dreadnaught-class corvette. At 162 meters long and weighing in at 65,000 metric tons, the Dreadnaught is a bit heftier than the fighter ships that usually play starring roles in these sort of games. It takes a total of 44 people to crew the ship, but gameplay focuses on the four major control stations in the detachable command module of the ship, it’s ‘brain’ if you will. While theoretically playing the role of the ship’s captain, the player can jump between the command, navigation, weapons, and engineering stations at will during the game.
You’ll spend most of your time in the navigation and weapons stations, as these offer the most useful range of controls for operating the ship. The command station, which allows access to mission objectives and the ship’s database, generally sees use only at the beginning of a mission. Surprisingly, the engineering station is something of a disappointment, this despite the fact that it is more detailed and provides a greater degree of control over repairs than is generally found in other games. Combat often moves a bit too fast for the player to take the time to sort through all that detail and prioritize systems for repair, and the repair teams do a good enough job of prioritizing things without any assistance anyway. While the redundant nature of the engineering station does not really detract from the game, replacing the prioritizing AI with a feature that pauses the game whenever the player accesses the station might have provided some incentive for the player to actually use it once in a while.
The navigation and weapons stations more than make up for any shortcomings by providing the player with an array of controls that are both innovative and thoughtfully laid out. Navigation is the only station situated in front of an actual window, and the relatively unobstructed view it offers is ideal for non-combat maneuvering. Players expecting simple control that mimics atmospheric flight might be a bit surprised-Newtonian physics are the basis of the game’s flight model. Stringently abiding by the laws of inertia, ships alter their course by the use of lateral thrusters.
The familiar “cockpit-style” view of the navigation station might entice the player to spend all of their time there, but even though the Dreadnaught’s weapons can be fired from this station, they are much more effectively employed through the use of the weapons station. In place of the window is a smaller monitor that can give the player a tactical chase view of the Dreadnaught that keeps targeted ships padlocked in the center of the view. It takes a bit of practice to use, but once mastered it allows the player to better track and evade enemy ships in combat and employ all of the Dreadnaught’s weapons effectively.
Perhaps the most surprising thing of all is that while Independence War strives to place more emphasis on simulation, it doesn’t seem to take any away from the story. The excellent opening movie (all 14 minutes of it) sets the stage for a complex and interesting story that leads the player through a mission tree that is loaded with branching plot lines and optional missions. The missions are interesting right from the start, but it doesn’t take long to realize that they are also difficult. Some missions are also rather long, and the option to save in the middle of a mission would have been a welcome addition. The unfolding story provides some strong incentive to keep plugging away when the going gets tough, but players who have a low tolerance for frustration should consider themselves warned.
System Requirements: Pentium 166 MHz, 32 MB RAM, Windows 95/98
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