Wing Commander: Prophecy
PC (Electronic Arts 1997)
The big G-S-G-S-G
General opinion: Very entertaining
Story: Good, though a touch more wouldn't have hurt
Graphics: Quite good
Sound: Not bad at all
Space combat simulations were all the rage back in the 90's and Origin Systems' Wing Commander led the revolution, setting most of the genre's conventions. Wing Commander: Prophecy is the fifth game in the series, and is technologically the most advanced, making it lots of fun to play still today (or, at least, the easiest to run on modern systems).
As in the two previous titles, the story is told through cinematic cutscenes filmed with real actors, as well as in-game radio dialogue. Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom had previously broken the record as the most expensive game production at the time. It is obvious that the production of Prophecy was nowhere near as ambitious. While the cinematic scenes are of decent quality, they are much sparser. There is a new protagonist, rookie pilot Lance Casey, played by Steven Petrarca. Mark Hamill returns as Christopher Blair, but in a much smaller role. Many other familiar faces appear as well, most notably Tom Wilson as 'Maniac'. Series creator Chris Roberts, on the other hand, was no longer involved in the game's production.
The Terran-Kilrathi war is over and the galaxy appears at last to be at peace. Casey is stationed on a brand new megacarrier, the Midway, when it is sent to investigate a distress call from a Kilrathi ship. It appears that a new alien threat has mysteriously appeared in the sector, laying everything in its path to waste. It is up to the Midway and its crew to stop their advance. There are one or two twists along the way, but overall the story is rather simple, in comparison to the previous title or two at least. The mysterious aliens, however, add a touch of sci-fi horror to the story that's a little different from the more traditional war campaigns of the earlier games, which I quite like.
The most noticeable change, apart from the new enemy, is the improved game engine, which, for the first time in the history of the series, takes advantage of 3D acceleration hardware. (Fan-made patches have been released that improve the quality even more, allowing for higher resolutions, OpenGL rendering etc.) There is, of course, a whole new array of nice looking enemy ships, with a cool organic influence.
Gameplay itself remains very faithful to the standards set in the very first game of the series, back in 1990. You'll fly missions in a one man fighter, usually with a selection of wingmen. Elimination of enemy fighters forms the bulk of the missions, but you'll also get to take on impressive capital ships. Often you'll also have to defend your carrier ship or escort transports, which adds additional challenge to the missions. Losing a mission doesn't always mean 'game over', but it'll often mean more challenges in the future. There is less branching of the story than in most earlier titles, though. Space flight is far from realistic of course, resembling flying a fighter jet in the atmosphere more than actual space physics, but that's not the point of these games, really.
While Wing Commander: Prophecy is a little separate from the earlier games, in terms of story at least, and isn't perhaps remembered as quite the classic that Wing Commander III and IV were, it is a quality space combat game in every respect. I always found it a little more approachable and easier to jump into than the previous games, perhaps largely due to the higher quality of graphics, as well as a good selection of difficulty levels. The game's not terribly tough on the easiest setting (although one or two missions near the end still took several attempts before I beat them). The mysterious nature of the enemy also appealed to me (although the Kilrathi are naturally very cool, as well).
Prophecy was followed by Secret Ops, which was basically a stand-alone expansion that was distributed free over the Internet. It featured the same enemy, but lacked cinematic sequences. This was to be the last Wing Commander game, however. Both games still run well on modern systems, at least with the help of patches available online, and even run on GNU/Linux systems with the help of Wine.
Ben B. Bainton, 24 November 2009