By: Armaan Khan
TPG Review Classics is a new feature where we jump into the Wayback Machine to offer a modern look at PC games released during the 80s and 90s.
I’ve never been one to live in the past. Mistakes made, loves lost, the good old days, and the road less traveled. These things don’t keep me up at night, so I’m especially not likely to get nostalgic for old video games. Sure some were great, and some are still fun to play even today, but most have been surpassed by modern experiences and are best left in the past where they belong. Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger is one of those games that falls in that last category. It’s a good experience overall, and worth checking out as a curiosity, but there are much better space sims out there to pass your time with.
Welcome Aboard Old Friend
Running Wing Commander III (the GOG version) for the first time is, to put it gently, a pain in the rump. It runs in a tiny window by default. There’s no main menu, no tutorial, and no way to remap or even view the unintuitive flight controls. There are two different option menus, depending on if you’re in flight or not, and you’ll need to access both to fully customize your experience. I spent my first hour with the game starting and restarting, reading manuals, and mucking around with DOSBox and XPadder settings in an attempt to figure out everything I needed to know in order to play, and to make the experience as comfortable as possible. It was not fun.
The work paid off, though. Once I got everything sorted, I was swept away into the amazing space opera that is Wing Commander III’s storyline. War hero Colonel Christopher Blair (played on-screen by Mark Hamill and in-cockpit by you) is steamrolled onto the TCS Victory, an aging vessel that’s not on the front lines of the war. There he meets old comrades and new, continues to shine as a combat pilot, and eventually leads the Terrans to victory against the feline enemies of the series, the Kilrathi. It’s not the most original of tales, but it is well-written and well-acted, and the cheesy special effects and grainy low-resolution video gives it a very B-movie sci-fi charm that remains entertaining even today.
God I Love That Boy’s Spunk
Sadly, the actual “game” part doesn’t hold up as well. 99% of the missions you fly in between story sequences all boil down to the same repetitive formula: fly to waypoint, kill all enemies, repeat until mission accomplished. This turns out to be a very good thing, however, because the mission briefings are so vague you’ll never be quite sure what you need to do or where you need to do it. For example, one briefing tells you to drop mines at each waypoint, but it doesn’t tell you how many to drop. Since I wasn’t told the total number of waypoints, I dropped one mine on each, which turned out to be wrong. Mission failed. Another example: the final mission requires you to use a cloaking device, but if you activate it at the wrong time, you won’t be able to complete the mission (and thus the game) at all. When’s the right time to do it? You’re never told that. I had to look it up in a game guide, which is thankfully included if you buy the game from GoG.com.
Fortunately, this sort of thing is rare since, as I said before, the majority of the missions require you to simply destroy all opposition and leave. And even if you do fail one for whatever reason, it’s not the end of the world since most of the time you’ll either move on as if you won (which kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?) or the story will branch to take your failure into account. This removes a lot of frustration from the game, but the core problem is still bothersome. Modern games do a much better job of keeping you informed, and offer a wider variety of mission objectives, so if you’re interested in WC3 purely for the space combat, you’ll find much better experiences elsewhere.
Conclusion – How Does it Hold Up?
If you’re more interested in playing Wing Commander III for the atmosphere and experience, however, it definitely remains quite good. The full-motion video plunges you into a Star Wars-esque space opera the likes of which I haven’t experienced anywhere outside of the series. If you set the difficulty to novice and turn on invincibility, you’ll find yourself taken away on a pretty amazing journey that lives up to the name “interactive movie.” Plus, you also get to see a grown man say, completely straight-faced without a hint of irony or humor, “God I love that boy’s spunk.” If you’re looking for a space combat game, however, you’re better off playing something a bit more modern.
Wing Commander III Technical Summary:
- Time Played – 12 hours
- Widescreen Support – Yes
- 5.1 Audio – No
- DRM – None
- Control Scheme – Keyboard/Mouse, Joystick (sort of)
- System Specs – Intel Core2 Quad @ 2.6 GHz, 4GB RAM, Radeon 4800
- Game Acquisition Method – Purchased By TPG
- Availability – Good Old Games
- Demo – Nope
- Bugs – Graphic glitches when you switch from windowed to fullscreen mode, which fixes itself when a scene changes.
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