Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom

2_1Lot’s of story, lot’s of space cheese.

From Wing Commander IV’s thirty minute opening cinematic to its end credits, there’s little question that everyone involved wanted to make a movie out of it. There is an actual game in there, though, a fact that’s all too easy to forget. For many players, the Wing Commander experience isn’t the same as that of X-Wing or TIE Fighter, two games that have the distinct advantage of having that little Star Wars tie-in. WC4 is all about delivering a movie with a little bit of game sprinkled on top.

The combat engine is a virtual carryover from Wing Commander III, except for an improved terrain model for the land-based missions. There are a number of subtle improvements, a few new ships, better AI, better graphics and more variety to the missions, but there’s nothing that you haven’t seen done here and elsewhere. What ends up happening, though, is that the combat almost seems inconsequential and irrelevant to the game. The dialogue is a bit stale, filled with all sorts of drivel revealing little insight.

The plot is predictable, bit players are stereotypes rather than three-dimensional characters (you have the crusty mechanic, the burned-out veteran pilot, the idealistic rookie, and so on), and certain staged action scenes appear to be just that – staged. For a twelve million dollar budget, you somewhat have to expect more.

11_1Gamers always judge each subsequent effort based on the new standard, and there’s little question that Wing Commander IV does break ground for interactive movie experiences. It does so by utilizing every cliché known to cinema: really, really nasty villains (who dress in black), lots of spaceships flying around blowing things up, moral dilemmas, acts of unspeakable violence and betrayal, a hero with a rebel streak in him, a wacky sidekick for comic relief, numerous, stern-faced extras as cannon fodder, and some good old fashioned angst. It really is B-movie adventure material.

Yes, it could have been made better with a bit more attention to film basics and story and less to hiring name actors and building fancy sets, but it remains a must-have for anyone interested in a fun, story-driven space combat game. Set the difficulty level high if you want a challenging game, or low if you’re looking for a cheesy space flick to enjoy.

System Requirements: 486 50 MHz; 8 MB RAM; 10 MB HDD, DOS

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