Good Old Reviews: Wing Commander 3 & 4

Andy Chalk

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Nov 12, 2002
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Good Old Reviews: Wing Commander 3 & 4


Wing Commander 3 and 4 are classic examples of the awfulness of live-action FMVs, sacrificing artistry and gameplay for cheap wardrobes, ugly graphics, lousy acting and absolutely rancid scripts.

Funny thing about Wing Commander [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/129692-Good-Old-Reviews-Wing-Commander-1-2]. I played and loved the first two games back in the day but when Origin announced that Maverick was being replaced by Luke Skywalker for Wing Commander 3, I walked away without a backward glance. I'll never know if the me of 1994 was cheated out of a memorable and perhaps even formative gaming experience, but I can say with confidence that the me of 2013 thinks he dodged a bullet.

The first thing you'll notice about Wing Commander 3: Heart of the Tiger is that it's desperate to be a movie. It comes at you with a cinematic intro that's probably as close to a theatrical experience as was possible in that era, which as it turns out is not very close at all. It is, in a word, ug-hug-hugly, and while it may not be entirely fair to hold visual quality against a 20-year-old game, there's no getting around it either. Characters up close are blocky and blotchy and the further you get away from them - across a room, say, instead of face-to-face - the more indistinguishable they become.

[gallery=1920]

I'm picking on the graphics in part because, as mentioned, Wing Commander 3 tries very hard to be a movie and, being from 1994, that means live-action FMVs and lots of them. As you might expect, it's awful in every possible way: The dialog is worse than a George Lucas first draft and it manages to make a reasonably talented cast that includes Mark Hamill, John Rhys-Davies, Jason Bernard and Malcolm McDowell look like an overly-earnest drama class. The only one who really sells it is Ginger Lynn (yes, that Ginger Lynn) who plays a sex-kitten technical chief who Blair - he finally gets a name in this one - has the option to romance.

Every mission begins with the same FMV clip of Blair wrapping up the briefing and selecting a wingman, and then it's off into space to fly through checkpoints and blow up bad guys. Alas, there's nothing in the cockpit to save the experience; it's just as ugly outside as it is inside, pilot chatter is almost immediately repetitive and the awkward 3D ship animations and anemic audio utterly fail to generate any sense of excitement.

Wing Commander 4: The Price of Freedom manages to be both better and worse than its predecessor. The FMV sequences are much better, as they use actual sets rather than green-screens and run at a far higher resolution than those of WC3, but there also a lot more of them and unfortunately neither the script nor the acting is improved in the slightest. The in-flight graphics are better as well, as you'd expect, but in virtually every other way the two games are almost identical. It is, however, definitely the tougher of the two; I was able to breeze through WC3 missions with almost no effort, but that kind of lackadaisical approach to WC4 resulted in many quick deaths.

[gallery=1921]

Between missions, both games will have you interact with various members of the cast by choosing either/or responses to conversational cues, and will branch off in different directions depending on the choices you make. But the choices are entirely binary and the results, when they aren't essentially meaningless, can be outright silly. Choosing to romance one of your two possible partners, for instance, and thereby scorning the other will cost you the services of either your tech chief or a wingman. Is this a military vessel or a flying frat house?

The GOG versions run flawlessly on Windows 7; Wing Commander 3 in DOSBox and Wing Commander 4 natively. But a smooth and painless setup can't make bad games better, and while these two might have seemed impressive back when everyone was still pretending that live-action FMV wasn't a god-awful idea, they just don't hold up today. The single-minded drive to make Wing Commander 3 and 4 more like movies ended up robbing them of the immersive magic that made Wing Commander 1 and 2 so great. These titles, comparatively, are perhaps best seen as nostalgia-tinged curiosities, reminders of an era in videogaming that's best left behind. That said, if you still want to give them a try, you'll find both Wing Commander 4: The Price of Freedom [http://www.gog.com/game/wing_commander_3_heart_of_the_tiger] at GOG for $5.99 each.

Come back next week for a final piece of Wing Commander coverage for the month of November. Next Saturday, we'll be looking at Wing Commander: Armada.

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Andy Chalk

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Good old reivews?

Is this some new feature that we will see more of in the future?
 

