The year is 2669. After four decades, a war spanning the universe has still been going on between the Terran Confederates, and the Kilrathi, causing millions of casualties on each side. You are Colonel Christopher Blair; a veteran of the Confederate Space Force, who has just been relocated to the TCS Victory. You will lead a group of young men and women to the very forefront of this war and to the final battle at either Kilrath or Earth. Where? You decide.
Wing Commander III takes the Wing Commander universe in all new directions, continuing to set trends and develop the world created in the original classic Origin game. A whole new flight engine has been implemented in this version with full live action acting by a large cast of previous movie stars including Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame. Deeper character involvement and a storyline which is altered by the tone you take in conversations highlights this classic.
It may be just a computer game, but it boasts an early sequence worthy of the Star Wars series: On a dusky, red-tinged planet, Christopher Blair and his bearded colleague Paladin survey the massive, half-submerged wreckage of a lost starship. Meanwhile, in a distant sector of the galaxy, the grand council of the Kilrathi (a race of belligerent, lion-headed humanoids with whom the Confederation - the good guys - has been at war for decades) summarily execute a group of captured pilots. Only one human receives a temporary reprieve - for the delectation of the Kilrathi leader: Blair's girlfriend, Angel, who would rather die than be subjected to well, you get the idea.
Thanks to unrelenting improvements in PC-game technology, Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger, the latest installment of the science-fiction action series, emerges as not only the best of the lot but probably the most advanced CD-ROM to date. The disc had a production cost in excess of $4 million, with which its developers managed to integrate 3 1/2 hours of live-action video with futuristic sets created on Silicon Graphics workstations and the kind of three-dimensional space-flight simulation that not too long ago could only have been rendered on a NASA supercomputer.
All this whizbang stuff aside, Wing Commander III's biggest hook is its casting of Mark Hamill - Luke Skywalker himself - as Colonel Blair. Sporting a scruffy beard and a hangdog expression, he's a bleak, grizzled presence who lends the fantastical proceedings a surprising gravity. And the supporting actors (including Star Trek Generations' Malcolm McDowell and Raiders of the Lost Ark's John Rhys-Davies) do wonders, especially erstwhile porn star Ginger Lynn Allen. She's surprisingly low-key and effective as the space station's chief technician, even if she does get saddled with leering lines like "I can't wait to get my hands dirty with one of those pups."
What's most gratifying about the live-action interludes is that they don't slow down the game action. In fact, they're a welcome relief from the exhausting space-combat sequences. You think commanding a search-and-destroy mission is easy? Well, then try initiating radio contact with your wingman, arming and disarming missiles, keeping track of seven or eight blips on a radar display, accelerating, braking, steering, and ring - all while listening to a plug-ugly alien broadcast aspersions on your ancestry.
As a measure of how involved these proceedings are, Wing includes not one but 10 practice missions to prepare you for the 50 real ones. Though it may take you a while to learn the game, the payoff, in terms of downed Kilrathi, is more than worthwhile. Just be careful to familiarize yourself with the entire manual; imagine my chagrin when, after arduously completing my first mission, I returned in triumph to the mother ship only to unceremoniously crash and burn in the docking bay.
The disc represents as great a leap over previous CD-ROM games as Star Wars did over previous science-fiction movies. And that Mark Hamill appears in both should be a tribute to the actor - or, at least, to his agent.
People who downloaded Wing Commander 3: Heart of the Tiger have also downloaded:
Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom, Wing Commander II: Deluxe Edition, Wing Commander 1, Wing Commander: Prophecy - Gold, Wing Commander Privateer (CD-ROM), Wing Commander 2: Vengeance of the Kilrathi, Wing Commander: Academy, Wing Commander: Privateer - Gemini Gold
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