1014th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: PC/Playstation 1
Year of Release: 1995
Developer: Origin Systems
Publisher: Electronic Arts

While with a lot of other genres, I tried to finish on a big game of the genre or something like that, for shoot ’em ups my final entry is the only in a series that was massive back in its day and always fascinated me. While Star Citizen is currently known as the biggest crowdfunding success (and possible one of its biggest failures as most of that game has yet to materialize and possibly never will), Chris Roberts made his name with the Wing Commander series. While Hideo Kojima got known for his extensive story telling in the Metal Gear Solid series, Chris Roberts was creating his games as movies, using at first celebrity voice acting and at this point full motion video integrated into the game to tell its story.

It’s also ambitious in its stories, branching them and trying to layer them, and although I believe previous games were not always as successful, the ambition is immense and I always heard it paid off. For this entry, I am now finally going to experience it and see how it ends up.

Shoot ‘Em Up

We have a lot of different types of shooters in the list – where we could have combined driving and racing, the shoot ’em up category includes flight simulation-like plane shooters, platform-based shooters, third person shooters and of course the basic flat shooters that started with Space Invaders. It even has Star Control 3, a hybrid that covers so many genres that the shooting part of it hardly plays into it for me.

It’s a broad category that all involves shooting things, and in particular games where the gun play is the focus, but there are plenty of edge cases. The constant is that for me, it’s also rarely the part of a game that interests me. I’ve rarely gotten excited for a shooter – if I did, it was often because of other things it brought to the table – and it’s one of those mechanics that, for me, is a means to an end rather than something I want to base my entertainment around. As the second-largest genre on the list though, it’s always going to be a grab bag, and a mainstay regardless.

Our Thoughts

Starting Wing Commander IV is quite an intense experience as a video game fan who’s not normally expecting big names in his video games and who’s still excited about hearing David Warner after his turn in Baldur’s Gate II. Wing Commander IV starts off with Mark Hamill walking into a bar, while Malcolm McDowell and John Rhys-Davies talk about the fate of the Terran Confederation. Not all the names are that big, but even as some feel a bit of the absurdity, there is some great action on display in what would have felt like a very niche thing twenty-five years ago.

It feels like you’re playing a movie thorughout. There are both live action cut scenes that look convincing – a bit low budget, but not as much as you’d expect for a game like this – and they integrate fairly well with the prerendered environments elsewhere, as you have different character move through the corridors of your mothership. The gameplay sections, where you fly around the galaxy, is obviously simpler, but having these wingmen with personality around you, chatting as you go through your missions, makes you feel like you’re still connected to the world. The game even lets you use your autopilot plenty of times so it really skips anything vaguely boring. While shooting is part of the game, it feels secondary to the story that’s being told and that you’re always in the middle of. You go from being in a fight to the base you’re trying to reach exploding, with all of that happening in engine.

Although while it feels cinematic, the game also partially embraces its interactive nature. The plot branches and your decisions seem to affect each other – I think loyalty with a character matters, but I also encountered a mission changing because I didn’t make it to another target on time. This isn’t obscure, all the consequences are clear from the story, but the feeling that it branches is really nice. It achieved a certain level in its storytelling that is rare for the era, and it pulls it off in a way that’s rare even now, and that you don’t see in other games that are as action focused as this one.

And I have to say those action sequences work just as well. In a way, having played more shooters like this feel like they have prepared me for this moment – being able to take on these fights so I can see more of the stories. It’s a lot of fun to play – except for the ground missions that still stay quite fiddly to be honest – and it all still felt really good to play.

Final Thoughts

As much as I am down on shooters sometimes, it feels like Wing Commander IV was the perfect one to finish on. Playing dog fighters for such a long time for the list really got my brain in the right place to enjoy them here, while the story just feels immensely fun to play through, while seeing the live action elements work so well. I’m glad I saved it until last, and I’m happy knowing I’ve still got plenty more left to play in the series.

  1. […] I mentioned with Wing Commander IV a few days ago, I’ve kept a few games that I’ve been quite excited about until the end. […]