Rot Krieg

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Wow. I think this may be the first time I ever heard a negative review of WC3. I have to disagree with the initial assessment. WC3, and 4 to a different degree, were one of the few examples of FMV actually working in a game. The story was good, the characters were fun, and unlike nearly every other FMV game in existence it actually HAD good gameplay. Hell, it had gameplay at all.

Now granted, WC3 was my first Wing Commander, so I have no idea how it paired up against the previous ones, but for my money I really enjoyed it when it was out, and I purchased it earlier this year from GOG and still thoroughly enjoyed it.

BTW, love the Good Old Reviews. Keep 'em coming.
 

grigjd3

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I would suggest this review heavily reflects the fact that you are nostalgic about the games you played as a kid and not nostalgic about the ones you did not play. You should probably realize the games were contemporaries of the original Descent (no, not freespace, just descent) and maybe consider the context they came from before going an a rant. Also, your complaints about the writing and acting seem particularly blind considering the crap we pass of as "good storytelling" these days.
 

webkilla

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Oh I remember playing those games...

and I loved them!

They were campy, silly at times - but also heartbreaking, like...
When Hobbes betrays you in WC3

But they were also awesome.

And yes - its clear that they were both itching to be real movies, but at the same time it was probably my first RPG-like experience, ever. Sure, there weren't any XP or skill trees, but that you could choose A or B and get different outcomes were very much new to me at the time.

Heck, I think I wrecked at least 4 joysticks going through those games (and Star Wars X-wing, and X-wing VS Tie-Fighter)


Good times
 

Worgen

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Whatever, just wash your hands.
grigjd3 said:
I would suggest this review heavily reflects the fact that you are nostalgic about the games you played as a kid and not nostalgic about the ones you did not play. You should probably realize the games were contemporaries of the original Descent (no, not freespace, just descent) and maybe consider the context they came from before going an a rant. Also, your complaints about the writing and acting seem particularly blind considering the crap we pass of as "good storytelling" these days.
I don't know about that, I remebmer reading reviews of wing commander 3 and 4 way back when and they all brought up similar points to this one. Wing Commander just didn't make the transition from 2d to 3d, partly because they tried to gussy it up too much.
 

Owyn_Merrilin

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Wing Commander 3 having anemic sound? Maybe I'm wrong, since this is second hand (I have the first four games but I'm trying to play them in order), but I seriously doubt that one of the first games in history to support surround sound[footnote]using software mixed Dolby Surround, no less, which means there's no need for a high end sound card with special speakers that are incompatible with home theater surround, the way most PC games with surround sound were in the late 90's and early 2000's. Edit: I realize being one of the first wouldn't normally be a reason to assume it was well done, but it was actually a selling point that Chris Roberts was crowing about at the time, he was huge into the idea that videogame development and movie production would eventually converge, he even based the hierarchy in his dev teams on that used by Hollywood production companies, with producers, directors, choreographers (for the combat AI in the first two games. The AI of the day was using simple algorithms, which he likened to choreography), and so on.[/footnote] had sound that could be described as anemic.

The rest of the review is kind of weird too, since like Rot Krieg said, I've never actually seen a negative review for WC3, not from anyone who liked the genre. WC4 was a bit more polarizing, and Prophecy gets bashed fairly often by fans of the rest of the series, but the first three, along with Privateer are effectively undisputed classics.
 

lacktheknack

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Both gog.com pages list them as five stars.

My brain is so full of dissonance right now.
 

Sartan0

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I am sure Andy would not approve of the Tex Murphy games let alone the new one that is coming out soon.

http://www.texmurphy.com/

I have yet to replay WC 3 and 4 but it is on my to do list after I get some other games finished up so I will withhold judgement for now. I do remember they were a bit cheesy but I also remember enjoying them. A replay will solve this.
 

Shadow-Phoenix

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Merlark said:
You sir, are a hack. no game did FMV better back in the day then WC. calling them aweful is an admittance of a complete lack of experience with FMV titles. WC3 and 4 is not Oscar material but you couldn't ASK for a better all star cast, Mark Freaking Hamill for starts, Malcolm McDowell? I'm not sure how many flavors of awesome you need in your video games back then but WC 3 and 4 was the gold star standard that did everything right.

Stop writing for the escapist, get another side job Andy. If you want to play some bad games we'll give you some bad games. Go play Privateer 2 the darkening.

By todays standards the game certainly isn't there but for the day it pushed all the tech that was available and made your windows 95 machine scream and it was awesome. from flying through enemy carriers to making choices to piss your wingmen off.

Your opinion is noted, but certainly not agreed with.
Basically you're calling him wrong, yourself right and correct in a high horse manner and then telling him to stop disliking what you like and to stop writing.

Yeah this is why I still have some hate for some people on here that act like children.
 

Andy Chalk

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Nov 12, 2002
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and these two games are still two of my favourites games ever and personally this is the first time i have ever read a negative review as well. its not just nostalgia talking either i replayed them last year

the only groan worthy moment from these two games was in wc3 where you get to choose who your love intrest is. to put that into perspective both choices are standing at the bar, 5 ft from each other and you walk up to your choice and turn your back on the other.. real classy blair haha
 

Andy Chalk

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Nov 12, 2002
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FMVs were not always terrible, WC3 and 4 did them right, as did a few other games that headed the trend. Just because it was mostly used as a gimmick or replacing gameplay does not negate it's effectiveness when done correctly.

wombat_of_war said:
the only groan worthy moment from these two games was in wc3 where you get to choose who your love intrest is. to put that into perspective both choices are standing at the bar, 5 ft from each other and you walk up to your choice and turn your back on the other.. real classy blair haha
The correct answer was always and will always be the greased up porn star.
 

wulf3n

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Awful, awful review, but I can see where it's coming from. Specifically the Hipster elitism that games must only be about the gameplay.

It spends so much time hating on the FMV that it forgets to you know actually review the game
 

Warachia

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Merlark said:
You sir, are a hack. no game did FMV better back in the day then WC. calling them aweful is an admittance of a complete lack of experience with FMV titles. WC3 and 4 is not Oscar material but you couldn't ASK for a better all star cast, Mark Freaking Hamill for starts, Malcolm McDowell? I'm not sure how many flavors of awesome you need in your video games back then but WC 3 and 4 was the gold star standard that did everything right.

Stop writing for the escapist, get another side job Andy. If you want to play some bad games we'll give you some bad games. Go play Privateer 2 the darkening.

By todays standards the game certainly isn't there but for the day it pushed all the tech that was available and made your windows 95 machine scream and it was awesome. from flying through enemy carriers to making choices to piss your wingmen off.

Your opinion is noted, but certainly not agreed with.
Saying that no game did them (FMV's) right doesn't excuse the game even if it's better than all of the others, since by your own admission it still got them wrong. You're ignoring a prime point of this review which is that he's looking at it from a modern day perspective (even if it was unintentional), and choosing to ignore that is idiotic.

This is also the first negative review I've seen for this game, but you're acting like a spoiled child with your post here,if you don't like the review, fine, but that doesn't mean you can just tell him to go and get another job based purely on the fact that you don't like it.
 

Delance

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hakkarin said:
repetitive and the awkward 2D ship animations
That's incorrect. Wing Commander III and IV are in full 3D. The 2D sprites were used on WC1, WC2, Privateer and Academy. From Armada on all games used 3D models.
 

Scarim Coral

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Ah I rememebr the days when I watched my bro playing those two games. Good times despite how silling those scenes were.
 

Dalisclock

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I'm surprised WC IV was dissed so much. I know three had issues but four improved on the series in a lot of ways, particularly doing something different then "fighting aliens" that the first three games and the game after did.
 

erbkaiser

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By modern standards? Yes it's not that good. But at the time WCIII and WCIV were amazing, and they're still some of the best uses of FMV ever. Compared to C&C for example, WC is in a whole other league, even with part III.
The story for both games is quite good as well.

Prophecy on the other hand... it's no surprise the series died with it.
 

Tanis

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'You should have been there!'
That's one of the things you REALLY missed with this ba...I mean, 'review'.

While 3 is probably the weakest of the series, 4 I thought was one of the best.
Everything that makes the series enjoyable was there, and it was worth playing.

It's not X-Wing vs Tie-Fighter, but it was still a solid game.
 

Nurb

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Dec 9, 2008
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Everyone kind of chuckles over the game industry thinking FMVs were the future and a dozen CDs you had to switch was a selling point, but c'mon, WC 3 and 4 were the best of the series!

It's amazing to fly INTO a an enemy ship's hangar and bomb it from the inside out and tell me your "ultimate betrayal" didn't cause a wave of feels